Stronger Together: How LGBTQ+ Couples Can Overcome Unique Challenges

Unique challenges associated with being a member of the LGBTQ+ community may make romantic relationships difficult to navigate. Experts share ways to overcome the hurdles.

While all couples deal with challenges throughout their relationships, members of the LGBTQ+ community often face a unique set of struggles that their straight counterparts don’t have to deal with — potentially making it more difficult to maintain a happy and healthy bond.

Though these challenges vary depending on the couple, some examples include facing judgment from loved ones, dealing with overt homophobia in public, navigating relationship dynamics without gender roles, and struggling to build a family.


While these challenges may be difficult, experts say they’re far from unsurmountable. In fact, with the right support and tools, conquering these challenges together may even serve to strengthen the relationship between two people.

“Unique challenges faced by queer couples range from social prejudice to the absence of traditional relationship blueprints,” says Kristie Tse, LMHC, a psychotherapist and the founder of Uncover Mental Health Counseling, whose work focuses specifically on supporting people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. “Overcoming these challenges requires strong communication and support systems.”

Judgment from friends and family

Timothy Frie is a gay man who’s been in a relationship for eight years. Frie, a nutritional neuroscientist and trauma researcher who lives in Atlanta, GA, says he’s encountered several challenges in his relationship specific to being queer, including navigating life with different levels of awareness of homophobia and different experiences when it comes to acceptance — or lack thereof — from family.

“I was raised in a very conservative, Christian family who openly expressed their anti-LGBTQIA+ attitudes,” Frie tells Healthnews. “On the flip side, my partner never felt unsafe in his family.”

His partner came out at 18, and Frie came out at 25.

This difference can make the relationship dynamic they have with each of their biological families challenging, he says. As a result of his past experiences, Frie says he tends to be hypervigilant with patterns of behavior, stereotypes, and stigmatization to a degree that's far greater than his partner.

Encountering negative reactions or lack of acceptance from family members can strain relationships and cause significant emotional distress, Tse says, as can having strong automatic reactions to present family dynamics due to past trauma.


Frie says he’s been in therapy for 16 years — half of his life — learning how to cope with and navigate these personal and relational challenges.

“We work through this by holding space for each other and creating a safe space for each of us to process our different experiences,” Frie says. “When we're questioning whether others see and accept us, we find solace in reminding ourselves that we see and accept each other.”

Overt homophobia

In addition to dynamics with family members, Frie says another challenge he and his partner face is the fear of violence or homophobia when they’re out in public. They frequently avoid any type of physical intimacy when they go somewhere new, he says — even something as benign as holding hands at the dinner table or while walking.

Overt discrimination from strangers can put a significant strain on relationships and affect the daily lives of couples, Tse explains. Not feeling safe to demonstrate love and affection in public, queer couples may struggle with fear and disconnection as a result.

Frie says he and his partner work through this challenge by talking about their level of safety and comfort beforehand. If they both agree that a specific place or area doesn't feel safe, they’ll discuss how they’ll handle that.

We shouldn't have to think about or do these things, but it's a given for many queer folks.


A lack of traditional blueprints

In same-sex relationships, traditional gender roles often don’t apply, which can be a major plus for those who don’t wish to be confined by restrictive boxes.

But a total lack of designated roles can also create confusion or pressure, Tse says, especially for folks who may be new to queer dating.

Who pays on the first date? Who makes the first move? While the answers to these questions may not genuinely matter, the unknown can add to the already stressful period of early dating and cause queer folks to overthink and worry.


Still, overcoming this confusing period is possible with honest communication, and learning to live and love outside of society’s expectations can lead to a relationship that is genuine, affirming, and fulfilling.

Building a family

For queer couples hoping to be parents, building a family can present a number of challenges, according to Alice Domar, Ph.D., a health psychologist and the chief compassion officer at Inception Fertility.

“Members of the LGBTQ+ community will more than likely need reproductive services in order to build their families, whereas an average heterosexual couple will be able to try naturally [first],” Domar says. “When an LGBTQ+ individual or couple begins their journey, they may well have been exposed to some negativity, often from those closest to them, before they even begin the process. So, by the time they walk into a clinic, they may be feeling far more vulnerable than their heterosexual peers.”

Plus, not all fertility clinics are alike, and some may not provide a sense of inclusivity or enough educational information on LGBTQ+ family building options, she explains. As a result, patients can sometimes encounter misunderstandings and questions that may make them feel uncomfortable.

This compounds the angst they may feel about the treatment process and stress around trying to build their families.


Additionally, fertility costs can sometimes be higher in the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ couples often have less access to insurance coverage that provides fertility benefits, Domar says, and some of their treatment options can be more costly than those for an average heterosexual couple. For example, same-sex male couples are much more likely to need to pay for an egg donor or surrogacy services as part of their treatment, which can cost upwards of $200,000.

For all individuals, fertility care is challenging and can have a tremendous impact on mental health, Domar says. For the LGBTQ+ community, this is compounded by factors related to higher costs of care, less access to insurance coverage, criticism from family/friends about their choice to embark on parenthood, and sometimes the lack of inclusivity they may feel from their healthcare providers.

“That stress can actually impact pregnancy success rates, with research showing that the more stressed a person is before they start an IVF cycle, the less likely they are to get pregnant,” Domar says. “So there are real implications to the mental health toll of infertility and fertility care.”

How to overcome these challenges


For fertility challenges specifically, Domar says there are powerful, proactive measures that LGBTQ+ individuals and couples can take to help them manage their stress and care for their mental health during their fertility care. This includes doing plenty of research to find clinics that support LGBTQ+ family building.

“Working with a provider that promotes inclusivity is important to a patient’s mental health,” Domar says.

Individuals and couples can also join a support group, she says, as fertility care for anyone can be very isolating, especially for those within the LGBTQ+ community, so finding others who are experiencing similar circumstances can be highly beneficial. This can be an in-person group, or even a community online.

She also recommends writing down all of the things that help you best cope with stressful situations and doing those things while you are in a treatment cycle.

“Be sure to include relaxation strategies in your daily routine, like meditation or yoga, which can be very helpful in managing anxiety levels,” she says.

To cope with queer relationship challenges in general, Tse says building a network of affirming friends and community groups can provide a sense of belonging. Seeking the guidance of a therapist well-versed in LGBTQ+ issues can also be very helpful, she says, as it provides a safe environment to discuss and navigate relationship dynamics.

“Effective therapy facilitates mutual validation, open dialogue, and stronger relationship bonds,” Tse says. “Regular counseling and active participation in supportive community events and networks have notably improved many couples' relationships. These strategies collectively enable couples to thrive despite societal pressures, forming deeper, more supportive connections.”


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