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The One Lesson Straight Couples Need To Learn From Gay Couples When It Comes To In-Laws

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Cute gay couple piggy back ride, in-laws in background

LGBTQ+ relationships and marriages are distinct in many ways from straight ones. But one lesbian woman online feels there's a valuable lesson that straight couples not only can but should learn from their Queer counterparts.

She says straight couples need to learn from gay couples how to navigate conflicts with their in-laws.

Legendary couples therapists Drs. John and Julie Gottman have found in their 12 years of research on same-sex relationships that one of the biggest distinctions with straight relationships lies in the way gay and lesbian couples handle conflict.

They found that a certain level of mutual support and respect tends to be a non-negotiable feature of these relationships. Even in the midst of arguments, hostile, controlling, and manipulative dynamics enter same-sex couples' conflicts far less often than straight couples. 

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Lesbian comedian and TikToker Sarah Schauer recently illustrated one of the myriad ways these differences can manifest, and it has to do with one of the most vexing parts of a marriage or long-term partnership: conflicts with the in-laws.

She said straight couples should handle in-law conflicts the way Queer couples do: by having their partner's back, no matter what.

"You know the one thing that I think a lot of straight people could take from gay people?" Shauer said in her video. "If you get married to someone, right, and your family are a bunch of [jerks], don't take your partner home to your family!"

   

   

She then referenced the scores of stories on platforms like Reddit in which straight people, especially women, lament about the unkindness if not downright abuse, they routinely have to endure from their spouses' families. 

"And then their partner just lets that happen!" Schauer explained in disbelief. "What the [heck] is wrong with you? This is your life partner!" 

Most of us at one time or another have sat and listened to a friend tell a story about their in-laws saying or doing something totally out of line. The trope of the mother-in-law making her daughter- or son-in-law's life a nightmare is a trope for a reason. But why do straight people put up with this? 

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Most Queer people have to learn to stand up to their families by default, and this extends to their spouses and partners as well.

"You're a fully grown adult who can be wed. Stand up to your mommy and your daddy!" Shauer irreverently implored straight couples. And if you can't do that or you're afraid of the blowback, she suggested an alternative: "Then don't bring your partner around!" 

This might sound a bit bombastic and reductive, but what Schauer said next was really the simple truth: "That's the bare minimum for gay people." What she was getting at is the default for most LGBTQ+ people: Most of us are forced to navigate difficult if not outright abusive dynamics with our families and to set boundaries accordingly.

   

   

Even if we have the most affirming, supportive parents on Earth, most of us have a homophobic, Queerphobic, or transphobic family member who requires very firm boundary-setting. It's just the unfortunate reality of nearly every one of our lives.

Protecting our partners from this vitriol is intrinsic to most of our relationships: It's simply not negotiable for most of us that we would subject our life partners to this kind of negativity or outright abuse, and it's certainly not acceptable that we would ignore or disregard it if it did happen.

But by contrast, in straight relationships it often seems like partners, especially women, are expected to just "suck it up" when it comes to their toxic in-laws. Why is that? It doesn't accord with the pledge you've both made to be each other's "ride or die," no matter what, does it?

   

   

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When I've had this conversation with straight friends before, they raise the danger of falling out with their family members as the reason they let things slide, and that's certainly understandable.

But in my own personal experience, as a gay man with very conservative, very religious, very homophobic parents with whom I've had to set very firm boundaries, straight people tend to tolerate dynamics and treatment from their families that are downright shocking to me.

It often seems to come from an all-or-nothing view of family conflict founded on the fear that standing up to family will result in all-out war and estrangement. 

But estrangement or going "no-contact," while sometimes necessary, are not the only outcomes of setting boundaries with family and having your partner's back without reservation. It's not a binary, black-or-white issue. 

   

   

Even I, with the aforementioned homophobic parents who think the very core of who I am as a person is objectionable, have been able to reach a respectful detente with one of my parents that allows for things like family Christmases and kids' birthday parties to still happen without conflict. It can be done.

Every family and situation is different of course, but expecting your partner to just suck it up and deal with your family's hurtful dynamics and behavior is at least to some degree a betrayal of the promise you've made to each other. It shouldn't be so readily accepted.

   

   

As Dr. Gottman put it, the "very different principles" under which Queer couples operate means that "straight couples may have a lot to learn from gay and lesbian relationships."

Schauer is right: Standing up to your family for yourself, your partner and your relationship should be the default. And in the end, it will be worth it for everyone involved.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice, and human interest topics.