Character  &  Context

The Science of Who We Are and How We Relate
Editors: Mark Leary, Shira Gabriel, Brett Pelham
Nov 19, 2019

Equality Makes Same-Sex Couples Happy

by Joanne Bagshaw, PhD
puzzle pieces about to form a rainbow heart

All relationships involve conflict, negotiation, and compromise, but, luckily, most relationships also make people happy.  You might be surprised to learn that same-sex couples tend to be happier than heterosexual couples. Understanding why this is so may help uncover ways to improve everyone’s relationships.

One major difference between same-sex and straight couples is that same-sex couples emphasize equality in their relationships more than heterosexual couples do. On average, same-sex couples are dramatically more egalitarian than heterosexual couples, leading to fewer power struggles, less anger and aggression, and more humor in the relationship.  Same-sex couples are also more likely to share child-care and household duties. Tasks are divvied up according to each person’s preference and not on the default basis of gender roles as they often are in heterosexual couples. With more equality also comes better communication. Why? Because both partners feel like they have an equal voice.   

Here's a list of eight ways that same-sex relationships may have an edge on heterosexual relationships. The first four come from a 12-year study by John Gottman and Robert Levenson on gay and lesbian relationships:

1)  Same-sex couples have lower physiological arousal when together, meaning they're more likely to soothe each other.  By comparison, straight couples tend to have higher levels of ongoing physiological arousal, indicating a higher level of ongoing stress and aggravation.

2) Compared with straight couples, same-sex couples tend not to take things as personally. Negative comments don't bear as much weight among same-sex couples. Conversely, straight couples tend to be more affected by and upset by negative comments.

3) Same-sex couples tend to use more affection and humor to repair the relationship during and after conflicts.

4) Same-sex couples tend to use fewer hostile, domineering, and controlling tactics. Equality and power-sharing are values more common to gay and lesbian couples than straight couples.

5) Research by Karen Blair and Caroline Pukall reveals high levels of sexual satisfaction among lesbian couples.  Lesbians tend to have less frequent sex than gay men or straight women, but they focus on duration and quality—and they tend to have more orgasms than straight or bisexual women.

6) Rather than have secret affairs, same-sex couples are more likely to negotiate and discuss their expectations about monogamy and non-monogamy openly. For example, about half of gay men report having sexual experiences outside of their relationship, with their partner knowing.

7) Same-sex couples are more likely to share household chores, dividing up housework based on time and talent rather than relying on traditional gender roles to determine who does what around the house.

8) Children from same-sex parented families are well-adjusted. Contrary to common stereotypes, children from gay and lesbian parents tend to be slightly happier and healthier than children from straight parents.

Putting all this together, research suggests that straight couples could learn a lot from same-sex couples. Freed traditional gender roles, many same-sex couples develop a life together that allows each member of the couple to be who they really are. Same-sex couples often face hurdles in the workplace, at school, and in places of worship.  But, at home, same-sex couples seem to take advantage of being in egalitarian relationships that foster happiness and well-being.       

For Further Reading

Blair, K.L. & Pukall, C.F. (2014). Can less be more? Comparing duration vs. frequency of sexual encounters in same-sex and mixed-sex relationships. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality 23:123–136; doi:10.3138/cjhs.2393 123

Crouch, S.R., Waters, E., McNair, R., Power, J., Davis, E., (2014). Parent-reported measures of child health and wellbeing in same-sex parent families: A cross-sectional survey. BMC Public Health, 14:635 DOI: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-635, Retrieved from

Garcia-Navarro, L. (Host) & Jay-Green (Guest). (2014). Same-sex couples may have more egalitarian relationships [All Things Considered]. American University, Washington, D.C. 


Joanne Bagshaw is a professor of psychology at Montgomery College, Maryland. She is the author of the 2019 book The Feminist Handbook: Practical Tools to Resist Sexism and Dismantle the Patriarchy, published by New Harbinger Publications.  

Note. This blog is based on a blog previously published at Psychology Today

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Why is this blog called Character & Context?

Everything that people think, feel, and do is affected by some combination of their personal characteristics and features of the social context they are in at the time. Character & Context explores the latest insights about human behavior from research in personality and social psychology, the scientific field that studies the causes of everyday behaviors.  

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