Posts By: Jamie Gunning

Couples in Transition…

As a specialist in relationships, I know that the dynamic which exists in couplehoods is complex and dynamic. Couples who experience satisfaction and contentment in their relationships know that maintaining commitment, intimacy and passion in their relationship takes work. Some people enter relationships thinking that since they have found that special person and that they love each other to the moon and back, it will be enough to maintain the relationship over time. However, that’s usually not the case. A couple must learn that each person brings a suitcase full of their “stuff” into the relationship. Frequently, when a couple experiences stress, conflict or discontentment in their relationship, it is because one (or both) of the partner’s stuff is being unpacked and dumped into the couplehood. Couples who are in tune with each other and who continue to seek growth in their relationship will already possess or be able to develop the tools to recognize what is happening. They learn to lean in and help their partner navigate whatever is going on. They will also be able to see how the “stuff” is affecting their relationship, and thus have the opportunity to grow stronger and deepen their bond as a couple. There are times, too, when something happens in a relationship that turns everything upside down. There may be injuries to the couple’s trust. There may be a death. There may be a secret that is revealed. It may also be something that makes one or both members of the partnership question whether the relationship can survive.

Here at Two Spirit, we work with couples who seek support when one of the partners in a relationship comes out as a person who is transgender. When someone in a couple transitions, both individuals AND the relationship experience a transition of sorts as well. Because we are all unique and our relationships are unique, not all that I describe here applies to all couples who are in transition. When one partner decides to come out as transgender, it may or may not be surprising to their partner. Sometimes the partner experiences a feeling of “now this all makes sense” because there have long been signs or their partner has shared some of their feelings about their gender dysphoria. Sometimes it is a shock. Often a partner experiences grief and goes through a process of letting go of the relationship and their partner as they once knew them. The partner can be left with many questions and concerns. Sometimes there needs to be a decision made concerning whether a couple will remain together.

Many couples do remain together after a partner transitions. Familiar dynamics in the relationship often change or are altered. It is common for the partner of the person who is transitioning to experience a temporary change in their role in the relationship. Some partners have reported feeling that they become more of a friend or “expert” advisor on such topics as dressing, clothes, hair, makeup, etc. They find themselves feeling a bit confused, but find that as the transition occurs and their partner experiences comfort and security in their transition, the relationship becomes more stable again. Every couple must navigate and explore the new dynamic and nature of their relationship. The couple must come to terms with a new sexual dynamic in their relationship. Hormone treatment can affect physical sex drive and may interfere with their usual way of sexually satisfying each other. Surgical procedures may alter body parts that were integral to the couple’s lovemaking. Couples may need to explore new or alternative ways to reach climax or sexual satisfaction. These conversations may be difficult or uncomfortable. It is very important for couples who remain together to develop ways to dialogue about all aspects of their partner’s transition, their relationship and themselves. Couples counseling is a great way for a couple to navigate these challenging times. We are here to help. Two Spirit Health Services also offers a group for partners of transgender people. Our next group is scheduled for Saturday, April 29th from 10:30am to Noon. Partners will be welcome to join us afterwards for lunch at a location to be determined. For more information or if you would like to join us, please email me at jamie@twospirithealth.org.