By Amber Ault, Ph.D.
Like women in heterosexual relationships, women who date other women face the risk of entanglements with toxic partners. This is sometimes surprising both to straight and LGBTQ people who may assume that relationships between two women partners are somehow “naturally” peaceful and nurturing.
Indeed, sometimes women in disappointing relationships with men contemplate dating women instead because they assume same-sex relationships would be devoid of the exploitation that can happen in cross-sex relationships.
What are the assumptions that make women who date women vulnerable to toxic relationships? Here are a few:
Erroneous Belief #1. All narcissists and psychopaths are male.
While most narcissists and psychopaths in the public eye are male, both men and women across sexual identity categories display antisocial and narcissistic traits. Over-romanticizing women by trusting that women don’t have the behaviors and attitudes that define psychopaths or narcissistic personality disorder leaves women who date women vulnerable to becoming entangled with partners who take advantage of them.
Erroneous Belief #2. All women share the values of kindness, compassion, emotional connection, reciprocity, and interdependence.
Cultural stereotypes of women as sensitive, caring, and relationship-centered can allow partners of female narcissists and sociopaths to miss the clues that the person they’re choosing may do them more harm than good.
Erroneous Belief #3: Keeping relationships secret or “in the closet” makes you safer.
Despite the remarkable changes in the direction of visibility, freedom, and acceptance of LGBTQ people in the last 50 years, this community still doesn’t have full legal rights or anti-discrimination protection, social acceptance, or cultural inclusion. As a result, many lesbians are still “in the closet” in some or all areas of our lives. When this is the case, women are more vulnerable to exploitive relationships with toxic partners, because they have fewer supports and safe places to explore whether what’s happening in their relationship is healthy.
Erroneous Belief #4: Romantic relationships between women are devoid of the power dynamics of heterosexual relationships.
Most lesbian, bi, and queer women are raised in heterosexual families. All of us are raised in a broader society that sends confusing messages about relationship dynamics. Romantic relationships between women are shaped by these cultural messages, and involve power dynamics of various kinds. Assuming that relationships between people of the same sex are devoid of unhealthy power dynamics denies reality and makes partners vulnerable.
Erroneous Belief #4: A toxic relationship is the only alternative to being single because the lesbian population is so small.
While it’s true that lesbians are a small minority population, the belief that a person should stay in a toxic relationship because they won’t have another chance at love if they leave is misguided. The truth is that staying in a toxic relationship prevents a person from having the freedom required to find a healthy potential partner and the time available to create a happy, lasting relationship.
Unfortunately, exploitive relationships happen across demographic groups. Recognizing the truth of that can help people date more carefully, build relationships more slowly, and avoid toxic entanglements — or exit them, when leaving is necessary.
Dr. Ault is author of “The Five Step Exit: Skills You Need to Leave a Narcissist, Psychopath, or Other Toxic Partner and Recover Your Happiness Now,” and “The Wise Lesbian Guide to Getting Free from Crazy-making Relationships.”