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7 Key Relationship Insights I’ve Learned As A Couples Counselor.

7 Key Relationship Insights I've Learned As A Couples Counselor. | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

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. 

7 Key Relationship Insights I've Learned As A Couples Counselor. | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

7 Key Relationship Insights I’ve Learned As A Couples Counselor.

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 its 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.

Now I’d love to hear from you: Do you agree with this list of insights? What’s another insight you’ve learned from your own relationship experience that you’d like to add to this list? Leave me a message in the comments below and I’ll be sure to respond.

If you would like additional support right now and you live in California or Florida, please feel free to reach out to me directly to explore therapy together.

Or if you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.

And until next time, please take very good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.

Warmly, Annie


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  1. Jon on  

    Yes, relationships are hard work. 2007/08 & 09 were rough and when you throw extraneous circumstance in on top relationship begins to totter. So after over 30 years of marriage when you really needed a shoulder to cry on and you found it wasn’t there, that is difficult! So for the past 18 months I have been working with a marriage counselor here in Nebraska. There is no such thing as DIY therapy. Only fools believe in that. In the past 18 months I have moved into a separate residence and with the counselors urging we will be taking a “time out” beginning June 1. Therapy most definitely works. I am much calmer and I laugh much more readily. It is possible to take life too seriously and drive oneself mad. I will continue to read your blog and the connecting articles. There is much good information contained.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Jon,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. It sounds like you’ve been going through a lot and that therapy has been a support to you through your journey – I am so glad to hear this!

      And thank you for your kind words about the helpfulness of my blog posts. I’m so glad they feel supportive in some way.

      I’m sending you my best.



  2. Sonya LPC on  

    Great article! I might add that in any relationship we need to spend some time considering our own assumptions and expectations. This includes those for ourself and our partner. It would also include those we have for the relationship. And we also have to consider any expectations we might have for families, friends and society as they relate to the relationship and individuals within it.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Sonya,

      What a great additional insight! I totally agree with you: questioning our assumptions and expectations for relationship (beyond that of romantic relationship!) can be an illuminating practice.

      Thank you so much for adding this great additional thought to the conversation.



  3. Robin on  

    Succinctly stated! Celebrating our 24th anniversary next week and you are spot on! There have been times we adored each other and times we could barely speak to one another, but we are both committed and that means having to work through some difficult times. But if you stick it out and talk you will find yourself in love with your partner again. It may be a totally different and new kind of love. Respect and communication is the key..and both of you belong able to admit when you’re wrong.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Robin,

      Happy 24th Anniversary! Wow – what an accomplishment! I’m so glad to know my article feels spot on to you. And I love what you added: “But if you stick it out and talk you will find yourself in love with your partner again. It may be a totally different and new kind of love.” I’ve found the same thing myself and really appreciate you adding this insight.

      I’m wishing you and your partner a wonderful anniversary celebration. Thank you again for taking the time to comment and add your well-earned wisdom and insight.

      Warmly, Annie

  4. Myrna on  

    I think you are spot on. I have been married 32 years, my how things have changed, and some not at all. Still evolving. We have had times in our marriage when we went to couples counselling, to help us manage our relationship. It helped immensely, I wish more people would try it and not give up one their relationships so easily. On our 25th wedding anniversary we went on a road trip for 3 weeks, our only rule was we didn’t drive after dark. We had no plan so we never knew where we would end up. I explain that trip like our marriage, sometimes we ended up in a old motel that whatever you touched, it was broken, and sometimes we ended up in a hotel on the beach with a jaccuzi tub and gas fireplace. There are always highs and lows and if you stay with someone long enough you get to fall in and out of love several times 🙂

    • Annie on  

      Hi Myrna,

      I absolutely loved your comment and hearing more about your experience. And congratulations on being married for 32 years! What an accomplishment! I loved the metaphor of a marriage being a bit like an unplanned road trip, full of highs and lows and not-knowing.

      Thank you again for taking the time to read the article and to stop by and share your experience

      Warmly, Annie

      • Angelina Degelder on  

        Just don’t drive in the dark! Now there’s a powerful metaphor 🙂

        I really appreciate the info here! As well as the inspiring stories shared.

        This gives me hope!

        • Annie on  

          I’m so glad you liked the article, Angelina! And yes, the stories people shared here are quite inspiring, aren’t they? Warmly, Annie

  5. Syed Mahmud Kabir on  

    This article provides valuable insights into relationships from the perspective of a couples counselor. The seven key relationship insights shared by the author are thought-provoking and offer a realistic view of what it takes to nurture a long-term, committed relationship.

    The first insight about relationships being hard work is particularly important to acknowledge in a society that often portrays love and partnerships as effortless. Understanding that challenges are a natural part of any relationship can help couples approach difficulties with patience and perseverance.

    The notion that there’s no such thing as a perfect partner and that having an exhaustive list of “must-haves” might be unrealistic is also enlightening. It emphasizes the importance of focusing on core values and character traits in a partner rather than a lengthy checklist.

    The article’s emphasis on personal growth within a relationship resonates deeply. Indeed, relationships can serve as powerful mirrors, reflecting our own issues and providing opportunities for healing and growth. This perspective encourages couples to embrace the transformative potential of their partnership.

    The advice to prioritize commitment and a willingness to grow in a partner is essential. These qualities can foster resilience and mutual support throughout the ups and downs of a relationship.

    The insight that some problems in a relationship may not be solved but can be managed is a realistic perspective that avoids unrealistic expectations. It highlights the value of learning healthy communication and conflict resolution skills through couples counseling.

    The idea that a couple can experience different phases and dynamics throughout their journey together offers hope and encourages couples not to give up during challenging times. Change and growth are inherent in any long-term relationship.

    Finally, the analogy of each couple’s universe being a unique and personal world is a beautiful reminder of the individuality and special nature of each partnership. Couples are encouraged to create their own path, rules, and dynamics, honoring the uniqueness of their bond.

    Overall, this article provides a refreshing and insightful perspective on relationships, shedding light on important aspects that can help couples navigate their journey together with more understanding and compassion. It underscores the significance of seeking support from a couples counselor when needed, as a guide to help couples navigate their relationship terrain effectively.

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