Sallyanne Monti, 42, and Mickey Neill, 52, began seeing a couples therapist soon after their relationship began six years ago, and they have been in counseling on and off ever since. They have gone to hash out the kinds of problems that plague many couples: guilt, anxiety, miscommunication and dealing with teenage kids.
But Monti and Neill are both women, and while gay and heterosexual couples have plenty of issues in common, there are big differences as well. Gay couples have to cope daily with homophobia, says Robert-Jay Green, a psychologist in San Francisco. An even bigger problem is a lack of clarity about commitment. "In research samples, the average length of same-sex-couple relationships tends to be about six years," says Green, "compared to around 18 for heterosexuals."
One reason is that there is usually less social glue--marriage, family expectations, children--holding gay couples together. "There's really no one rooting for them to stick it out through the tough times the way there is for straight couples," says Green. "There's no ceremony that invokes traditions of what it means to be a couple. It produces tremendous insecurity."
That is beginning to change as commitment ceremonies become common and families become more accepting (Monti's four children adore Neill). In some ways, gay couples have an advantage, says John Gottman, who counsels both straight and gay couples at his institute in Seattle. Because there is no gender divide between them, "gay partners discuss problems more positively, with more humor and affection than heterosexuals."
Sometimes, however, having similar perspectives can be more of a curse than a blessing, says psychologist Michael Hendricks, who practices at the Washington Psychological Center in Washington: "Expectations about compatibility can be too high."
That's what Monti and Neill discovered. Both had been previously married to men. "We thought that since men are from Mars and women are from Venus or something like that," says Monti, "in a same-sex relationship, communication would be a slam dunk." Instead they found they had the same kind of miscues and hurt feelings that they had faced with their husbands. "Just because we're the same gender," says Neill, "doesn't mean we think the same." --By Michael D. Lemonick. Reported by Sonja Steptoe/Los Angeles