She’s known as an expert on sex and marriage, but Esther Perel’s writings and therapy sessions explore the nature of modern relationships, beyond just the sexual. With a focus on societal mores, intimacy, history, anthropology and power structures, the Belgian psychotherapist may be revolutionizing our notions of what it means to love.
Perel synthesizes decades of expertise in her recent book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, published this October, which explores the causes and effects of infidelity between a couple. But her podcasts and TED Talks, which have reached more than 20 million people, broaden the topic to include friendships and working relationships which, she says, all share the same basic dynamics.
Recently, she shared some of her insights:
Tell us a little more about the nature of love itself.
Love is one of the most complex verbs that we have. It is a multiple experience, love. Does a child or a parent love, and that’s it? Or does everybody who loves—the child, the parent—also experience sometimes anger, sometimes hatred, sometimes ambivalence, sometimes deep love? We would never question the love between the parent and a child (but it is) full of a range of complexities of emotions (and) we wish sometimes that things were black or white, but they’re not … So we don’t just love or don’t love.
Help us put this in the context of modern marriage:
Modern marriage is probably one of the relationships that has transformed the most over time … In the last two hundred years, the couple has undergone an extreme makeover.
We have never had higher marital relationship expectations than we do today. We want love relationships to bring us stability and security, family life and companionship and economic support. And we want our beloved to be be our soulmate, which used to belong to religion. We are conflating the spiritual and the relational; we are looking to our partner for things we used to look for in the realm of (spiritual) desire— transcendence, ecstasy, belonging, wholeness. A best friend, a passionate lover, a trusted confident … And we want our sexuality to be rooted in desire (which) is not a duty; it is not procreative. It is for pleasure and connection, and we need to cultivate that connection.