Dad Life

Love Together: Long-Term Male Couples Open Up

As a professional jazz pianist, Tim Clausen knows a lot about making beautiful music on his own. But in writing his new book, “Love Together: Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication," he learned more than ever about what it takes for two people to create long-lasting harmony.


“Love Together” is the culmination of three years of work and over 100 interviews that Tim conducted with long-term gay couples from across the country. Though he’s not in a relationship himself, he found himself drawn to studying what makes successful, long-term gay couples tick: What are their joys? What are their challenges? What are their secrets? Using the interviewing skills he honed in work as a jazz historian, Tim contacted couples across the country to share their very different stories.

And indeed, no two are the same. From a Christian music duo to the Canadian makers of erotic comics, these couples come from all walks of life. Some of the men have been together for 15 years, others as long as 60 years. In fact, Tim closes “Love Together” with the poignant tale of a couple that had been together for nearly six decades; one of the men passed away shortly after their joint interview, so Tim returned for three separate follow-up chats with the widower to discuss the experience of living on without his longtime love. Their final interview took place on what would have been the couple’s 61st anniversary.

Some of the couples are unmarried, while others have tied the knot: America’s first same-sex military couple to marry is among Tim’s diverse interviewees. And Tim found that the act of marriage really did have an emotional impact even on couples that had already been together for many years. “It really did something psychological for them,” says Tim. “One participant told me, ‘Prior to marriage, it was like we were on shifting sand. Now we’re on very solid ground.’”

And though many of the couples are childless, a significant number (about 20 percent, by Tim’s estimation) are also dads.

So is Tim, incidentally. He has a 26 year-old son from a past relationship with a woman, and for many years struggled with being a long-distance dad. So back in 1995 he founded the Milwaukee Gay Fathers Group, which he led for 10 years. Two of the men he interviewed for “Loving Together” actually met through the group. And Tim noticed that even for longtime couples, there is a new and unique bond that arises when they become parents together.

“Some of the men told me that seeing a partner as a dad made them love him even more,” says Tim. The dads ranged from those who fathered children independently in past relationships, to those who became parents together via surrogacy. One couple even adopted a baby they found abandoned in a NYC subway. However they arrived at fatherhood, the men found that it was a journey that enhanced their relationship together. “Seeing their partner in that newly expanded role was a really profound experience,” explains Tim. “It added a new dimension of love to their lives.”

Fatherhood also helped couples with communication skills, something that all long-term couples credit as being crucial to their success. “Having open and honest communication about everything is really important,” says Tim, recounting some of the most common advice shared by interviewees. “Anything has to be on the table for discussion.”

That includes discussions of monogamy, says Tim, who found that the issue of sexual exclusivity is one that many of the long-term couples negotiated at some point in their relationship. “In heterosexual relationships, people tend to follow a standard script that includes monogamy,” says Tim. But he found that many decades-spanning gay couples approached the issue in more varied ways: Some started in exclusive relationships, but eventually opened up to include other sexual partners. Other couples gave each other allowance to explore outside the relationship, within certain parameters. And still more opened up their relationship only temporarily, before returning to full monogamy. These conversations aren’t always easy, but that they happen at all helps many long-term gay couples remain “above board” with their desires – which can ultimately makes their bond of trust stronger, not weaker.

“When you’re able to communicate about even the difficult things, it leads to less sneaking around,” says Tim. And although many more traditional types blanche at the idea of open relationships, there’s one lesson that all couples can take away from the concept: In successful relationships, partners allow each other to change and grow. “Long term” does not mean “stagnant.”

“It’s all about accepting a person’s good, bad, and indifferent; the whole package,” says Tim of what he learned from these successful couples. “It’s about taking them for all their assets and all their liabilities. And it’s about allowing them to change. If you’re not ready for that, it’s probably not going to work long-term.”

Visit "Love Together" for more details on the book or to order your own copy.

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With everything going on in our country, I think saying that it has been a crazy year is an understatement. It has been emotionally difficult and draining at times for many. This year brought so many new changes that it is hard to wrap our minds around some of them. The daunting feeling of uncertainty looms over our heads as we march forward into this unfamiliar territory led by someone we do not particularly trust.

With that said, one thing will not change- the holidays. For my family, this time of year brings cheer, joy, hope, and optimism for the new year to come.

I have always had one golden rule when it comes to decorating our home for the holidays: the current holiday must pass before decorating for another.

Recently, our two year old, Alli Mae, had started to develop an appreciation for all that Christmas brings. The way she lights up and gets excited when she sees Christmas decorations made me think for the first time in my life, what if I changed things up this year? Decorating earlier will also help attenuate the political frustration that this year brought. That coupled with the amazement that our little girl has for Christmas makes a strong case for decorating for Christmas early. Sure, there are diehard Thanksgiving fans that grumble at the thought of Christmas coming early and I am sure they will give this a healthy eye roll and, if so, that's ok. We are not replacing Thanksgiving... we are enhancing it.

We will most definitely continue to teach our children the meaning of Thanksgiving and to enjoy the symbolic feast that comes along with it. The white pumpkins I usually put out for Thanksgiving really made a statement when I mixed them with the Christmas attire. I was quite surprised and impressed by the final outcome!

These days, one of my primary goals in life is to create an environment for my family that is happy, healthy, and nurturing. I want them to get excited about Christmas, both the true meaning and the atmosphere that it brings. When my children walk into the house, I want them to be transported into a bright, cheerful place that they will always remember. Perhaps it will even inspire the way they celebrate the holidays with their families (and our future grandchildren) in the future. The world can be a harsh, cold and scary place, especially lately it seems. I would be lying if I said I didn't do this for myself, too. I am. For the first time in my life, I am worried for the future of our country. I am terrified of the direction we as Americans are taking and worry it is setting a precedent for what the future will be like for my family. Mass shootings seem to happen monthly now, yet there continues to be a lack of response by Congress to create solutions. Bigotry and racism, masked by patriotism, also plague our society. I know I am speaking of sore subjects, but all of these reasons give me the motivation for welcoming the Christmas season earlier.

I do have faith that in time, competent leaders will emerge and will steer us in a direction that will help fade our fear into the bold and lionhearted society that we are. We as LGBTQ families need to comfort one another. Lets extend our hands to each other. Let this holiday season not be about the "correct" time in which we decorate for Christmas, moreover lets make it about coming together as a community that lifts each other up. Lets protect each other. Lets embrace each other for all the we are, all that we bring and all that we stand for. Let us not be silenced- and pushed into a corner but let us lead by example- while showing our children who their parents are by being respectful and tolerant and warmhearted as we welcome this Christmas season.

Erik and Douglas' two daughters, Ella and Alli Mae, who recently turned 2

May you and your family have the most beautiful and happiest of holidays, regardless of when you choose to welcome Christmas. I pray that 2018 will bring each of you happiness, patience, resilience and with time, we will get there, together!

I would love for you to follow our family's journey on Instagram, Nolapapa.com and like us on Facebook.

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