One might argue it is always important to help a couple in relationship therapy to focus on their strengths. I think this is even more important when working with marginalized groups like LGBTQ+ clients.
I love the work of the late queer theorist Jose Esteban Muñoz. He talks about queerness as something ephemeral to strive toward and give hope for the future.
“Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality…
Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.
I contend that if queerness is to have any value whatsoever, it must be viewed as being visible only in the horizon.”(Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, the then and there of Queer Futurity, pg 1)
When working with LGBTQ+ clients, I believe it is imperative to hold out hope and help them strive toward and create the new future they crave.
A Systems Approach
Helping a gay couple see that some of their struggles may be a result of systems of oppression can be very normalizing and connecting for some partners.
This comes up often around the topic of sex. Take for example the fictional gay male couple of Ron and Carl. They come in and they’re having trouble finding the excitement in their sexual relationship. Upon further discussion it because clear that internalized homophobia is at play and they both have trouble sharing what really turns them on because of shame. When you normalize that for the couple and let them know that of course they may be experiencing internalized homophobia and shame, who wouldn’t as a gay man living in this culture? It can help them connect and bond over this similarity. It will then be easier for them to explore their differences with less defensiveness.
Using the Developmental Model to Help
The Developmental Model, created by Drs. Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson have many opportunities to help couples notice their strengths. In fact, learning when to stroke or encourage a client is a crucial part of understanding the model. There is a theory behind it and you’re not just randomly encouraging clients left and right. It’s important to know each partner’s unique growth edge and then lean into stroking developmental milestones, or wins, that you see in session.
If you’re curious to learn more about using the developmental model to work with queer couples, please sign up for my waitlist today. I will be offering training in this model soon for other therapists.