Rachel Wright is a marriage counselor and licensed psychotherapist. She is recognized as one of the freshest voices on modern and millennial relationships. Referred to as “bridging the gap between a self-help book and a therapist’s couch, she is one half of Wright Wellness Center, where together with her husband Kyle, they are helping people have better sex, relationships, and mental health. They’ve created a healthy, communicative, and passionate relationship by using the very same techniques they teach — Everything we have developed is research-based. She has been featured widely in the media including Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, PsychologyToday, and dozens of other outlets.
How did you and Kyle meet?
They were both working in restaurants. Rachel had just completed her master's degree and needed a part-time job. She started working at a brand new restaurant as a server and Kyle was part of the training team. Immediately they hated each other. They would frequently argue and she thought he was an arsehole. After the training Ryan would stay in touch by contacting her on Jewish holidays. A year later Rachel joined Kyle and the training team to open the companies 4th restaurant. And they could now stop talking. They connected deeply and realized they had both found their person.
Can you give me a little snapshot of the timeline?
Met and hated each other. A year later reconnected and kissed. 3 weeks later Ryan told her that he loved her. 6 months later they moved in with each other. They were engaged after 2 years and married after 16 months. They have now been married for 2.5 years.
How’s it going?
Phenomenally. People think just have a great relationship that they don’t work on. But after both of them saw their parent’s go for divorce they knew they had to put in the work if they wanted a relationship to last a long time
I had love at first sight with my husband.
What was that like?
We were on a blind date set up by one of his friends. We met at a wine bar and when he walked in there was an energy about him. He was so sweet and I just got that immediately. I hadn’t felt like that before, it was so easy. For me, I felt like I could really be with this person. I kinda just knew. I know that sounds weird but that was my experience.
We all have these judgments around things in our lives, especially when our friends experience things very differently. It strikes us as weird.
And it’s natural to have some uncertainty, right?
A lot of times the uncertainty is about us more so than the other person. For Rachel, she had a lot of uncertainty when she first met Ryan. But what she didn’t consider was the ability for people to change. When she saw him a year later he was not the same person.
So how did you go from training in a restaurant together to having your own relationship company together?
After she completed her Masters, she continued her psychotherapy training by getting her 3000 hours for her license and started her own practice. She had been working towards this for so long and it was amazing. For about 3 months. Her focus was on couples and sex therapy. People would come in with the same issues. Body image, anxiety, their upbringing around sex and communication issues. Couples would come in calling each other names and were not able to decide what they wanted for dinner without arguing. Kyle was still working in restaurants and had worked his way up to a fancy restaurant in San Fransico as the Head Bartender. Rachel found she wasn’t actually doing any therapy and healing people. She was teaching them how to communicate with each other. Although she enjoyed doing that work, it wasn’t what she went to school for. Kyle thought she should create an informational package about how to talk to your partner. As she worked on it Rachel realized that Kyle had an ability to take her technical knowledge and put it into layman's terms.
She sent the packet out to prospective clients and then realized that her clients stopped coming in. They no longer needed to come in for therapy. The law in California was so strict that she wasn’t able to sell the packet. They decided to create something online to provide this information to people. They realized there is nothing between self-help books and going to therapy. Rachel knew that Ryan was an important part of this idea because he could take the complicated things Rachel explained in a way people understood. Rachel wanted to go into business with Ryan but he was reluctant because he had these narratives about how he was in restaurants and hadn’t been good at school. In 2015, they started their business. They weren’t even married yet.
I love how organic it was.
They had the business idea long before they thought about starting a business. Rachel didn’t even see her private practice as a business.
When did you shift into that business mentality? I know that can be difficult for some service practitioners.
She will approach things as a clinician and not as an entrepreneur. She will look at the decision from the point of view as both a clinician and as a business person. She thinks there should be more business training in therapist training.
Does Kyle have a degree or certification?
Rachel jokes that he has an honorary degree because he now has enough knowledge to pass the licensing exam. Fiends and family wonder what Kyle does in the business because he doesn’t have that piece of paper.
We all learn differently and it’s important to respect that.
When Kyle is passionate about something he learns it quickly. But at school, he didn’t want to study things that didn’t mean anything to him. When they started the business, Kyle definitely felt some imposter syndrome.
When did you start therapy? What was the reason?
Rachel started therapy when she was 14 after her mum read her diary. She thought Rachel was hiding things and after reading the diary discovered that Rachel had smoke marijuana and slept with her boyfriend. Rachel was sent to therapy. She was pissed. However, after her first session in therapy, she knew she wanted to be a therapist.
What about it had you feeling that way?
She had never felt more seen, heard and understood. Her therapist matched her cursing and agreed that the way she ended up at therapy was not right. She helped Rachel understand her parent’s motivation and that they cared.
So what happened?
She left and told her parents that she had done nothing wrong but would keep going because she really liked it. She saw her therapist throughout high school and on and off during college. And now they are colleagues.
How long were you in therapy for?
Weekly, for about 3 years.
What was the biggest thing you got out of that experience?
She learned that she was a people pleaser and that if she ever wanted to have a healthy relationship with both herself and a partner, she was going to have to navigate anger and conflict.
It such a big part of the human experience. We’re going to experience conflict if we’re going to express ourselves. How to manage that skilfully is so important and we are often not taught how to do that. We reap so many rewards when we work through conflict.
One of the biggest misconceptions around conflict is that it’s bad. In relationships, whether it’s friends family or lovers, conflict is what helps us grow and get closer. If we don’t have conflict, that means that we don’t care because we’re not speaking our truth. We don’t get taught how to communicate and handle conflict but we also don’t get taught how to identify our feelings.
How would you recommend someone who is experiencing conflict, in any relationship, be it intimate, at work, with family members, navigate the situation?
Conflict is often due to different beliefs, values, opinions, and priorities. We need to listen to understand instead of listening to respond. In our culture, we are trained to listen to respond because if we don’t respond immediately we can be mocked for it.
We’re not taught how to listen.
Listening is half of communication. Relationship researchers John and Julie Gottman have this term ‘share meaning’. Which means do you share the meaning your partner assigns to things. Do you share the same meaning about what a home means, what money means, what communication means? We have to get on the same page about what things mean in our lives.
I heard John Walker speak at his Launch Con, a few years ago. And he said - “All problems boil down to a problem in communication.” What do you think?
She agrees that most problems come down to communication and that we’re all afraid to ask for what we need. When Rachel was a teenager, her people-pleasing came from a fear of asking for what she needed because she didn’t want to be judged and she didn’t want to cause anybody discomfort. We have to ask for what we need because nobody is a mindreader.
What is a practical strategy that you use for communication?
Rachel and Kyle have scripts that they give out for different situations. You pick out a feeling and put it into a script. The scripts all follow the same process which is based on the acronym AEO which stands for Acknowledge, Explain, Offer.
Acknowledge means just acknowledging what’s going on and bringing words to the elephant in the room.
Explain is an I statement. We have to explain how we’re feeling and why. “I get angry when you don’t wash the dishes after you eat.”
Offer is what is your proposed solution to this. “Hey, I know that last time we talked about this it kinda got out of hand. I don’t want that to happen this time. I feel angry when you don’t wash your dishes after you eat lunch. What I would like for you to do is either wash them or just soak them and leave them in the sink. How does that feel to you?”
We’re often not taught these ways of communicating. It really takes mindful attention and practice. Sometimes we might be sloppy and come out with an accusation because we haven’t practiced this.
It’s a muscle. This is where self-compassion comes in. We’re going to make mistakes and you can’t shame yourself for things you don’t know. It’s important to try this when you’re not in a reactive state. You can practice with things that are silly to get used to the flow of the formula.
What is the question that you ask yourself often?
How do I want to feel?
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Follow what makes you feel good.
If you can replace should with want, it’s a game changer.
Where can we get in touch with you:
The Gottman Institute