Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Ambivalence in Gay and Lesbian Family Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Ambivalence in Gay and Lesbian Family Relationships

Article excerpt

Over the past decade, intergenerational ambivalence has emerged as a central concept for understanding relationships between adult children and their parents (Lüscher & Pillemer, 1998). Intergenerational ambivalence brings togetherpsychologicalambivalence-thesimultaneous experience of opposing feelings or emotions (Bleuler, 1922)-and sociological ambivalence-incompatible and conflicting expectations and norms of behavior, beliefs, and attitudes (Connidis, 2015; Merton & Barber, 1963)-to articulate how parents and adult children experience "opposing feelings or emotions that are due in part to countervailing expectations" for how each generation should act (Connidis & McMullin, 2002b, p. 558; Lüscher & Pillemer, 1998). A significant body of work demonstrates that, much like positive and negative parent-child relationships, ambivalent intergenerational relationships are negatively related to psychological well-being (Kiecolt, Blieszner, & Savla, 2011; Suitor, Gilligan, & Pillemer, 2011), which may in turn lead to stress spillover and proliferation into other domains of family life (Pearlin, Aneshensel, & LeBlanc, 1997).

Despite important advances in the ambivalence construct, significant gaps remain. First, the focus has been nearly entirely on individual feelings of psychological ambivalence toward others, with little attention to the presence and operation of sociological ambivalence (Connidis, 2015). Second, a focus on individuals' own feelings of ambivalence toward others has stunted a view of how family members may construct others as ambivalent. Constructing others as ambivalent, much like constructing others as loving or disapproving, likely has an impact on individual and family well-being. Third, the focus has been nearly entirely on intergenerational ties. Yet ambivalence likely occurs in other lifelong and emotionally close family relationships, such as sibling, extended kin, and in-law ties (Connidis, 2007; Matthews, 2002; Suitor et al., 2009; Ward, Deane, & Spitze, 2008). Finally, previous research has focused on relationships between presumably heterosexual children and heterosexual parents. This absence of non-heterosexuals is notable, as recent work shows that gay and lesbian families have unique dimensions unarticulated in heterosexual families (Cohler, 2004; Connidis, 2007; Ocobock, 2013; Reczek, 2014a). For example, broader institutional forces of homophobia and heterosexism that structure the family relationships of gay and lesbian adults may engender an exceptional view of sociological ambivalence (Connidis, 2012), one that in turn provides a lens into the causes, dynamics, and consequences of family interaction. As such, a study of ambivalence in gay and lesbian families informs a theoretical and empirical account of broader family relationships.

To advance an understanding of ambivalence, gay and lesbian families, and family systems more broadly (Bowen, 1978), in the present study I analyzed qualitative interviews with 60 gays and lesbians to determine the nature of ambivalence in family-of-origin (e.g., parents, siblings, extended kin) and "in-law" (i.e., partners' family of origin) relationships. Specifically, in this study I aimed to identify how gay and lesbian adults narrate their family members as exhibiting co-occurring positive (e.g., loving, giving of instrumental or emotional support) and negative (e.g., rejecting, disapproving) feelings and actions (Gilligan, Suitor, Feld, & Pillemer, 2015; Willson, Shuey, & Elder, 2003) within the structural conditions of a gay or lesbian family (Connidis, 2015). In doing so, this study moves beyond research focusing on individuals' reports of their own experiences of ambivalence toward a study of how adults construct others as ambivalent, with specific attention to the intermingling of psychological and sociological ambivalence. This study provides a new lens through which to view how adult gays and lesbians-a marginalized group-experience family ties, in turn revealing new dimensions of family relationships previously undiscovered by heteronormative family research. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.