Obscuring the Self by Choosing a Partner: The Challenge of Identity Denial for Bisexuals in Romantic Relationships

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Expanding on research done on the mental health and happiness benefits associated with romantic relationships, this study investigates whether identity denial, the experience of being socially denied one’s chosen identity by having others refuse to acknowledge that identity, presents a challenge for bisexual people within committed romantic relationships. For straight, gay, and lesbian individuals, one’s choice of partner makes one’s own sexual identity more visible to others. For bisexuals, committing to a partner may obscure their own identity, as others will assume they are straight if they choose an opposite sex partner, and gay or lesbian if they choose a same sex partner. The current study surveyed individuals in long-term relationships (one year or more), and oversampled data from individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. As hypothesized, bisexual individuals, unlike their straight and gay/lesbian counterparts did not benefit from relationship commitment in terms of emotional well-being, in part because, as predicted, they did not benefit from relationship commitment in terms of self-concept clarity. For gay, lesbian, and straight individuals, the boost to self-concept clarity one received from romantic commitment mediated the association between commitment and wellbeing. For bisexual individuals, self-concept clarity was just as important for well-being, but was not boosted by romantic commitment. Finally, intriguing evidence suggests that differences in self-concept clarity may be explained by the extent to which the individual’s sexual identity is “known” to others in one’s own and one’s partners social circles, as this was significantly lower in bisexual individuals compared to their straight, gay, and lesbian counterparts.

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  • 06/13/2018
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