When I first started working with couples, I really had no idea what I was doing or how to help couples that were coming to see me. It was truly a baptism by fire because I had to come up with something to help each couple move out of pain and start to make positive changes in their relationship.
One thing I can say for sure is that since then, I've learned a lot about relationships from working with hundreds of couples. Here are 10 things I've learned about couples from 10 years of being a couples therapist:
1. No two couples are the same.
One of the wonderful things about my job is I have met so many different couples from all walks of life and I have come to the conclusion no two couples are the same. Every couple has a different story and it's fascinating to hear what attracts people together. If you're in a relationship, don't ever forget your own story as it's unique and can never be replicated.
2. While no two couples are the same, most couples fall into fairly predictable patterns.
In reality, only a limited number of relationship patterns exist.
She pursues him and he withdraws.
He criticizes her and she attacks.
They both avoid conflict and withdraw from each other.
You get the idea. Becoming aware of your own relationship patterns, is the first step in bringing about real change in your relationship.
3. Attraction is totally unpredictable.
I've worked with the most unlikely couples across all genders, sexual orientations and cultural backgrounds. One thing I've learned is you can't create a formula for attraction. It's beyond human comprehension. And you just never know when it's going to happen.
4. Relationships that start with a bang often end with a bigger bang.
When relationships start with a fierce intensity and passion, they often end the same way. This is not a blanket rule, but no couple can sustain that kind of intensity of connection indefinitely. You have to expect that the fires will cool at some point and that's OK.
What often leads to a long-term successful relationship is a slow burn, taking the time to get to know each other without completely losing each other.
5. There is no such thing as the perfect relationship.
The couples that often run into trouble are the ones in which one or both partners believe their relationship should be perfect.
Perfectionism, when it comes to relationships, can be the kiss of death. No partner or relationship can live up to those impossible ideals and if you think yours can, you're in for a rude shock.
Every couple experiences difficulties and conflict at one time or another. Just realize it's a part of life and the most important thing is to bring compassion and kindness to yourself and your partner when you're going through difficult times.
6. Your partner can't fulfil all your needs.
Another common myth is this idea that my partner can fulfil all my needs. This belief is often in form of, "Once I find my perfect partner, I'll never want for anything again."
This is a dangerous expectation because it sets you up for disappointment when you discover your partner simply can't meet all your needs.
It's important not to lose your individuality in your relationship, no matter how much you love your partner. Keep your friends, nurture your separate relationships and keep in close contact with your family. Also, don't be afraid to have interests, projects and hobbies that don't involve your partner.
The bottom line is you are two separate individuals who have your own likes, dislikes, wants and needs. The wonderful thing is, you can share these things together and separately.
7. You have more than one soul mate (if you believe in that).
Some people seem to believe there is only one soul mate for them in the world. I have worked with countless individuals who thought they'd met "The One" and then it didn't work out.
And guess what? They went on to form other relationships that brought them just as much love and joy as the relationship they thought they could never replace. Don't limit yourself to thinking there is only one person with whom you could ever be in a deep, connected and loving relationship.
8. Changing your relationship is hard work, but worth it.
I know that changing your relationship for the better is hard work. If it were easy, couples would do it all the time and there would be no need for couples therapists.
Couples that put in the hard work are the ones that reap the benefits. They are happier, more resilient and able to face life's ups and downs with a greater robustness. If your relationship needs help, don't be afraid to reach out and get the professional support you need. It could be the best investment you ever make in your future.
9. Relationships can be boring and ordinary at times, and that's OK.
The reality is that, even in the best relationships, there are times when it can feel boring and ordinary. The important thing to remember is it's OK to go through periods where your relationship doesn't feel exciting. This is just part of life.
However, the couples who recognize when they are in one of these periods and then find ways to bring back spontaneity, excitement, laughter and fun are the couples that are happier in the long term. Be aware of the cycles of your relationship and make sure you work together to maintain your connection, even at times when you feel disconnected.
10. The sex can get even better in a long-term relationship.
I can't tell you how many people I've worked with who have accepted they have a bad sex life because they think that's what naturally happens when you've been together for a while.
There is no reason for accepting a dull, boring or even non-existent love life. I've seen so many couples turn around their sex life to create a deeper, more connected sexual and emotional connection than they ever had before.
It's true that you get what you settle for. So when it comes to your sex life, you can have the best sex of your life, even after many, many years together.
What have you learned in your life about relationships? Please share your comments below!