Remaining a Couple Through Gender Transition

by 26Health Staff

As a specialist in relationships, I know that the dynamic which exists among couples is complex and ever-changing. Couples who experience satisfaction and contentment in their relationships know that maintaining commitment, intimacy, and passion takes work. Often, people enter into relationships thinking that since they have finally found that special someone 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.

Unpacking the Suitcase

Couples must learn that each person brings a suitcase full of their “stuff” into the relationship and often when a couple experiences conflict or discontentment in their relationship, it’s because one (or both) of the partner’s “stuff” is being unpacked and dumped into the relationship.

Couples who are in tune with one another and who continue to grow in their relationship will often have or be able to develop the tools to recognize what is happening. They learn to lean in and help their partner unpack their suitcase. They will also be able to see how the “stuff” is affecting their relationship and use that as an opportunity to grow stronger and deepen their bond.

However, sometimes something happens in a relationship that turns everything upside down. There may be injuries to the couple’s trust. There may be death. Maybe a secret that is revealed. There may be something that makes one or both members of the partnership question whether the relationship can even survive.

Navigating Gender Transition as a Couple

Here at 26Health, we work with couples who are seeking support when one of the partners in the relationship comes out as a person who is transgender. When someone in a couple transitions, both the 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 surprise their partner. Sometimes the partner thinks “now this all makes sense” because they have seen signs or their partner has shared some of their feelings about their gender dysphoria. Sometimes it is a shock, and it’s common for partners to experience grief. They go through a process of letting go of the relationship and their partner as they once knew them.

This process can leave the partner who is not transitioning with many questions and concerns. Sometimes the couple will need to decide whether they will remain together. However, many couples do remain together after one partner transitions. Familiar dynamics in the relationship often change or are altered. It’s common for the non-transitioning partner 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 often find that as the transition occurs and their partner finds comfort and security in their transition, the relationship becomes stable once again.

Couples will need to navigate and explore new dynamics and revisit the nature of their relationship. They must come to terms with a new sexual dynamic in the relationship. Hormone treatment affects physical sex drive and may interfere with their established methods of sexual interaction. 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.

Couples Counseling Can Help Before, During, and After Transitions

These conversations may be difficult or uncomfortable; however, it is important for couples who remain together to communicate about all aspects of their partner’s gender transition, their relationship, and themselves. Couples counseling is a great way for a couple to navigate these challenging times. We are here to help. In addition to private counseling, 26Health also offers a group for partners of transgender people.