When people learn I’m a couples counselor, I’m often asked for any juicy tidbits or words of wisdom I might have to support them in their relationship.
Juicy and wise, they may or may not be but there are a few things I’ve learned for sure about relationships in my work as a couples counselor that I’m always happy to share with folks.
Today, I want to share these seven key relationship insights with you in the hopes that they may feel helpful and supportive to you and your relationships.
1) Relationships are often hard work.
Disney, Rom-coms, TV and hyper-edited social media have led many of us to believe something along the lines of “when you’re with The One it’s easy.” And I completely disagree.
Long-term, committed, romantic relationship is often hard. And that’s perfectly normal and natural. After all, you get two people together with all their triggers, wounds, quirks, preferences and neuroses and then you expect them to manage a house and build a life together through sickness, financial stressors, changing bodies, changing libidos, in-laws, kids, commutes and more – how could this possibly always be easy even if you are with “The One” (a belief I also don’t subscribe to.)?!
The bottom line is that, in my professional and personal opinion, relationships are often hard work. And… with that said, some relationships may be harder or easier than others depending on the specific context, compatibility, and willingness of any couple to heal and to grow together.
2) There’s no such thing as a perfect partner and you don’t get a wish list of “101 Must-Haves.”
Quite honestly, I don’t believe in the concept of “The One” and I don’t believe there’s a single perfect partner out there for each of us (see this blog post for more of my thoughts on that). I also don’t think it’s helpful or realistic to create lists of “101 Must Haves” in a partner when you’re looking to find, keep, or heal a relationship.
“101 Must Haves” is a lot and it’s doubtful any one person could fulfill such a list no matter what was on it. Now that said, you absolutely get to have some preferences about who and what you’re looking for in a partner.
Indeed, often what I recommend to clients is to reflect on and create a list of “10 Must Have” character traits of a partner (think of qualities of character, how you want to feel around them, and what’s most important for you in terms of values and life goals) to help them clarify what’s most needed/wanted in a partner.
3) Relationships are where the rubber of personal growth meets the road.
I think insights gained from books, articles, personal growth seminars and more are fabulous. And I think that where those insights and aspirations to growth and healing will always get tested is in the often messy, real-life experiential arena of relationships.
Relationships are our greatest mirror, the catalyst for bringing up and reflecting back to us all of our STUFF. Is this painful and hard sometimes? Sure. But the good news is that relationship – a certain kind of relationship – can also provide us with the very opportunities we need to heal, grow, and transform old childhood wounds, more so than any book or seminar ever will.
What kind of relationship helps facilitate that? Well, a kind of relationship where there is a safe container between the partners. In other words, a firm commitment to each other and a willingness to grow and to not give up when the going gets tough (as it inevitably will sometimes). That’s the kind of relationship that, I think, has the opportunity to be a deeply healing experience for the people in it.
4) Commitment and a willingness to grow are critical. These should be on your list.
Per the above, consider adding an ability to commit and a willingness to grow on your list of desired qualities in a partner. At the end of the day, these two qualities – commitment to you and a willingness to grow in the context of a relationship – count for so much over the long arc of a committed, romantic relationship.
5) 69% of your problems won’t be solved. They can only be managed (sorry).
According to nation’s leading couples researchers, Drs. John and Julie Gottman, 69% of a couples’ perpetual problems won’t actually get solved. They can only be managed.
In other words, those issues that you two tend to gridlock over again and again (e.g.: She’s neat, he’s messy. She’s always early, he’s always late. He’s a saver, she’s a spender.), are likely due to inherent temperament and personality differences.
The issues then, will likely keep reappearing over the course of your relationship and won’t be solved. They can only be managed (hint: couples counseling is an excellent resources for learning how to manage these problems and make space for both of your differences in the relationship.).
6) You can have many different relationships with the same person.
Over the course of a couple’s life together, depending on how you both show up for each other and your personal work, it’s possible for the dynamics and patterns between you to shift and heal and transform in ways that may feel unimaginable.
The person you’re struggling with so much right now could be the person who you re-fall madly in love with again down the road. Or vice versa. We as people are so changeable, so unfixed, so ripe with potential for transformation, and so is your relationship.
I personally and professionally think it’s possible to feel like you’ve had multiple different relationships with the same person over the course of committed, long-term relationship.
7) Each universe between a couple is a world of it’s own.
I love the visual of those old, Tolkien-esque maps where there are forests, markers, unbeaten paths, mysteries, and blind spots.
I tend to think that the world each couple constellates between themselves in relationship is something like one of these old, highly detailed maps of an alternate world. The universe and land a couple creates between them is wholly unique and totally unlike the proverbial relational topography that any other couple might experience.
What do I mean by this? I mean that no one else is the expert of your experience and can tell you what your relationship should look like. You and your partner get to make up your own rules about how often (or not) you want to have sex, how you split household chores, how you divvy the finances, how you manage your sleeping arrangements, how you sweet talk and geek out together behind closed doors.
This — the texture and landscape of your relationship — is totally yours and will be unlike that of anyone else. Only you can really know and navigate and create this terrain together (but a good couples counselor can definitely be a guide along the way for you.).
Wrapping this up.
So there you have it. Seven key insights I’ve learned from my work as a couples counselor and as a fellow human in relationship. I hope this list of insights felt helpful to you no matter where you are in your own relationship journey.
Eager to read more of my blog posts on relationships? Check out the following:
- The Myth of the Perfect Partner & The Myth That Love Should Be Easy.
- “What if I never meet The One?”
- A Care Package for Your Relationship.
- Three little-known communication tools to improve your relationships.