11 Esther Perel quotes that set the record straight on love and sex

The Belgian psychotherapist has a lot to teach us.

Esther Perel
  • The idea of the "one" sets us up for unrealistic expectations.
  • Communication relies on honest conversation and plenty of listening.
  • Change yourself, Perel writes, don't try to change your partner.

I discovered Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel when she was featured in the NY Times in 2014. Only then did I backtrack and read her 2006 bestseller, Mating in Captivity. The book resonated at time when I was just meeting the woman who would become my wife. Perel's frankness was a refreshing break from the normal Angeleno fabrications passing for romance I was accustomed to.

Perel never minces words, such as when she writes:

Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness.

This is no paradox, but part of our biological inheritance. Perel recognizes that romance is possible inside of marriage, even after decades of wedlock, but we have to work at it at every turn. It requires emotional intelligence and intellectual maturity, the ability to be honest about your desires and faults, and constant communication with your partner, should you choose monogamy.

Below are 11 quotes from this incredible woman's career. Fortunately for us, her star has only grown brighter, for it is a guide we can surely use in a time when communication systems seem to fail us more often than not.

A working definition of love

"It's a verb. That's the first thing. It's an active engagement with all kinds of feelings—positive ones and primitive ones and loathsome ones. But it's a very active verb. And it's often surprising how it can kind of ebb and flow. It's like the moon. We think it's disappeared, and suddenly it shows up again. It's not a permanent state of enthusiasm." [New Yorker]

There is no "one"

"There is never 'the one.' There is a one that you choose and with whom you decide that you want to build something. But in my opinion, there could also have been others. There is no one and only. There is the one you pick and what you choose to build with that person." [Business Insider]

Communication is key

"Listen. Just listen. You don't have to agree. Just see if you can understand that there's another person who has a completely different experience of the same reality." [Well and Good]

How to argue smarter

"It's natural that people argue. It's part of intimacy. But you have to have a good system of repair. You need to be able to go back, if you've lost it, which happens, and say 'I bought in my dirty tricks, I'm sorry', or 'You know what, I realized I didn't hear a single word you said because I was so upset, can we talk about it again?'" [Elle]

Sex… in the right room

"I worked with so many couples that improved dramatically in the kitchen, and it did nothing for the bedroom. But if you fix the sex, the relationship transforms." [The Guardian]

The psychology of cheating

"One of the great discoveries and surprises in my research for The State of Affairs was to notice that people would come and say, "I love my partner; I'm having an affair." That sometimes people even in satisfying relationships also stray—and they don't stray because they are rejecting their relationship or because they are reacting to their relationship. They often stray not because they want to find another person but because they want to reconnect with a different version of themselves. It isn't so much that they want to leave the person that they are with as much as sometimes they want to leave the person that they have themselves become." [Big Think]

Male sexuality

"Sexually powerful men don't harass, they seduce. It's the insecure men who need to use power in order to leverage the insecurity and the inaccessibility or the unavailability of the women. Women fear rape, and men fear humiliation." [Recode]

Male vulnerability

"I have never really participated in the notion that men don't talk, men can't talk about their pains. I mean, they have a different way of going about it. Sometimes they need more time, and you just have to shut up and wait—be quiet. And if you don't interrupt, it will come." [The New Yorker]

Sustaining desire in a committed relationship

"At the heart of sustaining desire in a committed relationship is the reconciliation of two fundamental human needs. On the one hand, our need for security, for predictability, for safety, for dependability, for reliability, for permanence. On the other hand, for adventure, for novelty, for mystery, for risk, for danger, for the unknown, for the unexpected. Rather than viewing this tension between the erotic and the domestic as a problem to solve, I suggest you view it as a paradox to manage." [TED]

The problem with frankness

"Ours is a culture that reveres the ethos of absolute frankness and elevates truth-telling to moral perfection. Other cultures believe that when everything is out in the open and ambiguity is done away with, it may not increase intimacy, but compromise it." [The Fullest]

Abandon Instagram

"If all else fails, get off social media for a few days...or weeks. The time away will help you realize that striving to be someone else is a frustrating experience. Instead, focus on being the very best version of you and staying grounded in the here and now of your own life." [Cosmopolitan]

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