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The Psychology of Same Sex Divorce


Written by Dr. Neil Schierholz, PsyD

The ending of any relationship is hard enough, let alone dissolving a legal marriage through divorce. LGBTQ couples come to me with the same challenges, aspirations, goals, and dreams that I hear from non-LGBTQ couples, but there are differences in a same sex divorce.  

Let's talk about what’s unique about an LGBTQ divorce, some of the challenges you may face when you’re ending a same sex relationship, as well as some suggestions on how to take care of yourself and make the process of a "gay divorce" easier.

Wait—we thought you wanted to be able to get you’re getting divorced?!?

You fought hard for the right to marry and you may feel that there's a lot of pressure from society, your family and your friends to stay married. You and your partner may even be putting pressure on yourselves to pretend to be a “perfect couple,” even when we know there is no such thing as perfection. When you're in a same sex partnership and you’re looking at a break up or a same sex divorce, you may feel the added burden of shattering the myth of being a “perfect couple.” On top of that, many people outside of the gay community generally don't understand what it's like for an LGBTQ couple to separate or divorce. Heterosexist and heteronormative attitudes can be laid on you that can make this even more difficult. For one thing, you're stuck with being a representative of a “group” rather than just being a couple with your own individuality. That’s a heavy burden.  Non-LGBTQ couples don’t have this burden.

 Remember that in spite of what society and others (and yes perhaps even you yourself) might have internalized, you are in fact unique.  You don’t need to conform to anyone’s expectations of perfection (and that includes being the “perfect couple” who never gets divorced). Every relationship is a success, based not on longevity, but on growth. Don’t let anyone, including yourself, tell you otherwise.

There is a shortage of LGBTQ-competent professional help

Finding LGBTQ-competent professional support is a challenge in many cities. Most lawyers and psychotherapists, for instance, are typically more familiar with non-LGBTQ couples divorcing, and they may not necessarily know or understand the unique nuances in an LGBTQ marriage or a same sex divorce.  If you decide to seek therapy during this time or use a lawyer to represent you in your divorce, you may encounter heteronormative attitudes that aren’t even fully articulated or made conscious, making what is already a difficult situation even harder.  You may, for example, find yourself educating your therapist or legal team on lifestyle, queer culture, and a number of things that simply don’t come up for non-LGBTQ couples. These additional added burdens placed on you can take their toll over time on your mental and physical well-being.

 Consult trusted friends and family, LGBTQ-competent psychotherapists, and your local LGBTQ chamber of commerce for culturally-competent referrals. Or, consider navigating your same sex divorce on your own in a gender neutral environment online with to avoid having others’ misconceptions and microaggressions laid on you.

People get divorced all the time...why is this so much harder for you?

Growing up LGBTQ sometimes means growing up with shame, which can become internalized. Same-sex divorce is an inherently challenging path that can easily trigger raw emotions and/or unresolved, unconscious internalized feelings in LGBTQ people.  This can result in anxiety, depression, wanting to sexually act out, and isolation, all of which can make the process even harder.  Those in the LGBTQ community have higher rates of substance use and abuse which is also something to monitor closely during this time.

 It is especially important at this time for anyone and particularly for LGBTQ people, to remember that all relationships are successful and the ending of one does not constitute failure. If you are feeling overwhelmed, chronically anxious, lonely, depressed, or wanting to self-medicate it might be a good time to find a therapist.  

How do I know when it’s time to see a therapist?

 Ask yourself if you’ve noticed any changes in your day-to-day functioning.  Think about your sleep, eating habits, relationships, socializing, work, exercise, all the areas of your life. If you have noticed a subtle or significant change (or someone else has noticed) you might benefit from working with a therapist.

Divorce doesn’t discriminate; all legally-married couples can get divorced.  Nevertheless, it’s different for you as an LGBTQ couple considering a same sex divorce.  Recognizing this will help you move through this process more easily.  Take control of your divorce and go easy on yourself.  Focus on you, what you perhaps set aside during the marriage, and consider re-engaging in those hobbies, activities, and joys.  Begin the process of healing right now.

Dr. Neil Schierholz, PsyD is a licensed psychologist (PSY25154) who specializes in treating adults with character analytic and orgonomic (somatic) therapy. He has more than fourteen years of experience in clinical psychology after a long career providing organizational psychology consulting services to more than 45 organizations. His therapeutic approach includes traditional psychodynamic/psychoanalytic depth therapy coupled with a specialty in orgonomic therapy (Reichian character analytic therapy)

To schedule an initial consultation with Dr. Schierholz, or to just learn more, simply give me a call at (310) 866-0440. You can also use his online calendar to schedule a convenient time to talk with him on the phone.

Go to this page about online divorce to learn more.