No matter where you place yourself on the LGBTQ spectrum, if you also identify as a Christian, my guess is that you have probably had some difficulty reconciling your faith with your sexuality/gender identity. While there are some gay Christians who have been completely spared from that dilemma, most have not. If you or someone you care about identifies as LGBTQ and Christian there absolutely is hope for making peace with both of these identities- but where do you begin?
First Things First: Reparative Therapy is Dangerous
Reparative/Conversion Therapy is the attempt, on behalf of a counselor, to help a client change their sexual orientation or gender identity. The damage of this therapy is so profound that it has been deemed unethical by the American Psychological Association and has been made illegal in many states. For more information on this practice, read: The Lies and Dangers of Reparative Therapy.
Find a Counselor Who Will Respect Both Worlds
Counseling can be an excellent resource (if I do say so myself) for hashing-out your faith beliefs and your sexuality/gender identity. I recommend finding someone who will respect you as an LGBTQ Christian. Find a counselor who will encourage you as you find your own path on this journey. This is a very personal endeavor and you should never feel pressured to sacrifice your faith or your sexual orientation/gender identity. Consider finding someone who is relatively familiar with Christianity and knowledgable of the unique issues that come with being LGBTQ.
You will hear a lot and I mean A LOT of opinions on what it means to be LGBTQ and Christian. I recommend starting with some basic research about gender and sexuality. This may help to solidify your beliefs about what is choice and what is not. Here are some helpful resources:
You are not alone on this journey. It is so important that you connect with people who are in the same boat as you. Thanks to the internet, you can find so many great communities to join. Depending on where you live, you may also find some churches who will accept all of who you are. Here are some resources to consider:
Q Christian Fellowship “Join thousands of others around the world in our private, password-protected discussion forum.”
Don’t Give Up
You deserve to live an authentic life. Being a Christian and LGBTQ comes with challenges. Lucky for you, research shows that the LGBTQ community is one of the most resilient. You are strong enough to get through this but you don’t have to do it alone. Connect with others. Reach-out for help. Here are some stories that you might find inspiring:
Look, the holidays can be hard for everyone, but they can be especially trying for those of us who are a little extra fabulous. The holidays often come with the lovely reminder of how different we are from our families and, especially if we’re single, an extra dose of loneliness. Never fear, here are some ways to emotionally bullet proof your holiday season.
Celebrate With Your People
Surround yourself with people who know you and love you. The foundation, “Born This Way,” found that social support is one the most important factors contributing to resilience. Even if you don’t have the time or energy to host a party of some kind, just grabbing a cup of coffee with someone can be enough to lift your spirits. If you don’t already have a friend or two whom you can be real with, make finding community a priority.
Rethink How You Think
I recently read an excellent article that highlighted the amount of little traumas that LGBTQ individuals inflict upon ourselves just by imagining being rejected or bullied. We tell ourselves stories of future rejection before it has even happened. This is a protective mechanism but it may cause more harm than good. Brene Brown has shared the concept of changing our inner narrative in her book, “Rising Strong.” This is a book I highly recommend for LGBTQ individuals in my practice. Next time you imagine yourself being bullied or rejected, consider other storylines. Choose to consider all of the possibilities. This doesn’t mean that we throw caution to the wind, it means that we choose to not dwell on imagined negative stories.
Be Your Own Best Friend
This is a stressful time of year for everyone but it can be especially stressful if you’re in the closet or lack family connection. Remember that you have a choice as to how you will spend your time this season. Take care of yourself as you would a dear friend. Would you send your best friend into a situation where they would feel rejected? Would you let your best friend sit at home alone? Now, maybe self-care for you looks like staying home, and that’s ok! Just make sure that your time is filled with things that bring you joy. For the most part, you get to choose what this season will look like for you.
Find Something Bigger Than Yourself
This is the season of giving, is it not? There’s no better time to get involved! There are so many organizations who have wonderful opportunities for serving the community. Sometimes, we need a break from focusing on ourselves- especially if we are in pain. Serving others helps us to have perspective, gratitude, and increases our sense of value in the world. If you’d like to give back to the LGBTQ community here are some opportunities in the Austin area:
Community is of upmost importance for our health and wellbeing. Sometimes we need a trusted friend to remind us that we’re not alone in our troubles. Even the best therapist can’t replace the comfort of a loving friend. A good therapist will always encourage you to seek outside support. If you do have such a friend in your life, remind them that you just need a listening ear, not advice. Also, a true friend will be honest with you about how you may be contributing to the relationship problems, which leads me to…
4) Have you considered how you are contributing to the problems in the relationship?
It’s so easy to see how our partner can do better, but have you considered your part? In my article, How Couple’s Counseling Works, I describe a relationship gone wrong. You’ve heard the term, “It takes two to Tango?” Well, it’s true. No one can make you behave a certain way. Sometimes it feels like we don’t have a choice but that’s just not true. We always have a choice to respond in way that reflects who we want to be.Consider journaling daily about your relationship. Note how you are contributing to the problems.
5) Are you being the partner you want to be?
Make a list describing the kind of partner YOU want to be. Now is the time to reflect on who you want to be as a partner, regardless of who you are with. Often, we become resentful, frustrated, critical, or hopeless when we aren’t taking care of ourselves by setting good boundaries. If you find yourself being critical when you’d like to be more patient, ask yourself why that is. Patience isn’t required in easy situations. Patience is required when other’s fall short of our expectations. However, if you find that your patience is constantly wearing thin, maybe you haven’t been setting enough boundaries. It’s possible that you need to take some responsibilities off of your plate or lower your expectations of yourself. Here are some examples of boundaries:
If you need to go to bed before your partner, maybe you could agree that one of you will sleep in the guest room so that you can get a good night’s sleep and aren’t awakened when they come to bed.
Choosing to have PB&J two nights per week for dinner to lessen the pressure of meal planning and prep.
Gently telling your partner that you will not discuss an issue further if they continue to yell.
Telling your boss that you won’t continue to answer work emails on evenings and weekends.
Hiring a babysitter one night per week to deal with the bedtime routine while you go to a local bookstore.
When it’s time to see a therapist.
Any or all of these suggestions may help to solve the problems or they may serve as a great start towards a better relationship. If it feels like you and your partner are stuck, reach-out. Changes are hard to make and you don’t need to go through this alone. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a third-party present who is trained in relationships. This person can help identify your unhealthy pattern and get you on the path to better communication, better self-care, and better problem-solving. Send me an email or search for a therapist near you on Psychology Today.
Does the thought of going to couple’s counseling make you nervous? If so, I don’t blame you! For many people, going to therapy sounds about as fun as going to the dentist. When we have a painful cavity, we know it needs to get fixed. We also know that that getting it fixed will cause more pain at first. Counseling is similar in that it usually gets harder before it gets better. However, after all is said and done, couple’s therapy can make our relationship stronger than ever before.
So why does it have to hurt before it can get better?
Usually, we go to counseling because something hurtful has happened in our relationship and we want to feel better. It’s hard to look back and remember times that our partner has hurt us. However, if we don’t look at the wound, examine it, and determine its cause, how could we possibly know how to fix it? Just as the dentist has to poke around on our gums to find the problem tooth, we have to poke around and find where you have been hurt emotionally. This usually involves your therapist asking questions about recent arguments or maybe even looking at ways you’ve been hurt in past relationships.
Why do therapists always get into the childhood stuff?
It’s not always necessary to get into childhood issues but it can be helpful. As kids, our brains were developing as we learned about the world. We learned about what love looks like, whether the world is a safe place or not, whether we can trust people, and so on. Sometimes we’ve developed beliefs that are harming our current relationship. For example, if I learned that people don’t like to hear about problems, I may believe that I need to keep my problems secret from my partner. If that is my belief, I will most likely think it’s not ok to ask for help. So, let’s say I’ve had a serious problem with my boss at work. When I come home work very grouchy my partner has no idea why. My partner may try to ask but I’ll just push them away. Being pushed away may feel hurtful to my partner, so they close down too. Now we have two people in a relationship who are both feeling very alone.
Who’s in the wrong here?
One could argue that no one is. I have been doing what I have learned is the loving thing to do in a relationship- keep my problems to myself. I think that I am protecting my partner from negativity by not sharing my troubles. Unfortunately, my partner feels like they must be doing something wrong. If I don’t share with them, they must not be a good partner. Maybe they believe that people who really love each other share everything with one another. They start to doubt my love for them. Now my partner is feeling insecure and alone. I am feeling overwhelmed and alone. Both of us are just trying to do the right thing but we’re operating from different belief systems.
Here’s the difference between blaming a person and addressing the system.
I learned in childhood that people don’t want to hear about problems. I believe I need to keep things positive and not complain. When I came home in a grouchy mood, my partner asked me, “What’s wrong?” I snapped back with, “Nothing.” My partner is not an idiot. They know that something is wrong. My lack of sharing has triggered some sadness in my partner. You see, my partner struggles with never feeling good enough. Now that they see their beloved withdrawing from them, my partner is convinced that they must not be good enough to share with. Now my partner withdraws too, feeling hurt and rejected. This example illustrates why it is so important to move away from blame and move toward self-awareness.
How does therapy undo the damage?
Therapy provides a safe place to come and get to the root of your issues with a neutral party. Therapists are trained to not take sides but to look at the whole relationship dynamic. If you’re in therapy, and you feel that your therapist is taking sides, you need to bring that up to them. You may even need to find a new therapist. The role of the therapist is to help you find what your underlying belief systems are. Notice I didn’t say that the role of the therapist is to find what’s wrong with you or your partner. Rarely is it one person that causes a relationship to struggle. It’s the system of communication that is based on faulty beliefs that is the problem.
Therapy helps us to see the unhealthy patterns that we slip into when life gets hard. Once we realize what we are doing, and why, we can address it. Using the example above, I must believe that my partner actually wants to hear about negative stuff that they’re facing. My partner must learn that I struggle with sharing hard stuff, but not because my partner is a bad partner. The hope here is that I will bravely begin to share more of my heart, even though I most likely fear they will be criticized for it. When I do share, my partner must work to make sure they are making it safe to share (not judging, giving advice without asking first, etc.). My partner must also realize that if I choose not to share, it may be because I am scared. See how this helps us both to have much more compassion for each other?
Results of Couples Counseling
When we have more compassion for each other (and ourselves) we are slow to criticize and quick to connect. Often, we take the behavior of our partner’s personally. In reality, we all come into relationships with baggage. We’re all wrestling with our own demons. Counseling helps us to reveal what those demons are and then learn new ways to relate so that they don’t effect our current relationships. If you feel stuck with your partner, consider finding a therapist near you. We all get stuck sometimes, going to a therapist can help you to identify the patterns you get stuck in and then give you tools for staying un-stuck.
In the meantime, here are some free resources to help:
Last Spring, I had the pleasure of working with 10 individuals in group therapy. The group was called, “LGBTQiA Spiritual Reconciliation.” The purpose of the group was to allow space for LGBTQiA individuals to process any struggles with their spirituality. My hope was that this would be a safe place for self-awareness and healing. I learned a lot from this group experience. Below are some of my take-aways from the group.
We all want to known and loved for who we truly are.
Even within the LGBTQiA community, there is hate and prejudice. Find people who build you up. Cherish these people.
Wounds that have been inflicted by community are best healed by community, but probably not by the same community that caused them.
Ideally, we need to do our own inner healing work before we engage in a romantic relationship with another. Internalized homophobia is real. It hurts us and those around us too.
Spiritual trauma is real and it makes us feel like it’s not ok to be both LGBTQiA and religious.
Have you experienced wounding from a religious community?
Here are some things you can do:
Find online community or in-person community through websites like MeetUp to find others who can understand your pain.
Reach-out to a therapist who specializes in working with the LGBTQiA community. They should also respect your spirituality. Psychology Today is an excellent resource for finding a therapist in your area.
If you connect to this article and live in the Austin or San Marcos area, I would love to work with you. My Summer group is already full but I will launch another in the Fall. Please contact me today to receive a free consultation for group, individual, or couples counseling at my office in Buda, TX.
“I’m afraid if I change, my family won’t grow with me.” – KG
Thank you for subscribing to my newsletter. Today I want to talk about something that came-up in a group that I am facilitating. The group was created to help women create self-loving habits around food and exercise. We’re about three weeks in and some are hitting road blocks.
One group member courageously shared that what holds her back is realizing that the changes she wants to make could leave her isolated from her family. It wasn’t long after that many others in the group resonated with her experience.
I’d like to speak to this dynamic that is so common in relationships. I call it, the, “Now I see Me” phenomenon. The truth of relationships is that they often reveal our inner lives, the good, the bad, and sometimes the very ugly. Friends, family, coworkers, partners, kids… ALL will bring-up unresolved issues within us. So when someone does something offensive and we find ourselves reacting in a way that is disproportionate to the ‘crime,’ we need to start digging deeper. We need to stop and intentionally search within ourselves for the cause of such a reaction.
“I know that what I was doing was the right thing for me but for some reason, it was like my wife couldn’t stand it.” – LD
Now that will take time, work, and possibly therapy for you to uncover what’s really going on. That’s hard enough as it is. But what do we do when we’re not the one having the disproportionate reaction? Let’s go back to the concept of, “Now I see Me.”
For the sake of clarity, we’ll discuss through the lens of an adult romantic relationship. When your partner is resentful of you for positive changes that you want to make in your life, there’s a good chance that it is due to fear.
Let’s say that you and your partner make a regular habit of drinking to the point of blacking-out every Friday night. It’s been fun sometimes, but horrible at other times. You’ve decided that the horrible times outweigh the good times. There’s something in you that has been whispering, “This is not healthy.” So, you tell your partner you’re not going to do that anymore.
Now your partner’s behavior has been challenged. What was once a joint activity, will now be a solo one. They start to question for a split second if what they are doing is wrong too… Oh shit, now I see ME. This is terrifying. You see, whether it’s drinking, or overeating or whatever, that behavior was serving a purpose. Most likely, the behavior was allowing you both to escape or hide from an emotion or truth that is uncomfortable. Most people aren’t aware of this but when their behavior is challenged, some very intense emotions rise-up. Fear is incredibly powerful.
“My boyfriend and I had huge issues when I started changing my eating and exercise habits. He said he was afraid I’d think I was too good for him.” – LM
“Now I see Me,” is saying now I see my brokenness. And now they could be terrified that you’re going to see it too. They may fear that you will come to a place where you think you’re better than them and leave. Remember how I just said that fear is incredibly powerful? Well, for humans, an intrinsically social species, fear of being alone is the probably among the worst and being LEFT leaves a particularly deep wound.
In my practice, have seen couples with this dynamic- when one is ready to explore and grow and the other is digging their heels in the ground. This is actually very normal. We’re talking about two separate individuals, each on their own life journey. To expect us to always be in the same place at the same time is unrealistic. However, it is not acceptable or healthy for one to demand that the other not grow. It also isn’t healthy for one to want to change but not to do so out of fear of the other’s reaction.
I was unbuckling my kids from their car seats this morning at the “Y” and overheard a very loud Bluetooth conversation from the car next to me. An exasperated woman was talking to her (soon-to-be ex) husband about why things were “just not going to work out anymore” and how she had “tried and tried to tell (him) many times that (we)needed help.” Now, “it’s too late.” I couldn’t hear his words very clearly but I could sense a pleading and despair in his tone. The woman was most likely in her fifties. I wondered if she fit the common story of being a recent empty-nester now finding herself married to a stranger.
I then wondered about my own marriage and about my friends who are also in-the-trenches-with-littles parents. I wondered about the couples I knew who have kids who are about to launch into the adult world.
Then I wondered, “We are giving so much to our kids, but are we investing in our marriages?”
Are we remembering to prioritize each other and ourselves before it’s “too late?” Statistics don’t lie. Divorce is non-discriminatory. It doesn’t care if you’re religious, well-educated, stubborn, patient, beautiful, rich or pious. It can find any one of us. I hope that we all can take a sobering moment to be honest about the time and energy we’re investing in our marriages. I hope we can find creative solutions to make date nights happen. I hope that if we need help, we get it. My hope is that we never get to a point where our committed relationships feel hopeless.
If you’re feeling like your relationship could use a tune-up, consider seeking counseling. While therapy isn’t always cheap, it’s sure more affordable than divorce and your relationship is worth it. In the meantime, here are some books that may help you get back on track (I would also recommend these to newlyweds):
^This book offers a basic understanding of what works and what doesn’t work for couples from leading researcher Dr. John Gottman. Gottman’s research has led his team to predict the likelihood of divorce with astounding accuracy. This is a great place to start.
^My husband and I love the work of Dr. Sue Johnson which is also research-based. This book will take you deeper than Gottman’s work and will be a little more personalized.
^I’ll admit, I haven’t read this book in it’s entirety but it comes highly recommended from some of my marital therapist peers. I love how Hendrix helps us to see the (often untrue) assumptions that we make about our partners and ourselves.
^ In my opinion, this is the best Christian-based marriage book on the market today. It was just released in October of 2016. It is from the same author as the formerly mentioned “Hold Me Tight.”