Stigma and Intimacy in Same-Sex Relationships: A Narrative Approach

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Lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals in romantic relationships experience stigma, prejudice, and discrimination stemming from widespread social devaluation of same-sex relationships. Research on same-sex couples has demonstrated a negative association between experiences of stigma and relationship quality. However, critical questions remain unanswered regarding how experiences of stigma become more or less meaningful within the context of same-sex relationships. This paper presents a study of the stories that a purposive sample of 99 individuals in same-sex relationships wrote about their relational high points, low points, decisions, and goals, as well as their experiences of stigma directly related to their relationships. Narrative analysis of these stories revealed that participants utilized several psychological strategies for making meaning of their experiences of stigma within the context of their relationships. Some participants framed stigma as having a negative impact on their relationships, while others framed stigma as relevant, but external to their lives. Some participants saw stigma as providing an opportunity to (re)define notions of commitment and relational legitimacy. Additionally, many participants framed stigma as bringing them closer to their partners and strengthening the bond within their relationships. The results of this study illuminate the psychological strategies individuals in same-sex couples use to make meaning of, cope with, and overcome societal devaluation thereby furthering understandings of the association between stigma and intimacy within marginalized relationships.

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