I’ve spent a lot of time, in the last week, thinking about intimate covenant relationships. That is because BJ and I attended a couples’ retreat, sponsored by the Infinity Diamond Club, from Wednesday through Sunday of last week. It was an awesome experience!
There were several workshops and discussions, facilitated by some wonderfully inspiring presenters. Folks who read this blog may recognize some of their names: Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder and her spouse, Shirley Miller; Bishop Tonyia Rawls and her spouse, Gwen Rawls; Angie Harvey; and Joi Rhone.
The retreat reminded me of the importance of affirming and supportive community for all covenant relationships and/or marriages; but I am speaking particularly about those of LGBT Christian couples. Affirming and supportive community can be hard to come by, for many of us. They say you can’t miss what you never had, but I believe you can. You just might not realize that your experience is what it is because of what is missing from it.
The absence of supportive community can result in a sense of isolation for couples. That feeling of “you and me against the world” is not a warm-fuzzy feeling. It’s lonely. It’s demoralizing. It’s exhausting. As the holidays are approaching, I am reminded of the sadness that can accompany being unwelcome (or having your partner/spouse not welcomed) at family gatherings.
The absence of community … can result in a relationship being strained by excessive demands being placed on it.
Not having supportive community can also push couples toward co-dependency, as they necessarily rely on each other to meet needs that would otherwise be met in community with others. One of the recurring themes at the retreat was the importance of time spent apart, including time spent individually with friends, to maintain a healthy sense of self and autonomy as a whole person in relationship with another whole person. Whole people do not rely solely on any other person to meet all of their needs. Healthy couples understand that neither can meet all of the other’s needs. The absence of community, however, limits a couple’s options for outlets outside of their relationship and can result in the relationship being strained by excessive demands being placed on it.
So I encourage all couples to be intentional about cultivating supportive community. If you can’t get it from your families and current friends, be intentional about seeking out new friends who can and will embrace you as a couple and hold you accountable for living that out in integrity. Seek out affirming churches and empowering groups like the Infinity Diamond Club. Avail yourselves of affirming couples’ workshops and retreats to broaden your knowledge and experience together. Avail yourself of affirmative couple’s counseling if you need that kind of support; and don’t be ashamed if you do. (Most couples I know - gay and straight - need help at some point.) Know that you are worthy of it, and your relationship is worth it. Resist every temptation to treat your relationship or marriage as if it is “less than” anyone else’s relationship or marriage. The fact that others might discount the importance and validity of your relationship does not mean that you have join them in doing so.
Resist every temptation to treat your relationship or marriage as if it is “less than” anyone else’s relationship or marriage.
Finally, do not be afraid, ashamed, or hesitant to invite God into your relationship. The fact is that if you love each other, God is already there; because God is love. At various stages of healing from internalized homophobia, it can feel more difficult to pray about our relationships than about our individual concerns. We might be progressing well in finding peace with ourselves as individuals; but when we are partnered and/or sexually engaged, we might tend to want to place that aspect of our lives in some separate “compartment” from the one(s) in which we relate to God.
I am a witness that God ordains and blesses same-gender-loving unions, just as surely as God ordains and blesses different-gender-loving unions. Invite God into your relationship. Pray with your partner/spouse. Pray for your relationship. Seek God for answers to the challenges you face and for solutions to your problems. If it is your experience and testimony that God brought you and your partner/spouse together, celebrate your relationship or marriage as a gift from God - because it is, and like all of God’s gifts, it is good!