Patterns and nuances in affairs do differ depending on sexual orientation. The following discussion about lesbians and affairs describes some of these themes, however, these are generalizations and do not necessarily apply to any one couple.
Emotional ties play a central role in most women’s lives. Nature and nurture both contribute to this. For example, research shows that women actually have higher levels of oxytocin, the “love hormone” that makes people feel nurturing and loving. The song, “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” is a reflection of the self esteem love provides a woman. The feeling of “not being a man” on the other hand, is frequently related to not performing well or feeling defeated.
It makes sense then, that more often than not, lesbians have love affairs as opposed to extra-relationship casual sexual encounters. Beverly Burch points out that it is the emotional connection itself that is the most hurtful to the discoverer of the affair. A casual sexual encounter is often less devastating for a woman than seeing her partner starry-eyed over someone else. (In contrast, men more frequently tend to not worry about emotional affairs, but can be devastated if there was sex, even if it was just a one night stand). Not surprisingly, then, most frequently other woman in lesbian affairs is an ex-girlfriend or other good friend.
Lesbian relationships can become very focused on emotional security. Women can feel more secure if they experience their partner as similar to them. The desire to merge can be strong and women in relationship can find themselves becoming more and more similar to each other over time. Each may give up activities she used to enjoy or values she used to hold in order to feel more in sync with her partner. Separate time with other friends can also go by the wayside because sometimes it feels like the more time spent together, the safer the relationship is. However, as Esther Perel puts it, “a fire needs air to burn.” It is important for women in relationships to think about whether outside contacts and activities feel threatening to the relationship, or is there a way they can enrich it, making their partner a bit more unknown, and therefore more exciting.
Beverly Burch points out that at this moment in history most lesbians cannot marry. Having a girlfriend or even a partner conjures up a different set of meanings than having a wife. There are firm societal taboos against extramarital affairs that serve as strong boundaries around monogamy. Lesbian relationships, though they may involve everything a marriage does except the certificate, do not have these kinds of societal taboos in place. The relationship is much more dependent on the actual emotional connection between the couple. It is therefore sometimes harder for lesbians to feel the complacency that married couples do when it comes to fidelity and therefore easier to feel threatened by emotional connections with others.
If you and your partner want to try to heal from an affair, it might be helpful to know that a study conducted by Peggy Vaughan found that 80% of couples were able to heal from affairs if the person who strayed came clean and took responsibility. It has been said that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” (Albert Einstein). There is the potential for psychological and spiritual development upon the discovery of an affair that can be a thing of great depth and beauty. Working with affair couples I have witnessed over and over again how channels of communication and understanding can open leading to a new closeness and intimacy that was previously unimaginable.