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8 Ways Lesbian Relationships Fail and Recover

8 Ways Lesbian Relationships Fail and Recover

Most of us have had the sad opportunity to reflect on how relationships fail. Whether you’re currently in a floundering relationship, or just ended one, or have been single forever because you’re afraid of failing again—at some point you ask yourself “How did we go wrong?” And, even more painfully, “How did I go wrong?” You need to ask those questions, because it feels like failure and you don’t want to go through it again.

The excellent news is that asking these questions helps you know what to do next. Sometimes you can actually save and improve your current relationship. Other times you need to focus on recovering yourself, alone. Either way, looking at how a relationship can go wrong points to how you recover.  

In the next few months I’m going to be asking women to share with me their thoughts about how their relationships started to fall apart, and what has helped them to either repair the damage or move forward post-divorce. It’s a broad topic, and I really hope to hear from you. If you’re a woman who has ever loved another woman, I’d like to hear your thoughts about what has harmed and helped that connection. My goal is to identify the top 5-6 themes in relationship demise and recovery.

To prime the pump, here are some negative trends I’ve noticed among queer women in relationships:

  1. Women together seem to be at high risk to develop parent-child dynamics.  This is definitely a gradual process…but over time one person is gradually deemed the one who is more in charge, or maybe even the one who needs to be pleased. Needless to say this doesn’t support an emotionally and sexually intimate relationship.
  2. Lack of sexual intimacy is a problem for all kinds of couples, and especially so for two women.  A classic study found that after 10 years together, 67% of heterosexual couples were still having sex a couple times a month; only 15% of lesbian couples did the same. Don’t get me started on how many ways that’s not good for a marriage.
  3. Children. Many of us go to a lot of trouble to have them because we want them, and love them, and then they turn into little troublemakers who wreak havoc on marriages.  As studies have noted, there’s a 70% decrease in marital satisfaction after the arrival of the first child. At the same time, you may feel incredible growth as a person/parent.  This is a very tough balancing act.
  4. Turning away…disengagement…being more attached to the iPad than the person next to you.  Electronic devices (except maybe vibrators) don’t usually foster interpersonal intimacy of any sort.

There are also things I’ve noticed that seem to help a lot with recovering from relationship troubles.

  1. Some couples really do try to communicate better. They listen more and talk less, express feelings with more vulnerability, and try to actually understand the other’s point of view. They feel happier with each other.
  2. Some couples also consistently practice positive behaviors: doing fun activities, setting aside time on their schedule to relate more intimately with each other, giving each other compliments, hugs and kisses. Interestingly, even when this feels awkward or forced, it still brings more trust and affection into the connection.
  3. Those who need to recover alone, because the relationship just didn’t work out, benefit tremendously from expanding their social network. It’s just not great to stay home alone grieving your losses for a long time. Of course you need to, some, but engaging with the outside world is a very important part of healing. It’s the “social animal” thing—we really are made that way.
  4. Doing things to help others helps you, a lot. A little altruism is really, really good for the soul.  Even if you feel miserable, you can be a helpful human being and it’s returned many times in the form of good karma.

Those are some of my initial thoughts. Please send me yours! This is going to be the theme of my next book, so I need lots of data and perspectives.  

Again, the questions we ask ourselves:  How did we go wrong?  How did I go wrong?  How do we get better?

Glenda Corwin, Ph.D is a clinical psychologist who specializes in lesbian sexual issues. She is the author of Sexual Intimacy for Women: A Guide for Same Sex Couples (Seal Press, 2010).

Her specialty areas of practice are:
• Issues associated with female sexuality and sexual desire
• LGBT individuals and couples
• Workshops on sustaining sexual intimacy

Find out more at

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  • Jeanne says:

    There’s so much that I could say, but I’ll just start with taking time to heal after a failed relationship helped me out a lot. Then with my wife now, on our first date we talked about all the things that went wrong in our last relationship and found out early about what we wanted and needed, including time for intimacy and communication and gratitude.

  • epochalipsnow says:

    Wow! great comment. Thanks for the insight.