06/03/2013 12:05 pm ET Updated Aug 03, 2013

Are Gay Couples the Same As Straight Couples?

By Chrisanna Northrup and Dr. Pepper Schwartz

"Normal" is a loaded word, we know. For the sake of this article, we're keeping the concept real simple -- "normal" is what you're willing to accept and the regular pattern you stick with on an ongoing basis. "Normal" is the rules you create and regularly follow. For those who don't think there is a normal, think again.

Let's take a look at what's normal in a couple's relationship. We can all agree that love, affection, trust, sexual attraction and intimacy, and good communication are all "normal" goals in a couple's relationship. That was borne out by The Normal Bar Project, the most extensive study ever conducted on relationships. We surveyed nearly 100,000 people worldwide, asking 1,300 questions that explored every aspect of couplehood. The result was a much clearer vision of the various "norms" in relationships, and more important, what's normal in happy relationships.

When we originally embarked on this survey, we wanted to be able to dissect not only what was normal in different peer groups, but which patterns worked best to keep couples fulfilled. We sliced and diced the data along many different criteria, including age, years in relationship, kids or no kids, and ethnicity. When we drilled down into the results we expected to have enough that was different among one of our sub-groups, gay and lesbian couples, to justify a book in itself.

Surprisingly, we soon discovered that there weren't enough differences to write about! Other than that gay and lesbian partners are of the same sex -- and that among male couples in particular there are a few variations in monogamy -- same-sex relationships looked pretty much like the opposite-sex version. The only other data that really stood out was that gay and lesbian couples normally communicate better than heterosexual couples.

Perhaps we shouldn't have been so surprised. Ask any perceptive therapist and they'll tell you that we all go through the same ups and downs. We did notice, though, that the extremely happy couples in our study -- whether hetero- or homosexual -- put a lot of time into each other, lavishing affection and romance. Sometimes, many of us wonder whether all the romantic effort is worth it. The more cynical among us may suspect we're being manipulated by the "affection industry" (which has us ritually running out for flowers, candy, and sentimental cards) and that all that perspiration doesn't add up to much. But the data suggests otherwise.

In this, and indeed nearly every other way, gay and lesbian couples behave just as straight couples do.

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