Abusive Gay Relationships

abuse in lesbian relationshipsThe media and government have brought to our attention the issue of domestic violence, and abusive relationships in general.

However, what we don’t hear so much about is the issue of abusive gay relationships.

It seems some people in our society think violence in gay and lesbian relationships is “less serious” than the violence in straight relationships (Wise and Bowman, 1997); or feel less empathy for  victims of abusive gay relationships (Harris and Cook, 1994; Ford et al, 1998; Davies et al, 2001). But the truth is: abuse is abuse. Gay or straight.

The violence that abusive men or women (whether gay, straight or transgender) inflict on domestic partners, is no less serious than the violence inflicted by abusive heterosexual partners on their domestic partners.

How Common are Abusive Gay Relationships?

Did you know that it is only since 1987 that statistics regarding gay and lesbian domestic violence been collected? This is not okay!

Another concern is that the violence may have been denied by victims, or incorrectly recorded as “mutual combat.” The logic behind this is simple: If a community refuses to acknowledge gay relationships, it cannot acknowledge when these relationships become abusive. However, it is definitely happening.

One study (4) found that:

  • 79% of gay victims had suffered some physical injury;
  • 60% reporting bruises;
  • 23% reporting head injuries and concussions;
  • 13% reporting forced sex with the intention to infect the victim with HIV;
  • 12% reporting broken bones, and
  • 10% reporting burns.

Thus, the issue deserves the same attention in gay relationships as it does in straight relationships.

What does an Abusive Relationship Look Like?

An abusive relationship is characterised by the pattern of actions that an individual uses to intentionally control or dominate his/her intimate partner. That is why the words “power and control” are in the centre of the wheel. An abusive person systematically uses threats, intimidation, and coercion to instil fear in his/her partner; these behaviours form the spokes of the wheel. Physical and sexual violence hold it all together—the rim of the wheel.

According to the Duluth model and approach to domestic violence in any relationship, there are eight (8) different areas of violence that enable power and control. These are:

  • Coercion and threats;
  • Using intimidation;
  • Emotional abuse;
  • Financial abuse;
  • Gender privilege;
  • Using isolation;
  • Minimising, denying and blaming;
  • Using children.

There is a common belief that abusive relationships entail physical assaults and resultant bruises, scars or bleeding. However, it is broader than that.

gay abusive relationshipsVerbal attacks, insults, threats and keeping your partner “guessing” do not leave bruises, however they are just as damaging. Homosexual relationships are not exempt from emotional, psychological or other abuse.

Of course, critics of gays and lesbians may purport unsupported citations of dysfunction in same sex relationships as “proof” that gay and lesbian relationships are dysfunctional. On the one hand, as noted earlier, these issues and numbers do not differ to any other relationship.

Domestic Violence in Same Sex Relationships: Some Differences

On the other hand, it is worth noting the nuances by which gay and lesbian relationships can become unhealthy, dysfunctional or abusive.

For example, abusers can make specific threats to “out” the victim to family, coworkers, and friends. This may mean greater isolation and painful rejection by loved ones, loss of employment, and loss of emotional support.

Also, where the victim is a parent, threats to “out” the victim could lead to perceived fears of loss of custody of their children.

Relationships are hard work. There are so many things that need to happen so an equal and respectful relationship has a chance of surviving.

Violence can occur in any relationship, straight or gay; couples need to work towards equality and respect.

Let’s be frank – while there has been a great deal of progress in the area of gay rights over the past several years, there still exists plenty of cultural bias and prejudice when it comes to same sex relationships in our society.

This does not mean no one is willing to work to enhance your positive relationship.

One of the reasons LGBT people often seek out a therapist specifically for gay couples counselling, is because they want to work with someone who isn’t going to judge them. It’s that simple. You will not have to worry about editing your comments, or that you might say something that will confuse or offend. When you think about it, counselling (for individuals or couples) can never really be effective if transparency isn’t at the forefront.

Plus, if you are gay or lesbian, you likely don’t want to have to spend a lot of time educating your therapist about the different cultural dynamics that are common within the community.

You may also want to work with a therapist for gay couples counselling because in the past, you have tried therapy with someone and ended up having a “bad” experience. This can sometimes happen if the counsellor wasn’t truly accepting or sensitive to issues impacting your relationship.

If you sense any disrespect, inequality, violence in any form, or dysfunction in your relationship, psychological intervention with a therapist experienced in working with same sex couples, can help you to find real solutions.

Gay and Lesbian Couples Counselling

If you are a gay or lesbian couple, looking for couples counseling, I welcome you to book an appointment with me. Rest assured that whatever your issues, I will not judge you or your significant other/s.

And if you are looking for individual relationship counseling that’s fine too! Many people come to therapy with me to receive guidance, support and insight, to enjoy an equal and respectful relationship. I understand … it is hard work!

Author: Trudy Sheffield, B Beh Sc (1st Class Hons).

Trudy Sheffield offers a non-judgmental, interactive, and common sense way of addressing this treatment area. Violence and aggressive behaviour in its many forms is preventable. Stop the cycle now!

To make an appointment with Trudy Sheffield, freecall 1800 877 924 or try online booking – Mt Gravatt today.


  1. Davies, M., Pollard, P., and Archer, J. (2001). The Influence of Victim Gender and Sexual Orientation on Judgments of the Victim in a Depicted Stranger Rape. Violence and Victims, 16(6), 607-619.
  2. Ford, T. M., Liwag-McLamb, M. G., and Foley, L. A. (1998). Perceptions of Rape Based on Sex and Sexual Orientation of Victim. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, Vol. 13(2), 253-263.
  3. Harris, R. J., and Cook, C. A. (1994). Attributions About Spouse Abuse: It Matters Who the Batterers and Victims Are. Sex Roles, 30(7-8), 553-565.
  4. Merril, G. S., Wolfe, V. A. (2000). Battered Gay Men: An Exploration of Abuse, help Seeking, and Why They Stay. Journal of Homosexuality, 39(2), 1-30.
  5. Wise, A. J., and Bowman, S. L. (1997). Comparison of Beginning Counselors’ Responses to Lesbian vs. Heterosexual partner abuse. Violence and Victims, 12(2), 127-135.