Gottman and his colleagues are using this and other findings from a 12-year study of 21 gay and 21 lesbian couples to develop workshops geared toward helping gay or lesbian couples improve their relationships. The researchers assessed the couples over time through observing partners interacting, coding their expressions, interviews and self-reports.
"Gay and lesbian couples, like straight couples, deal with everyday ups and downs of close relationships," says Gottman, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington. "We know that these ups and downs may occur in a social context of isolation from family, workplace prejudice and other social barriers that are unique to gay and lesbian couples."
While Gottman and Levenson found that relationship satisfaction and quality were about the same in straight, gay and lesbian couples, they also discovered that gay and lesbian couples are more upbeat in the face of conflict. They tend to use more affection and humor in a disagreement and are less likely to use hostile emotional tactics.
"The difference in these 'control'-related emotions suggests that fairness and power-sharing between the partners is more important and more common in gay and lesbian relationships than in straight ones," observes Gottman.
But, Gottman and Levenson's research--currently under review for publication--finds gay couples aren't as adept in repairing relationships after negativity during a fight.
"This suggests that gay men may need extra help to offset the impact of negative emotions that inevitably come along when couples fight," explains Gottman.
They also found that lesbians show more anger, humor, excitement and interest during fights than gay men, suggesting that lesbians are more emotionally expressive, both positively and negatively.
The two-day workshops integrate these ideas into instruction, demonstrations and role-playing activities that teach couples how to build a close relationship, improve communications and resolve conflict.
The lesbian workshop will be held in June, and the gay workshop in July at the Seattle Center.