Eassther ’s breathtakingly frank therapy podcasts – Where should we begin – not only make for juicy listening, they’ve revitalised the stale private lives of millions. Mira0 Sawyer listens to the psychotherapist
A black-line illustration on a pale pink background of a couple wrapped in each other, encircled by their giant hands
‘The survival of the family depends on the happiness of the couple.’ Illustration: Hinna
‘Passion has always existed,” says Esther Perel. “People have known love forever, but it never existed in the context of the same relationship where you have to have a family and obligations. And reconciling security and adventure, or love and desire, or connection and separateness, is not something you solve with Victoria’s Secret. And there is no Victor’s Secret. This is a more complicated existential dilemma. Reconciling the erotic and the domestic is not a problem that you solve. It is a paradox that you manage.”
Ooh, Perel is a great lunch date. All psychotherapists are, in my experience, but she’s particularly interesting. Sex, relationships, children; she covers them all in the two hours we spend together. But also collective trauma, migration, otherness, freedom… all the good stuff.
Perel is a practising couples and family therapist who lives in New York. Aside from her clinical work – she counsels around 12 couples or individuals each week – she has two best-selling books: one about maintaining desire in long-term relationships (Mating in Captivity), the other about infidelity (The State of Affairs). She has released two fascinating podcast series, called Where Should We Begin?, where listeners get to listen in on real-life couples having therapy with her. The podcast is where I first came across her – it’s won a British Podcast Award, a Gracie Award in the States and was named as the Number One podcast by GQ.
On top of all this, she hosts workshops and lectures as well as the inevitable TED talks, one of which has been watched more than 5m times. I went to one of her London appearances earlier this year. Alain de Botton was the host and he introduced Perel with quite some hyperbole, calling her “one of the greatest people alive on Earth right now”. (Perel dismissed this afterwards, though she likes de Botton: “He put me on such a platter.”)
Try this at home
Three ways to change the way you think about your partner at home
Pay attention to what is important to the other What happens in a couple is that we often give to the other what we want them to give to us. If somebody is upset, you don’t talk to them, because when you are upset you like to be left alone. It isn’t necessarily what they need.
Roles are often patterns rather than habits If you really want the other person to take out the rubbish, you have to be able to spend two weeks not doing it. You don’t say anything. You just wait until the other person finally notices it. When you’re not there, the other person sorts the bin. They can do it. It’s just that when you’re there they’d prefer not to.
Women are not less interested in sex than men, they’re less interested in the sex they can have What makes women lose that interest? Domesticity. Motherhood. The mother thinks about others the whole time. The mother is not busy focusing on herself. In order to be turned on you have to be focused on yourself in the most basic way. The same woman who’s numb in the house gets turned on when she leaves. She doesn’t need hormones. Change the story.