How to Improve a Gay Male Relationship: The Boyfriend “Owner’s Manual”

Having a gay boyfriend can feel like he needs to come with an Owner’s Manual to figure him out. Counseling at GayTherapyLA can help gay men’s relationships.

You’ve bought appliances, electronics, all kinds of gadgets, right? So, how do you know how they work? Maybe you’ve seen someone else use the same thing, but often when we buy something, and it’s even a little complicated (electronic, mechanical, etc.), we consult the Owner’s Manual that comes in the box to learn how to set it up, use it, maintain it, and troubleshoot it when it doesn’t really work the way it should.

Don’t you wish boyfriends were like that?

In a way, they are. As a psychotherapist who has specialized in working with gay men (individuals and couples) for 23 years, I’ve helped many gay couples get to know each other in greater depth, so that they can learn to communicate to work through their problems, strengthen their commitment to each other for the long term, and make the everday compromises that are necessary to keep the partners happy, even if they don’t always get their way. That’s what compromises are about; you give a little, you take a little; you meet at an agreeable point midway.

But some partners complain that their partner won’t think, act, or behave the way they want them to. They want them to change, but how can we change people? We really don’t. But, we can influence them. We can work with them. We can learn to “speak their language”. If our boyfriends/partners/spouses just came with an Owner’s Manual, we could look up how to get them to change from one mood or behavior, to another. But if you don’t know how to do this, it could be that you’re not paying attention.

What do I mean?

If you’re really observant, especially over time, there is a cause-and-effect relationship that you can learn about how your boyfriend behaves. Over time, you will learn that he almost acts the same ways under the same circumstances (and guess what, you do, too!).

Below are some examples of things to ask yourself when you want your boyfriend to change his mood, outlook or behavior. Start to really notice what you say, and what you do, that either makes the situation better, or makes it worse. Sure, it’s a little manipulative, but I prefer the term “influence”. If you learn to influence your boyfriend for the better, that’s a win-win situation, because you can resolve conflicts and get back to a peaceful co-existence.

Do you find yourself in these situations?

1.  He’s angry at you – Notice what calms him down, over time. Do you own responsibility and apologize? Do you distract him? Do you compliment and charm him? Do you validate him? Do you offer new ideas on what can be done differently? Do you let him vent? Do you actively try to get him to breathe, relax, and quiet down? It only takes a little trial-and-error to see what makes him tame again after going off.

2.  He’s angry at someone else – See #1. Maybe he needs to vent? Maybe he needs validation that he’s justified in his anger? Maybe he needs help plotting revenge (just kidding)? Maybe he does need help not for revenge, but for a measured response to how he’s been wronged. Maybe you could role-play how he will later speak to the person who wronged him? Maybe he needs you to research something on his behalf, like how to find an attorney if you’ve been harassed or discriminated against at work.

3. He’s sad – We all have sad days. Maybe he lost something close to him, like a friend or a loved one? Maybe he lost a cherished possession? Maybe he’s disappointed at not getting a job or a promotion? Whatever the loss is, it’s part of your job to be a loving partner and try to help him feel better when he’s sad. Do you talk with him? Do you let him have his own quiet time alone? Do you distract him? Do you help him see maybe a “bright side” to loss? Do you just silently hug him? Do you seduce him into sex? Do you suggest you go on an outing together? Do you get him a card and write him a nice message? Over time, you can learn what makes your boyfriend feel better in times of sadness.

4.  He’s anxious – Maybe he has a job interview the next day, or a big sales presentation at work. Maybe he has to meet with a difficult work client. Maybe he has to get out of some kind of trouble. When he’s anxious, what makes him calmer? Do you leave him alone to study and prepare for the event? Do you offer to practice something with him, like watching his sales presentation and giving him feedback? Do you remind him of his strengths and his skills? Do you validate the anxiety, and just let him “have it” and work through it on his own? Do you reassure him?

5.  He’s indecisive – Maybe he can’t make up his mind where he prefers to go to dinner with you that night, or what to wear to an event, or whether to take a new job, or whether to shave his beard. Sometimes, helping him identify and evaluate his options is helpful (I do this with clients often). Maybe you need to take charge (be the “alpha” or the “top”) and relieve him of the indecision. Maybe you need to play “devil’s advocate” and help him see things from different angles. Think about when he has been indecisive, and made a decision, and it worked out. What was your role? What you have observed in both his and your behavior in the past with similar situations, when it’s worked out well, will very likely work again in the future. That’s page 23 of the Owner’s Manual.

6.  You’re horny – So maybe it’s not about his feelings right now, maybe it’s about yours. You’re horny. You want it. Now, what will make him –if he’s angry, stressed, busy, grouchy, tired, puttering around, etc.. – be “in the mood” for you? What do you do? Do you hug him? Do you grab his crotch? Do you start kissing him? Do you take off your clothes? Do you wear “that thing he likes”? Do you put on his favorite type of porn? Do you put on music to have sex to? Do you light candles? Do you whisper sexy things in his ear? Do you hand him a Viagra and grin until he gets the hint? Think about the last few times you’ve had sex, where you initiated it and maybe he was resistant. When it worked, what did you do? Whatever you did, you know (page 56 of the Owner’s Manual) that he will drop what he’s doing and have sex if only you….

7. He’s unmotivated – Maybe you’re bored on the weekend and want to go do something. Maybe you want to tackle a household project you’ve both been avoiding. How do you motivate him? Think about the last time you went someplace fun, and he was reluctant at first to go. How did you get him to go? Did you beg? Did you point out how it will be fun for him? Did you guilt him that he owed you a favor of some kind? Whatever you did before to get him to say, “Oh, OK, I guess we can go” will probably work again.

Building and “writing” the invisible Owner’s Manual to your boyfriend takes time. Remember that TV game show, “The Newlywed Game”? Part of the game was trying to predict how your new spouse would behave, and just how well you knew each other yet. People who marry for immigration reasons alone have to learn this; it’s kind of a trick to pass the tests. By learning and predicting your partner’s behavior, you help to resolve conflicts and work with them. You build compatibility, rapport, a sense of working together in compromise, and get win-win situations.

Just don’t get too smug that you can now read him like a book and that he’s putty in your hands. Hey, he’s reading this, too.  🙂


Ken Howard, LCSW, is a gay and HIV-positive (25 years) licensed psychotherapist (LCSW) and life/career coach who has specialized in working with gay men, as individuals and couples, for over 23 years.  He helps many gay men (and others) resolve the issues that undermine your quality of life, and helps you to thrive.   

For help improving your personal or professional life, whatever your current challenges are, consider sessions with Ken for counseling, coaching, or therapy sessions, at his office in Los Angeles/West Holllywood (near Beverly Center mall), or via phone, or via webcam, anywhere in the world.  Call 310-726-4357 or email for more information.

Ken is also available for expert witness work on legal proceedings involving gay issues, all LGBT issues, HIV issues, and issues concerning psychiatric illness or disability, as well as organizational consulting for non-profit organizations, corporations, college campuses, and conferences. 

To get your copy of his self-help book, Self-Empowerment: Have the Life You Want!,visit , or  It’s your “portable therapist” for the challenges you face today in your mental health, health, career, finances, family, spirituality, and community.


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