Dealing with same-sex attraction is a difficult task, and much more difficult when faced alone. Healthy and varied connections with others can make an enormous difference in hope and healing. [ MORE ]
Some people with same-sex attraction will need lots of encouragement and motivation to continue through the long counseling process. This is best delivered with a measure of practicality, to foster hope and self-acceptance during the process. [ MORE ]
Initial feelings of same-sex attraction are not chosen, but individuals do choose how they respond to them. Parents, spouses, and friends can support or detract from an same-sex attraction person’s sense of personal responsibility. Different relationships require different approaches. [ MORE ]
Certain things can actually be harmful to those with same-sex attraction. Below is a list of some harmful behaviors we’ve observed among friends and family members. [ MORE ]
Individuals with same-sex attraction need support from several sources: family, friends, mentors, skilled professionals, and spiritual leaders if they are religious. This need for support may continue over a period of several years. It’s helpful to assess with the individual what support they feel they have and what additional support they believe they need. Of particular importance are the support of a therapist who is well-trained in working with unwanted same-sex attraction and same-sex friends who share, or will respect, the person’s goals related to their same-sex attraction.
We have not found it necessary for everyone in a support network to know about the person’s same-sex attraction. But it is helpful if some of their supporters do know so that the person can be completely open. This helps diminish shame and isolation. You should never disclose to others about the person’s same-sex attraction without their permission.
Encourage With Prudence
A person who discloses their homosexuality to you may well be among the most courageous individuals you will ever meet. Opening up about this issue is usually extremely difficult, especially when doing so for the first time. Help them see their own courage.
If discouragement threatens, it may help them if you hold out the vision of how their life can be when they are free of the dilemmas and negative feelings they presently face. They may need you to show them their own progress as the process moves along. Some people have difficulty noticing their own growth and don’t recognize it until someone else tells them about it.
At the same time, it is important to maintain a realistic and practical perspective. There is no quick fix for same-sex attraction. Resolving the conflicts, shame, pain, and other negative feelings and ways of thinking related to same-sex attraction takes time. Diminishing homosexual feelings also takes time and substantial personal effort. Individuals will do best if they are encouraged to keep their sights on the idea of progressing gradually and as far as they are able, rather than holding an expectation of quick or total change. It is also important for them to understand that because every person is unique it is impossible to know to what degree they will be capable of shifting their sexual feelings. Some people’s sexual desires change substantially, while others’ do not.
The person may need help to accept and love themselves even in the midst of their problems. Some people may be very conditional in their self-acceptance: they can only accept themselves once they “get rid” of their homosexuality. You might discuss with them the concepts in the section, What Change Means.
Encourage Responsibility and Independence
The complex circumstances that create homosexuality are outside the control of those who develop same-sex attraction. No one chooses whether or not they will develop feelings of same-sex attraction. As adults, however, we have the capacity and the responsibility to make choices about our lives. You can help your friend or family member with same-sex attraction accept this responsibility to guide his or her life in positive ways.
But there are limits to your influence. You can’t choose for your friend or family member how they will respond to their same-sex attraction. They will, and must, make their own choices. And yet, you can encourage awareness and careful consideration of choices, and responsibility for consequences. And you can encourage them to move toward independence and self-reliance. Supporting a friend or loved one in this way requires sacrifice of your own desires for their life. Remember, it’s their life, not yours.
Appropriate approaches to encouraging responsibility and independence differ greatly between parents, spouses, and friends. But they all begin with you, as a friend or family member, holding a vision of the person with same-sex attraction as a responsible adult. See your friend or loved one’s highest potential while accepting and loving them in the present exactly as they are.
Parents often need to relinquish control and allow their same-sex attraction child to assume responsibility for their own lives, assuming the child is old enough to do so. We have observed that failure to develop independence from parents, especially from mothers, is a common trait among males who develop same-sex attraction. If this seems to apply to the relationship with your same-sex attraction child, consider the ideas below.
To begin with, hold to the vision of your child as an independent and responsible adult, even if this vision can’t be a reality in the present. Independence includes the child living on their own, supporting themselves in every way, making all of their own decisions, and being confident and assertive. And it requires that the child doesn’t feel responsible for taking care of your needs or providing for your emotional support. Let this vision guide your interactions with your child. Some children may need only slight encouragement to catch this vision themselves while others may need years of preparation to get there.
Below are some specific the suggestions and cautions to keep in mind.
- Look for opportunities to positively reinforce choices and behaviors that move your child toward greater independence.
- Avoid making decisions or handling situations for your child that they are capable of making or handling themselves.
- If the child is in therapy, let them set up their own appointments and allow them to be accountable to the therapist (rather than to you) for accomplishment of therapeutic goals and homework.
- If you are paying for the therapy, ask the child to pay at least a small portion of the therapy themselves to encourage a sense of investment and ownership.
- If the child is still living at home or is otherwise dependent, consider small ways in which the child can gain a greater sense of self-reliance and self-governance, even if they must remain dependent overall.
If you as a parent are unsure how to implement these ideas, or find them confusing or anxiety producing, we strongly encourage you to seek counseling for yourself with a therapist.
Spouses, in optimal circumstances, are focused on their own healing related to their partner’s same-sex attraction and on whatever issues the spouse may have brought with them into the marriage. This allows the same-sex attraction partner to focus on working through their same-sex attraction and related issues. But real-life situations are not always so simple.
If your same-sex attraction partner is reticent to get help, causing you and your family to suffer, you may need to temporarily take responsibility for the wellbeing of the relationship and your family by insisting on getting help. Once you as a couple are on the road to recovery, you should turn your attention again to your own healing, allowing your same-sex attraction partner to take full responsibility for their own growth.
Sometimes, out of fear, doubt, or anxiety, spouses can become critical, demanding, or overbearing toward their same-sex attraction partner about his or her efforts at making change. This is understandable but also very destructive in that it tends to remove from the partner the responsibility and sense of independence they must have when facing these issues. same-sex attraction partners tend to respond to this with passivity, resentment, or resistance. If you find yourself experiencing distress, or reacting in ways that are distressing to your partner, we encourage you a trained therapist for personal counseling.
Friends are sometimes in a very good position to help an same-sex attraction person take responsibility for their actions and their future. Friends are usually not connected with family dynamics that may be causing pain or difficulty for those with same-sex attraction, which allows them greater opportunity to both support and guide. Consider the ideas below.
Your opportunity to have a positive influence in your friend’s life will be determined by the amount of trust you create through demonstrating unconditional love. They will feel your love as you offer consistent support and encouragement, as you accept them with all their weakness and difficulties, and as you express compassion in their worst moments.
Below are some specific the suggestions and cautions to keep in mind.
- Balance any advice or correction you offer with many expressions of love, admiration, respect, and affection.
- If you have suggestions to offer, ask your friend’s permission before doing so and then state your thoughts and opinions with humility.
- Avoid telling them what to do, making decisions for them, or handling situations they are capable of handling themselves.
- Encourage independent thinking and behavior but be cautious about endorsing rebellion against family in ways that could be harmful to your friend’s wellbeing or relationships.
- Avoid being drawn into the idea that, in order to truly support your friend, you must compromise your values and endorse the gay social and political agenda.
- Remain true to the beliefs and values you and your friend share in common, even if your friend strays from those values.
- If your friend’s goal is to diminish their same-sex attraction, encourage counseling with a therapist who has extensive experience helping those with unwanted same-sex attraction. Individuals that work with counselors who lack this experience tend to make slow progress and may end counseling in discouragement.
Finally, be aware that some men and women with same-sex attraction have a strong propensity to create dependencies on friends—particularly on friends of the same-sex. If you sense that your friend relies too heavily on your opinion, looks to you too much for help or support, or seems unable to make choices on their own, this may indicate an unhealthy dependency. This may also be the case if you find yourself feeling drained by the relationship or feeling responsible for your friend’s wellbeing or safety. If you notice this happening, discuss it openly with your friend and encourage them to speak with their therapist about it.
Avoid Doing Harm
- Blaming, becoming angry, or demanding to know “why?” Remember, the individual did not cause their same-sex attraction. Often they don’t understand why they feel or behave as they do. Those who have engaged in homosexual behavior probably can’t provide a logical reason for it. Emotionally charged responses from you will only damage trust and cause them to pull away.
- Making incorrect assumptions about their attractions posing a danger to children. The vast majority of adult men with same-sex attraction are not sexually attracted to boys. If in doubt, you should ask the person about the nature of their attractions and whether they feel tempted to act out with children.
- Telling friends or other family members about the person’s same-sex attraction without their knowledge and consent. Also, insisting that they tell other family members before they are ready to do so and before the family members are ready to hear it.
- Attempting to provide counsel for their psychological or emotional issues. Unless you are a trained professional with experience working with unwanted same-sex attraction, you run the risk of giving incorrect counsel, stirring up issues that you can’t properly handle, and delaying their access to appropriate therapy.
- Encouraging marriage as a solution to same-sex attraction. Through proper therapy, single men and women with same-sex attraction can progress to a point where marriage is a realistic and appropriate option. However, the growth should come before the marriage. Attempting to engage in a heterosexual relationship will not cause homosexual desires to go away and can lead to extreme distress for the individual and the spouse.