Relationship stigma associated with negative outcomes for individuals’ well-being

New research has found that facing stigma from friends and family because of your romantic relationship is linked to negative mental health outcomes. The study, which examined the stigmatization of interracial and same-sex relationships, was published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

“My research focuses on social justice issues, including how experiences with various forms of stigma and/or discrimination affect social, academic, and health outcomes and contribute to existing disparities in those outcomes,” said study author Lisa Rosenthal.

“When I first started by position as an assistant professor at Pace University, I met Dr. Tyrel Starks, who was starting at Pace at the same time (though he is currently at Hunter College, CUNY.) Starks’ research focuses on couples/relationship dynamics in connection to health outcomes, including HIV risk among gay and bisexual men. This project on relationship stigma was formed by the two of us collaborating and merging our different but related areas of research.

The study of 467 U.S. adults in same-sex and/or interracial relationships found that people who felt their relationship was stigmatized by their friends tended to report greater depressive symptoms, which in turn was associated with poorer overall health.

Relationship stigma from family members, on the other hand, was linked to both greater anxiety and depressive symptoms for those in heterosexual interracial relationships, but not same-sex relationships.

“Stigma can be experienced as a romantic couple because of the type of relationship being marginalized in society, in addition to the stigma that people experience individually because of who they are,” Rosenthal told PsyPost.

“Those experiences of relationship stigma have negative consequences for individuals’ well-being, including particularly when that stigma comes from close others (i.e., friends and family). Also, coping with stress collaboratively as a couple and endorsing egalitarian views may help to buffer against some of the negative consequences of relationship stigma.”

The study — like all research — has some limitations. The researchers used a cross-sectional survey, precluding them from determining the direction of causality.

“The body of research on relationship stigma and its consequences is small but growing. There are many more important questions that future research can explore about relationship stigma, such as how those experiences change over time/the course of a romantic relationship, and what other factors may help to buffer individuals and couples from the adverse consequences of relationship stigma,” Rosenthal said.

“These along with other past research findings highlight the importance of reducing societal stigma, as it has many adverse consequences for many individuals, couples, and communities.”

The study, “Relationship stigma and well-being among adults in interracial and same-sex relationships“, was authored by Lisa Rosenthal, Ashleigh Deosaran, DaSean L. Young, and Tyrel J. Starks.

 

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