This past week I spoke at the Chicago Area Christian Training Consortium on the topic of sexual identity and family therapy. We opened the discussion with foundational considerations, so that we were essentially on the same page. To get at the foundational issues, we discussed questions family members often ask, such as What causes same-sex attraction? (Parents are often wondering if it is something they did.) and Can sexual orientation change? (A question more frequently asked by parents than by adolescents – but teens sometimes ask this, too.)
We then looked specifically at two major family therapy issues. The first issue: working with families in which an adolescent experiences same-sex attraction or identifies as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. This involved recognizing the difference between disclosure and discovery (of a gay identity), and how parents and teens frequently become polarized at this point. We also discuseed the polarization that occurs between parents as they try to find a way to work together and respond to their teen. In this context we also discussed issues with social support, use of descriptive language, and milestone events in sexual identity development that often leads to labeling.
The second major content area had to do with mixed orientation marriages. We discussed some of the challenges these marriages face – also often related to disclosure versus discovery. Some couples go into a relationship aware of same-sex attraction (or past same-sex attraction) having even discussed this, while most do not. It has been reported that most mixed orientation relationships end in separation or divorce; however, some couples stay together and work out a way to sustain the relationship. I drew on some of the past research we’ve conducted at the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity on mixed orientation marriages in which both partners report satisfaction in their relationship.