Lesbians face unique issues unlike those faced by their heterosexual counterparts (Sue & Sue, 2008). Many women from this minority population resist seeking help for their issues because of the generally negative bias and prejudice demonstrated by society. Sue and Sue (2008) claim there is a higher rate of domestic violence in lesbian partnerships. This paper addresses several unique aspects and underlying factors of abuse in lesbian partnerships and considers their implications in therapy.
Abuse Between Lesbian Partners
Patzel (2005) claims the reported rate of abuse between lesbian partners is similar to that of heterosexual partners, but because of the perceived stigma associated with lesbian relationships, the prevalence may easily be much higher. Although factors contributing to abuse in lesbian partnerships is similar to their heterosexual counterparts, Patzel (2005) identifies four differences that impact lesbians: "homophobia, merging, reciprocal abuse, and a lack of support" (p. 7). Homophobia refers to the lesbians' internal homophobic feelings that stem from pervasive homophobic societal pressures. This type of internalized homophobia forces isolation and resistance to seek help when domestic abuse occurs.
Krestan and Bepko (1980) characterize merger or fusion as a tendency for women to lose themselves in relationships because of a female tendency toward empathy and a desire for emotional connection. When women engage other women in primary relationships, this tendency may create an imbalance in which both partners' need for connectedness outweigh their ability to remain autonomous (Krestan & Bepko, 1980). Autonomy of one partner may threaten the other partner's perception of the relationship's stability. Further exacerbating the problem is a lack of support by friends and family for the relationship (Patzel, 2005).
Reciprocity in lesbian abuse is the perception and assumptions made by society as well as
the authorities that because two women are equal in size and strength, the abuse is not as critical as the abuse that takes place between a man and a woman. This inaccurate perception prevents lesbians from seeking help. When women do report abuse, the authorities may not respond as they would to the domestic violence of heterosexual couples (Patzel, 2005).
Implications in Counseling
The American Psychological Association (2012) suggests the values and bias of counselors significantly affect the counseling process for lesbians. Broverman et al. (1970) suggest counselors' perceptions may continue to embrace subtle bias and stereotypes. Because of the subtle nature of personal bias, counselors must reflect on personal attitudes toward this population (Sue & Sue, 2008). When counseling lesbian couples for domestic abuse, they must consider homophobia, fusion, reciprocity, and lack of support as critical underlying issues (Patzel, 2005). Developing a strong reliable support system for the couple is critical. Equally beneficial is helping them work toward creating autonomy as a benefit rather than a threat to the relationship.
If appropriate, the partners may wish to explore their own homophobia to develop an authentic acceptance of lesbianism as a psychologically healthy and natural alternative to heterosexual coupling (Sue & Sue, 2008). Ultimately, counselors must educate themselves in understanding that abuse in lesbian partnerships is extraordinarily complex and cannot be resolved with the same solutions used for heterosexual couples. Patzel (2005) believes within the lesbian population, little awareness and acknowledgment of this abuse exists. Counselors may consider advocating for this population by creating an awareness of this complex issue as well as offering guidance toward its ultimate resolve.
American Psychological Association. (2012). Issues in Psychotherapy with Lesbian and Gay Men: A Survey of Psychologists. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerned Gay Men: A Survey of Psychologists. Retrieved July 12, 2012, from http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/issues.aspx
Broverman, I. K., Broverman, D. M., Clarkson, F. E., & Rosenkrant, P. S., & Vogel, S. R. (1970). Sex-role stereotypes and clinical judgments of mental health. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 34(1), 1-7. doi: 10.1037/h0028797
Krestan, J., & Bepko, C. S. (1980). The problem of fusion in the lesbian relationship. Family Process, 19(3), 277-289. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.1980.00277.x
Patzel, B. (2005). Lesbian partner abuse: Differences from heterosexual victims of abuse. A review from the literature. Kansas Nurse, 80(9), 7-8.
Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2008). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.