Intimate Partner Violence in LGBTQ Relationships

(06/01/2015) Leah M. Brooks, MSW

No matter what the setting, be it work, school, or home, healthy relationships are key to a healthy lifestyle.  Especially when we consider intimate relationships.  What does a healthy relationship look like?  For starters, sexual orientation is not a determining factor in a healthy relationship.  No matter the gender or orientation, relationships that involve love and intimacy should never hurt.  Healthy relationships are centered on respect and equality.   Equality does not always mean an even 50/50 split of affection and responsibilities. Equality refers to each partner having equal say in how a relationship functions and it ensures that each partner is having their needs met.

Communication is essential to the stability and health of any relationship.  It is a tool used to relay to a partner how each of us defines relationships and the specific parameters of the relationship.  In relationships in which intimate partner violence (IPV) is present, communication, equality, and respect are absent.  IPV refers to a pattern of behaviors where one partner coerces, dominates, and/ or isolates another partner to maintain or gain power and control in the relationship.  This shouldn’t be confused with normal and healthy conflict, which in healthy relationships, is handled with respect and can be used as a tool to communicate.  When IPV is present, one partner’s needs are being stifled while additional emotional, physical, and economic stressors are being applied. 

In LGBTQ relationships, IPV is often a silent struggle.  Breilding, Chen, and Black (2014) found that 43.8% of lesbian women and 26% of gay men experience some type of violence (rape, physical abuse, and/or stalking) by an intimate partner in their lifetime, a number that is likely to be underreported given the difficulties still facing LGBTQ populations in the US.  The same resource found that bisexual men and women suffer from IPV at rates of 61.1% and 37.3%, respectively.  These instances of IPV in the already vulnerable LGBTQ population are alarming.

It is essential that people in LGBTQ relationships have tools to recognize.  Are you in a healthy relationship?  The following questions may help you find an answer. 

  1. In a verbal argument, are both you and your partner being heard and respected?
  2. Can you and your partner compromise?
  3. Are you able to voice your opinion and feelings without the fear of retaliation?
  4. Do you feel free to explore interests separate from your partner?
  5. Does your partner respect your chosen gender pronoun/name/orientation?
  6. Do you and your partner feel there is balance in who is paying for what?
  7. Do you feel physically and emotionally safe with your partner?
  8. Does your partner respect your physical, spiritual, emotional, and sexual boundaries?
  9. Does your partner allow you to have time to yourself, as well as with friends and family?
  10. Does your partner respect your decision to be out or not out?

 A “No” to any of the above questions may be a warning sign that the relationship may not be healthy.  Red flags or warning signs are vital when meeting new people.  Below are 10 red flags that you can look for in a potential partner:

  1. Jealousy
  2. Controlling behaviors
  3. Quick to commit or pressure to commit
  4. Unrealistic expectations
  5. History of abuse
  6. Isolation
  7. Blame
  8. Disrespect
  9. Threatens to or has outed you
  10. Takes money without asking or dictates what you spend your money on

If you find that any of these are present, consider taking a deeper look at the relationship and try to discover if there is actually equality and respect present. 

Given the prevalence of IPV in the LGBTQ community, it is critical that LGBTQ folks, allies, and professionals take a stand by educating themselves and their friends and family on the red flags of unhealthy relationships.  Use the questions provided in this article to guide you in your own relationships and to help educate those around you.  In addition, it is important to seek out additional education and help raise awareness by volunteering with IPV survivors and victims, and always practice equality and respect in all relationships that you are in. 

Breiding, M.J., Chen J., & Black, M. (2014). Intimate Partner Violence in the United States - 2010. National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/cdc_nisvs_ipv_report_2013_v17_single_a.pdf

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