For a variety of reasons, many people in same-sex relationships hide or obscure their sexual identity (often called being or living “in the closet”). When one (or both) decides to come out to family and friends, it may cause the relationship to lose its balance. Coming out may mean that you have accepted your feelings of attraction to the same sex. It also means you are ready to disclose your sexuality to the significant people in your life.
No two coming out experiences are the same. Coming out for some people can be relatively smooth and easy, while for others it can be difficult and emotionally taxing. Research shows that coming out can be important for the long-term mental health and happiness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals. Often it can be a huge relief.
What happens when it is your boyfriend or girlfriend who is coming out?
In a long-term or even new relationship, one person coming out to family and friends may cause some tension. This may include:
- Your partner being rejected by friends and family
- Fear that admitting to people that they are gay may mean they are seen as less of a man or less of a woman.
Support for your boyfriend or girlfriend
You are obviously going to be an important source of support for your boyfriend or girlfriend. Listen to them objectively as all ‘coming outs’ are different and personal. If you’re already out, your own coming out may not be the same as theirs. This means not jumping straight into advice-giving, even though you may want to find solutions to help stop their pain. If you are not out, don’t feel pressured to come out yourself: only come out when you are ready.
If coming out is proving tough, and friends or family are finding it tough to accept, your boyfriend or girlfriend may need extra support or professional help. You shouldn’t be their only source of support. For professional help, look for counsellors specialising in same-sex attracted people or a family therapist who can talk to the whole family if necessary.
Support for you
While you may need to be strong for your partner, you also need to ensure support for yourself. Be prepared to draw on your support networks; your own friends, family or co-workers. Remember that your partner may not be in a position to support you, so you may want to consider professional counselling for yourself.
Support for the relationship
Any crisis in a relationship can make or break it. This will be a time for your team to come together rather than pull apart. Having your individual supports is important, but you also need some time to soothe ‘the couple’. Find time for each other and consider couple counselling if you think you might need expert help for your relationship.
Support for family and friends
Your boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s family and friends may need their own support. Each coming out is different as is each family’s reaction. A family’s initial response may be that of grief (loss of grandkids, family image, or son’s ‘planned future’). These initial responses may well change. It may be that some separation from family (moving out) is needed for a short time as the family adjusts, after which reconciliation can gradually happen.
Remember to maintain open and honest communication, find your individual supports, soothe each other and soothe the relationship. Surviving any relationship crisis can help a couple to evolve into a stronger more mature relationship designed to last much longer. It also gives you experience and skills in coping with any future crises. Plus, coming out can lead to an ultimate and public acceptance of one’s sexuality that can become a truly integrated part of one’s identity, thus encouraging a strong and healthy same-sex relationship.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online social and mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.