Lesbian couple on beach

Relationships and coming out

The area covering northern, western and central Melbourne has an incredibly diverse population. Among its 1.6+ million residents, more than 40 per cent were born outside Australia, while each year there is an influx of thousands of new arrivals from overseas.

Another feature indicative of the region’s diversity is a high population of people who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans Queer / Questioning). For example, inner-city Melbourne leads the way for having the city’s highest proportion of same-sex couples in any suburb. In fact, seven out of the top 10 suburbs with the highest proportion of same-sex couples are found in this region.

The number of same-sex couples living together has progressively increased over the last 20 years, with many entering into official unions following the 2017 same-sex marriage plebiscite.

Coming out

While general social attitudes have improved greatly over the years, people who identify as LGBTQ are still more likely to face discrimination or stigmatisation.

They are more likely to be harassed, stigmatised, bullied or face discrimination. This may take a public form (e.g. discrimination in a shop or fear for one’s safety on the street) or it can take place in private (e.g. rejection or demonization from family). For this reason, many same-sex attracted individuals feel they need to hide that part of their identity from family, friends or co-workers.

Thankfully, as mentioned, attitudes in society are more accepting than ever. This means that many more people are accepting their feelings of same-sex attraction and may be more inclined to disclose this part of their identity to their peers and family.

Coming out and being open about who you are is a very personal experience. Most same-sex attracted people come to terms with their sexuality earlier in life. From there, the actual process of coming out may vary. It can be straightforward and natural for some, perhaps starting with family or close friends. For others, it may be drawn-out, painful or emotionally difficult.

Coming out and relationships

It is widely agreed that that coming out can have important and positive effects on mental health and long-term happiness. Nonetheless, big life changes (even positive ones) can be stressful. Since coming out is one of the bigger decisions in life, doing so may bring further challenges or place strain on a relationship.

Tension can result from a number of sources. It is possible that you or your partner’s coming out is rejected or resisted by friends and family. This could range from disbelief and accusations of it being “a phase” to outright rejection and being shunned from family. The resulting distress can be challenging to you or your partner.

Keep in mind that the way in which friends and family react initially may change. In some families, the first response may be sadness or concern over the prospect of lost grandchildren, family image or a son or daughter’s ‘planned future’. Many families, however, change their initial attitudes over time and grow to accept the genuine identity of their family member.

How to be a great support

How well people cope and manage with difficult situations is often affected by how supported they feel.

If you are the partner of someone going through a difficult time, your role is likely central to their wellbeing. Here are some ways to be a great source of support.

  • Be the best listener that you can. This means listening objectively as all ‘coming outs’ are different and personal.
  • Resist the temptation to leap straight into advice-giving. The urge to ease a loved one’s pain is a universal one. However, being a good listener and letting the other person know you’ve got their back is often the best way to start resolving how they feel.
  • If you are already ‘out’ then understand that you may have already come to terms with some potentially difficult feelings. Your boyfriend or girlfriend’s feelings may still be quite raw.
  • If you are not out, then don’t feel pressured to come out yourself. You should only come out when you are ready. This is also true for your partner.
  • You or your boyfriend or girlfriend may feel a range of strong emotions if coming out was met with negative responses. It is important to not be rash and to resist the urge to be abusive or aggressive if one of you is feeling angry. As strong and intense as these feeling may seem, the best course of action is the one that is most supportive to your partner.

Support outside of a relationship

You don’t have to be the only source of support if coming out is proving tough. A CAREinMIND counsellor can help you or your partner deal with concerns or worries. They can help develop a strategy to help you cope, deal and ultimately feel better. If you are in northern, western or central Melbourne, speaking to a professional counsellor any time is as simple as calling 1300 096 269. An alternative is to log in for free online counselling.

It is particularly important to not neglect your own self-care. If you are the person doing the supporting, you too may be faced with emotional challenges. You may be strong for your partner, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reach out to your own friends, family or co-workers. Since you may be dealing with some pretty difficult feelings, CAREinMIND counsellors are there to help.

If the situation is still difficult, consider seeing a face-to-face counsellor experienced in issues affecting same-sex attracted people. If necessary, consider a family therapist who is professionally trained in the issue.

Any emotionally challenging situation can test your relationship. The key is for both of you to be open and honest about your feelings and upfront in your communication.

Overcoming any crisis can give you the know-how, confidence and resilience to deal with greater challenges further down the track. It can also help a couple become stronger and more mature in their relationship.

 

Concerned? Talk to a professional counsellor on 1300 096 269. It’s free to people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Want to know where else you can get help? Find out how to access additional community support.

 

The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.