Most Gen Z and Millennial LGBTQ+ Couples Don't Feel Support From Family Members
Introducing your partner to your family should be a happy occasion, but that's not always the case for people—especially those who identify as LGBTQ+. A study by The Knot, which surveyed 18- to 29-year-olds in serious relationships, found that nearly 80% of individuals who are in a LGBTQ+ relationship have experienced questioning or criticism in their relationship. The same study found this lack of support is largely tied to relatives. If you feel your family doesn't support your LGBTQ+ relationship, you're not alone.
Just 38% of respondents say their parents are extremely supportive of their sexuality. Sadly, only 25% report the same for other family members. If you don't have support from your relatives, there are steps to take to help guide you through this painful experience towards healing.
Anneliese Singh, author of The Racial Healing Handbook and chief diversity officer at Tulane University, says she faced rejection from her own family while wedding planning and encourages couples (even those who aren't engaged) to process whatever emotions arise. "I know that when family rejection happens, it can feel devastating and like the end of the world, so it's really important we have time and space to grieve."
Your response to your relatives' rejection is a deeply personal choice. Familial relationships present a unique challenge, as they're a bit more complicated. Drawing boundaries can be trickier for some, Singh says. "For instance, for communities of color, it may be a little harder because you can't just cut off your family, who also may be experiencing racism," she explains. "There may be reasons people want to be connected to their family despite their rejection." The key is to decide what feels right to you.
Take Time to Process Your Feelings
Before you take action, acknowledge your emotions. "Experiencing family rejection is psychologically painful and causes a lot of stress, disappointment, vulnerability, fear and anger," Singh says. Whatever you're feeling is completely valid, so take the time to process every emotion weighing on your heart. Doing so will allow you to think more clearly about what you really want and need.
During this time, surround yourself with people who will validate your feelings and offer support. Lean on your partner by communicating your emotions and asking for what you need (whether that's a hug or a vent session). Be gentle with yourself as well, adds Jordan Madison, licensed clinical marriage and family therapist. "Do your best to remind yourself that you've done nothing to deserve the treatment or lack of support that you're receiving." If your support system isn't able to meet your emotional needs fully at this time, seek out a therapist. They'll provide an extra layer of emotional support.
Decide What's Best For You
"There is no right or wrong decision when it comes to mending your relationship with family," says Brittney Cobb, licensed clincal social worker. Just because you're related doesn't mean you have to heal the relationship, specifically if it's causing you harm. If you need to distance yourself from your family members while you decide what you want, that's perfectly OK. As you consider your next move, Madison recommends thinking in terms of pros and cons. "Would mending your relationship with family bring you more peace or more heartache?" she poses.
If having a relationship with your family is important to you, you can absolutely reach out and try to communicate. One important factor to consider is the effort your family makes to mend the situation as well.
Often, family members have a "clueing-in period" that's very similar to an LGBTQ+ individual coming to terms with their identity. "We clue into our identities as queer and trans folks in the unique ways we do, and sometimes we expect our family members to be there already," Singh explains. "They have to wrestle with a lot of the things that we've already resolved." Maybe their initial reaction was not what you had hoped, but they've taken the time to process the revelation. This is a scenario where another conversation could be productive. "It takes two willing parties to mend a relationship, and it shouldn't require you having to hide or change a part of yourself," Madison adds.
Cobb suggests heading into the conversation prepared. "Have you made a decision as to what is required in order for you to mend things?" she asks. "Being clear and direct with others about your wants, needs and limits is a necessity to creating and fostering healthy relationships."
Know You're Allowed to Create Boundaries
One way to protect your heart throughout these conversations is to create boundaries. As Cobb mentioned, communicating what you require of another party is a crucial part of this conversation. You can do so by using "I" statements, such as: "I feel upset when my partner and I are made fun of for being in a relationship. I would like the teasing to stop."
Remember that a request doesn't guarantee a change in behavior. As such, it's completely appropriate to set a consequence if your request isn't honored, Cobb says. "A consequence to the boundary and 'I statement' given above might sound like this: "If the teasing does not stop, we will not be attending any more family functions."
If you believe your family simply needs more time to process, Singh suggests pairing your "I statement" with a timeline. Say something like: "I understand this is a time where you might need some more information to educate yourself about what it means for a queer or trans person to [be in a serious relationship]. I'll check in on you in one month because it's really important for me to have your support."
Once you've declared your boundaries, it's important to stay firm no matter your family's reaction. "Their response to your boundary does not mean you should change it," Cobb notes. "Their feelings are their responsibility."
Another boundary you're allowed to set is separating yourself from your family if you feel it's necessary. For example, any kind of abuse—verbal or otherwise—is reason enough to emotionally and physically remove yourself from a circumstance. "'Family' is not an excuse to tolerate any form of discrimination or abuse," Cobb says.
The overall emotional toll of the relationship is something else to consider, says Irene Schreiner, licensed marriage and family therapist. "If you have done an honest assessment and feel that having the relationship is doing more harm to you, then walking away would [be completely valid]," she says. If the relationship becomes one-sided, it may be time to take a step back.
Create Your Own Family
For some, a relationship with your family of origin isn't feasible. That's where your chosen family comes in. "In the queer and trans community, we talk about family of choice so much. We do get to choose the people that we say are our family, and that's one of the most awesome things about being queer and trans," Singh says. If you're struggling to find support from your relatives, experts agree that seeking support from friends is a way to heal. "You have the power to create your own [family], and you deserve to be surrounded by people that make you feel loved and safe," Madison says.
You can utilize hotlines, support groups and social media pages to meet up with other LGBTQ+ individuals wherever you reside. Connecting with people who have similar experiences can be a huge form of support. "There's power in creating a found family that consists of people who have chosen to be a part of your life," Schreiner says.
It all comes down to what fits into the life you are trying to live. "Ultimately, what's important is that you do what's the healthiest for you and your life," Cobb says. Choose what makes you feel safe and surround yourself with people who support your relationship, because you deserve to celebrate your love—no matter what it looks like.