|Reviewed by Rebecca James|
|Lesbian Couples: A Guide to Creating Healthy Relationships, 2000 edition - by Merilee Clunis & Dorsey Green
Relationships have never been very easy for me to figure out. Gay people have a particularly difficult time because most of us were forced to scramble around making up for lost time once we actually realized thatoops!we were dating not just the wrong person, but the wrong gender. Add to this the average American's dysfunctional family baggage and we have one big mess to sort through. Determining what makes a relationship healthy and how to apply such criterion to your own relationship is the biggest challenge for many people; authors Clunis and Green have revised their guidelines for women in their latest edition of Lesbian Couples: A Guide to Creating Healthy Relationships.
"Many of us want to create something bigger than ourselves. A good relationship can enable us to become something greater than two people. Part of what attracts us to, and makes us fight for, relationships is the transformation that can happen as we live over time as a couple. We are challenged to invent and maintain a "we-ness" that also invites us to grow and become more individually whole."
Self-help books have gained popularity in a society where acknowledging emotional problems is no longer as taboo as it once was. Quality relationship books that are highly readable by reputable, experienced psychologists are not always easy to find. Lesbians also have relationship issues that are unique to female-female couples. Sometimes, simply changing the "he" to "she" in the straight relationship guide is not enough.
"As human beings we desire both emotional and sexual intimacy, and we look to our partners for much of this. Because we are women, we have received strong cultural messages about the value of coupling, and we have learned to prize couple relationships. As lesbians in a homophobic world, we live with oppression, but we give and gather strength from the partnerships that validate our identity and nurture our self-esteem."
What Clunis and Green have created is a unique sourcebook for single and partnered lesbian women. They examine, in simple language, the stages and problems a couple may face in a relationship. Relying on an eclectic group of sources, including gay- and straight-centered research, the authors address complicated issues such as race, class, communication differences, sexual interests, religion, parenting and more. How does it affect the relationship if one or both partners is in recovery from chemical dependencies, or still healing from an instance of childhood or domestic abuse? "When you are in recovery you are focused on your own healing and may be quite self-absorbed. You may not have much attention or energy left over for your partner...the process puts less strain on the relationship when you and your partner can be clear with each other about what you are thinking, feeling, and wanting." The authors cross-reference secondary issues, such as the communication of these emotions, with other chapters that deal with them specifically. This can be helpful when faced with complex situations.
Lesbian Couples: A Guide to Creating Healthy Relationships also includes a section on endings. Although this is a subject most of us would rather ignore when we are blissfully immersed in the romantic stage of the relationship, the authors point out that "it is also important to examine the reasons couples break up in order to learn how to avoid the problems that can lead to a divorce as well as how to make the endings, when they do come, as successful as possible."
I almost skipped this chapter, but then I realized that I have exited past relationships less than gracefully and perhaps the authors could make those situations a bit clearer. In the end, they did. With discussions on divorce, death, ending ceremonies, and beginning again, the authors acknowledge a grieving process that, ideally, helps us learn from our mistakes and deal with the good and the bad from the relationship.
The book touches on many complicated topics; because of this, the amount of depth they go into with each subject is limited. It is more about organizing your thoughts and recognizing patterns than specific strategies to try as alternatives to therapy. Readers who are interested in the subject and capable of introspection when dealing with relationships will get a lot out of Lesbian Couples: A Guide to Creating Healthy Relationships. The authors do include suggestions for some problems, but their point is that by identifying your past problems, you may come up with some ideas for solutions on your own. This book is definitely worth looking at, no matter where you are in (or out of) your relationship. The authors also include a list of national organizations, websites, and books available for further reading.
Rebecca James is back in school in Allentown, Pennsylvania. You can still catch her in Rehoboth most weekends through the fall.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 11, No. 13, September 21, 2001.