Learn to improve your relationship from same sex couples
with Lynda Spann
Marriage and couples therapist Lynda Spann, PhD, knows firsthand the struggles two women may face in an intimate and romantic relationship. She also knows how to love in a way that frees her to be her true self, and, today, she works with all couples – different sex and same sex – to improve their relationship. During a Smart Sex, Smart Love podcast, Dr. Spann talks about how different sex couples can learn from same sex couples how to have a healthy, loving relationship.
Women traditionally are trained to take the role of nurturer, and when two women in a relationship are focused on that, “they can create an amazing relationship,” she finds. Women are people pleasers, they are peacemakers, they are accepting and supportive. Intimacy comes naturally. Same sex relationships not only are legitimate, but they also are worth emulating. So, how can a couple move into a place where they can be their own unique secure self and still be together as a couple and maintain a supportive, loving connection?
JOE KORT 0:05
Hello everyone and welcome to Smart sex smart love we’re talking about sex goes beyond the taboo and talking about love goes beyond the honeymoon. Today our show is about what different sex couples can learn from same sex couples to improve their relationship. My guest today is Dr. Linda span, a frequent contributor for many new sources on the subject of LGBTQ mental health. As a lesbian who struggled with coming out and establishing fulfilling and healthy relationships with women. Dr. span knows firsthand the struggles to women may face in an intimate and romantic relationship. She learned how to love in a way that freed her to be her true self. And she felt called to help other women, specifically lesbian identifying to do the same. In 2018, she opened the lesbian couples Institute in Denver, Colorado, her dream that became a reality. Awesome. Dr. span has more than 20 years of experience as a marriage and couples therapist and counselor and decided it was time to take her academic knowledge and her unique life experience to help her own community. Her new online coaching program is designed to fit the needs of lesbian couples and their issues by providing step by step guidance from someone who knows firsthand how to do that work. Welcome, Linda.
Lynda Spann 1:23
Thank you. I’m so excited to be here. I appreciate this opportunity.
JOE KORT 1:28
Oh, I appreciate it myself. So you know, as time has gone on, I’ve always spoken for the LGBTQ community. I’ve been hired to present and books I’ve written and everything. But you know, I don’t know many people don’t know this I’ve talked about a little bit. When I started to write my own books. My first book was going to be called gays unless 10 Smart Things gays and lesbians can do to improve their lives. And the publishers all said, You got to take the lesbians out. And I said, Well, I know why. And I’m gay. They’re like, they don’t want men gay or straight or BI at all writing about their lives. It’ll kill the sales. Did you ever hear anything like that?
Lynda Spann 2:00
I have not heard it. But I’m, I’m shaking my head. Yes. Because I can I can relate to it. And I think that that women in my community probably relate to it as well.
JOE KORT 2:10
Yeah, I really, and I think we did you know, and even in 2021, it’s the same thing. If I do a tick tock, you know, or social media about lesbians. I get a lot of lesbians who say, Yeah, that’s true. Because I’m just reporting information. I’m not, but I don’t have the lived experience, which really rattles people, you know? And yeah, but then, but But then if I’m the only one presenting, I want to have the information. That’s why I’m so glad to have you here. When I look for lesbian information, I can find hardly anything. And yeah, could you talk about that? What’s all that about?
Lynda Spann 2:39
I don’t know what it’s about. It’s not uncommon when when lesbians are looking for help. They put in the word lesbian into Google search. And it’s populated with all kinds of porn, pornography sites, I just don’t think there’s very many lesbians that are in this profession, that that are that adult can be a little bit scary to be out professionally, especially if we work with different sex couples and LGBTQ couples. Because Because of heterosexism, and that fear of well, the the different sex couples aren’t going to want to come to our practice, if we identify as lesbian. Yeah, the research I’ve done, there’s not very many lesbian therapists that, that that really advertise them.
JOE KORT 3:28
Right. And even if they do, and I know a few, they’re not necessarily doing research on this. So that’s what’s hard to find, especially lesbian, sexual health. You know, I know a lot about gay male sexual health we write about it was lots of research, but I go to look up lesbians, and I find hardly anything.
Lynda Spann 3:43
Yeah, yeah. In fact, I’m in the process of looking for opportunities to pair up with some of the universities in this area to collaborate on some research together. But even that has been a slow process of getting, you know, academicians to call back.
JOE KORT 4:03
Right? And then get something started. Maybe you’ll start your own certificate program, then your own research while you’re doing your own coaching, right?
Lynda Spann 4:09
JOE KORT 4:10
I like that you say, and I think people need to hear that when you say different sex couples versus same sex couples. Can you define that so people know what you’re talking about?
Lynda Spann 4:19
Yeah, so same sex couples or couples where both individuals identify as the same sex, male female. There are other queer couples that have different ways of identifying, but that’s how I define same sex and different sex couples are individuals of of different sexes, male and female. They may or may not identify as straight. They may identify as bisexual or fluid, yet they’re, they’re a couple. That’s what I mean by
JOE KORT 4:51
Okay. And you know, one of my biggest pet peeves I’m wondering for 20 years as a therapist, is when I do trainings and therapists will say Ah, a couple as a couple I work with couples I know See gender I just see people and I’m like, okay, that that there’s a lot of overlap. But you’re missing what two women bring very different than two men very different than a different sex. What would you speak to that?
Lynda Spann 5:11
Yeah, happy to speak to that. I guess that I think that at one level, there is a lot of overlap. And and some people say a relationship is a relationship is a relationship. And when at the level of, you know, we were wired for connection, we all, you know, we just crave to be loved and understood and accepted. I think that’s universal for all for all couples and all people. I think that some of the struggles are the same, you know, couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, almost always say their number one problem is communication. And there’s no money struggles and children that sexual desire discrepancy and parenting and, you know, attachment style challenges that are, you know, happen across all types of couples. And then there are some some unique things for for all iterations of couples, including lesbian couples and gay male couples.
JOE KORT 6:18
So what are the unique things for two women?
Lynda Spann 6:21
So I, you know, I think that one of the reasons that they’re unique things for two women is, is because to women, they’re their brains are parties and their socialization is all very similar, if not the same, right? And so they’re strengthen them. There’s, there’s great things about that. And then there’s some challenges. One of the challenges I’ve, I’ve seen over my years of practicing, is it for lesbian couples, because women are socialized to be the tender to, I don’t want to say, tend to the emotional fire of relationships, right? We’re socialized to, you know, to play with dolls, and to be very tuned in to emotional temperature of a relationship. So you get two women like that, both focusing on the emotional energy in the relationship, that there can be a very fast, you know, growth of intimacy, and attraction, and that first stage of being in love can be just just powerfully intimate for two women. The downside of that is that there can be what’s been referred to as emerging for lesbian couples, and a greater struggle, I think, with that stage of differentiation of Oh, yeah, we’re, we really are different, even though we look, you know, we look alike and sound alike and think alike. But actually, we’re different than negotiating that I have found to be more challenging, often for lesbian couples.
JOE KORT 8:04
So differences, like couples often struggle with differences. Would you say to women struggle a little more?
Lynda Spann 8:09
I think so. I mean, that that’s, I haven’t researched it. But in my practice, that’s, I noticed that there’s more distress around kind of that discovery of we do have differences.
JOE KORT 8:23
Yes. Right. So there’s an other involved, that, that is not like I was trained by a lesbian Imago therapist, and she came up with her thing was, you and I are one and I’m the one, right. And it’s sort of an enmeshment. She would call it a moment. But you know, in the 90s, lesbian started writing and saying, wait a minute, I don’t feel that way. Like there’s a healthy merging that two women can have that a therapist might miss Miss label as enmeshment. Could you speak to that? You do believe that?
Lynda Spann 8:57
Oh, yeah, I think there can there is healthy. There’s, there’s again, women are, we’re trained to, to really take take the role of nurturing relationships being tuned into one two partners, regardless of our partners, same or different sets. So we have two women that are focused on that beautiful thing. I mean, that, that there’s just this automatic level of nurturing and tuning in. That is I would not want to pathologize at all. I think the challenge again, comes in being able to identify how am I different and then having the courage to really speak up about it
JOE KORT 9:44
right and then be able to tolerate it. Yeah,
Lynda Spann 9:47
yeah. Because also often women girls are trained to be people pre pleasers, and have a tendency toward acquiescing to what we think partners want and to avoid contact And so that that’s I think that’s the challenge. But there is there’s a beautiful aspect to 10 of two people or so to them.
JOE KORT 10:09
Yes, yes. But I like what you’re saying. Because even in the 80s, and the 90s, when I was doing my own research, first doing with gay lesbian couples, they talked about doubling to men bring the social, the brain, the body and the socialization, just like to women, you know, so and people don’t that’s the biggest difference that I think therapists don’t attune to.
Lynda Spann 10:29
Yeah. Yeah, I absolutely agree with that. It’s it’s physiology and, and gender role socialization.
JOE KORT 10:37
Okay. And why did you decide to create the lesbian couples Institute? Can you talk about that?
Lynda Spann 10:44
Yeah. So my wife, Lisa, and I used to live in a smaller city in Colorado, and we would we were just working to dream about, are we ready for an adventure and moving to a bigger city. And so that’s sort of in the background. And then, in 2018, I, I joined a year long master mentorship program that Ellen Bader and Pete Pearson. They’re the founders of the couple’s Institute. And the first weekend that my cohort got together for an in person retreat, it was in January of 2018. And I remember I was I was nervous about coming out to this group, I didn’t know anybody, but I put on my big kid panties. And I, I did it, you know, from from the first moment, and in, in that experience of coming out to a group of therapists and to LNP. And that whole thing. I felt such support and acceptance and and like this net that just kind of came under me. And in that process, I just remember that weekend having this I think a fairly profound feeling of this is my next purpose that sort of a deep calling, and not the religious sounds, but but just on that man and the depth of my gut, I had this strong feeling I need to create a therapy home for my, my people for my
JOE KORT 12:22
so if I’m a lesbian, individual, and a couple of what do I expect, if I contact you and I entered into your coaching program? What do I get?
Lynda Spann 12:29
Yeah, you you get you get somebody that’s walked in your shoes, and really understands the unique challenges to lesbian relationships. I have in person practice, as well as an online coaching program, that it’s a 10 week program online, just for lesbian couples. There’s training modules and workbooks that I toiled over for months. And then a community, a community of other lesbian couples that want to grow and create a amazing relationship. And, and my wife and I, she leases also therapist, we Co Co facilitate it. And it’s just a ton of fun. And we also get to model what, you know, to two women that have done their work, how they get to show up in the world.
JOE KORT 13:18
Yes, so tell me what’s in the 10 weeks, like, what would I get if I bought that package?
Lynda Spann 13:22
There’s there’s five training modules, all of which I think are foundational to building secure relationships. And there, you know, there’s video training and PowerPoints and workbooks that have a lot of exercises
JOE KORT 13:41
like communication. Is that what you mean? Like or what I understand sexual health how to talk to my partner about sex, like give me like that?
Lynda Spann 13:47
Yeah. So so, you know, we’re learning the fundamentals of what makes a good relationship, how are our neurology how our brains affect, you know, whether whether we get into a big fight or not how to recognize if we’re leap, you know, fleeing our window of tolerance. So there’s section on brain, there’s a section on understanding our routes, each other’s routes is all about attachment and relationship styles. Okay. There’s a big section on communication. There’s not a section on on sex and sexual health. I think that’s gonna be the next the next class.
JOE KORT 14:29
I totally encouraged because so many, you know, I have a lot of lesbian couples and clients and they’re, they’re struggling, you know, and they have similar struggles that straight couples have, as you said, desire discrepancy, but they have specific things, you know, like, for instance, you know, both might be going through menopause. Yeah, one in four women have been sexually abused. So there might be a sexual abuse story or trauma history and addressing those kinds of things, when it’s happened to both of them, you know?
Lynda Spann 14:56
Yes, yeah, menopause is a bear minstrel cycles that they tend to get synchronized. But that that can be a challenge due for to women. So yeah, that’s my next one. Okay. And then there’s, for the current program, there’s a two hour coaching call once a week. So we get on Zoom platform and just do a lot of great work with all the couples.
JOE KORT 15:24
Is that like, we can talk about anything? Or do you have like a set way? Okay, here’s what we’re gonna talk about. There’s a theme every week or no,
Lynda Spann 15:31
it’s a combination. Sometimes it’s, you know, what, here’s a couple of starters, let’s see if we can get a group a good group process going. Other times? We’re a little bit more structured. Seven, it just depends on the week and what’s happening in the group.
JOE KORT 15:47
Okay, great. And then what about other things in terms of intimacy, how do you help them not just sexual, obviously, but in terms of to women? Is it Is there something different to help them get toward closer intimacy than there would be other couples?
Lynda Spann 16:02
I don’t know, if it’s different, I think the the bigger emphasis for lesbians that I do is to, to really work through this piece of how how can we move into to a place where we can be our unique strong selves, all the while having a very safe and secure us, right, so that combination of we’re together, and we’re separate. So I think that emphasis might be a little bit unique, we talk a lot about ways to to maintain and nurture connection, you know, whether it’s through hugging or eye gazing or or repairing quickly or responding to a common cause bids for connection. All also have have a lot of discussion around. How do we, how do we form habits that really support the relationship? And what are those habits and what are really why are agreements important in relationship? Explicit agreements, and, and what you know, help them determine what’s gonna be best for them as a couple.
JOE KORT 17:11
What about i There’s another therapist like, I’m, I’m blanking on her name, because I’m, I don’t know why. But she talks about internalized lesbian phobia. And she says, it’s really important to not call it homophobia when it’s women, because lesbians have their own specific ways of experiencing homophobia. Do you agree with that? And could you speak to that?
Lynda Spann 17:32
That’s interesting. I have, I need to find that, that person and read her her work. I’m always identified with internalized homophobia. So I’m gonna have to think about that one, Joe. What? All right,
JOE KORT 17:50
I just like that.
Lynda Spann 17:52
I think that’s really fascinating. Yeah. Yeah. What have you learned about that?
JOE KORT 17:57
Well, here’s what reminds me of misogyny and misogyny, noir misogyny would happen to you as a white woman. But misogyny noir would be misogyny against a person of color woman of color. So and she experiences it very differently. You know. And so I think just the whole idea that if you look up lesbian health or lesbian couples, and you go to a bunch of porn sites, just that alone, is, in a sense, lesbian phobia, that that all lesbians just have a bunch of sex and we’re the right they’re making porn. And it’s just bullshit, you know?
Lynda Spann 18:25
Yeah. Yeah. And we haven’t gotten good portrayal. And in the media, our shows are, you know,
JOE KORT 18:34
I mean, it’s so much better. Young people don’t understand. Yeah, we have ln, yeah, we have Roseanne, a Rosie O’Donnell. And we have a lot we have, I forget the name of that woman that has a CNN show, or MSNBC show Rachel Maddow. But we don’t see like, ongoing lesbian couples ongoing, you know, the inner workings. And one thing I do notice, I wonder if you see this in your office, um, lesbian couples, for me, women couples escalate way faster, way faster than a straight couple than a gay couple of my office. Do you see that as well?
Lynda Spann 19:08
And when you say escalate, they escalate in terms of anger, good for sure.
JOE KORT 19:16
The power struggle,
Lynda Spann 19:17
they they can both be very passionate in their positions. And I think because there’s not the same power difference that that that can be part of that as well. Okay.
JOE KORT 19:29
I have my own theory, I wanted to run by you. I wondered, because I wonder what your thoughts were. I feel like women in general are taught not to show strong emotion and not to be angry or work through anger. They’re, you know, they’re supposed to suppress it. You know, still women are socialized. So by the time they get into my office, they’re in a rage. I see it as rage. And I will say to them, I want to help you remove the rage to get to the anger, but then under the anger get to the hurt. But when you’re in my office and we start talking then you escalate to this rage, I think Can’t help you. I’m just sitting here watching until you’re done. It’s, it can be very difficult and I have to really work with them. And that’s what I wanted. If you notice the same thing.
Lynda Spann 20:08
Yeah, what was some lesbian couples? For sure. I mean, I’m, I’m thinking of a couple that was just here last week. And and both of them walked, you know, became rageful and just left the office for a few minutes and then came back and that just, uh, yeah, yeah. getting triggered. And, and, and not really knowing what to do at that point. Not right. That’s
JOE KORT 20:34
right. I just see it a little bit more. I just noticed that in 37 years with women couples than I have more so now is attributed to they’re not sorting through, in the same way that other couples do their anger, their feelings, and
Lynda Spann 20:46
particularly negative emotions. Yeah, anger hurt. Yeah. There’s an avoidance, I think, a greater avoidance of that vulnerability around that. That’s it.
JOE KORT 20:58
Yes, that’s right. And you wouldn’t expect that with women. I think that’s what caught me off guard. In the beginning, you would think well, women wouldn’t be avoidant. They’re going to be you know, more, but I think to just go be the peacemakers. Right, giving socializes just going along and beginning the piece. And then eventually, it doesn’t work. But obviously,
Lynda Spann 21:15
yeah, yeah. And not to speak up about about those.
JOE KORT 21:19
Right. That’s, that’s a better way to say yes. What else do you think before we end that you wanted listeners to know about your lesbian coaching program and just your work?
Lynda Spann 21:30
Yeah, right. I just want to get the word out about about the lesbian coaching program. Another thing I do, which I have a lot of fun with is a one, one or two day, private Couples Retreat. So there’s no umbrella drinks or spa treatments. But folks come come to Denver, and we work together for for usually a two day intensive. I had a couple that was here Monday and yesterday. And it was transformative for their relationship, and I really enjoy doing that. It’s pretty exhausting. But yeah, all I know that transformation can be kalima caused miraculous or magical. I was just focusing on the relationship in that way. Yeah. So that’s another thing I offer. For for women that are in a pretty big crisis and need something to happen soon.
JOE KORT 22:33
I do that too. I loved in fact, I would say if I could stop doing all therapy and only do intensives, I would be so happy at this point. Because I don’t watch o’clock, I can work with you until the arguments over we can do a little EMDR we can do some regression therapy, all kinds of stuff that I can’t wait to wait until the next appointment. I hate it. I’d rather just do it in one weekend.
Lynda Spann 22:54
I’m exactly with you. And yes, that is my goal to to get to the place that I do intensives and the online coaching program, and I think I can serve my community best like that. I need
JOE KORT 23:07
to I don’t people don’t want to wait forever. And they don’t know, I’m noticing more and more people want to get to the root of things. So that’s great. You offer that how can they find you on the internet? Where do they go
Lynda Spann 23:17
to lesbian couples institute.com. And there’s, there’s a place there to fill out a contact form if you would like to get up on the phone and chance. That’s the best place to find and then understood. There’s a variety of services that might be
JOE KORT 23:37
there. That’s great, I think is wonderful. You and your wife are doing this holding a space for lesbian couples, which is not popular. I mean, there’s I feel like there’s more resources for gay men than there are for lesbian. So it’s just so wonderful to spotlight you in the work you’re doing. Community. Yeah, yeah. So thank you for being here. Yeah, you’re Yeah, and thank you all for listening. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please go online and rate and review the smart sex smart love you can find us on smart sex smart, love calm. And you can also find me on Twitter, Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, it’s all at Dr. Joe port de Rjo e k o r t. And you can always go to my website Joe ct.com. See you next time. Stay healthy, stay safe.