Esther Perel ON: Finding Love & the Real Reason Couples Break Up | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Esther Perel ON: Finding Love & the Real Reason Couples Break Up".
Note: This transcription is split and grouped by topics and subtopics. You can navigate through the Table of Contents on the left. It's interactive. All paragraphs are timed to the original video. Click on the time (e.g., 01:53) to jump to the specific portion of the video.
How do I make a request that doesn't turn into a protest? Instead of criticizing the other person, tell them what you want. And tell them what you want without implying that they're not doing it. Because then they pay attention only to the fact that you told them you're not doing it, you're wrong, it's you again. And then they will basically do what every human being does which is defend themselves. Because nobody likes to be attacked. Hey everyone, welcome back to On Purpose, the number one health podcast in the world thanks to each and every single one of you that come back every week to listen, learn and grow. Now I'm really excited for this conversation because I've been speaking to this guest for a while to get this to happen. And I'm really excited because I know that this is a theme and a topic and a subject that is something you have so many questions about. Psychotherapist and New York Times best-selling author Esta Perro is recognized as one of today's most insightful and original voices on modern relationships. Fluent in nine languages, she hums a therapy practice in New York City where she is today and serves as an organizational consultant for fortune 500 companies around the world. Her celebrated TED Talks have garnered more than 20 million views and her international bestseller, "Mating in Captivity, Unlocking Erotic Intelligence" became a global phenomenon translated into 25 languages. Her newest book is the New York Times bestseller, "The State of Affairs, Rethinking Infidelity". Esta is also an executive producer and host of the popular podcast, "Where Should We Begin". Please give a big warm welcome to none other than Esta Perro. Esta, thank you so much for doing this. It's a pleasure to be here. It's been a long time coming. I have to say it's been too long and this is truly one of my favorite books. And I was just saying earlier to you offline that we have so many mutual friends and your name pops up all the time and I can't believe we haven't met yet. But I'm so looking forward to having dinner with you one day soon. But I want to dive right in. We'll make it happen. We will, we will.
Understanding And Navigating Relationships
The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives (02:17)
I want to dive right in because, I mean, relationships is just the core of our being and the core of our lives. And as you know, they cause us so much joy, but they also create, can create so much pain in our lives. And you know, you always say the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives. I want to ask you, when did you start to first experience that? When did you first start to notice that? That I noticed it because there had been such tremendous loss of loved ones, of family members, of my parents' entire community. You know, because they came out of World War II and the Holocaust as the sole survivors, the absence of the connections was what highlighted the importance of the connections. We talked about people who I will never meet and have never met. We talked about what it means to experience the decimation of a community, to be immigrants, to create new community, to make new friendships. What does it feel like to love again when you've been so dehumanized? What does it mean to trust again, to play again, to fall in love, to make love? And I think that, I would say I was four years old when these conversations began for me, that I always thought people, people, people. You can have money, you can have education. If you don't have the loved ones, the people, the real relationships, the ones that make the eulogy, and not the CV as David Brooks often distinguishes, that that is where the heart of the matter lies. Yes, I mean, it's such a beautiful answer and you can see how these beautiful purpose that you have today comes from so much pain in one sense and challenge in these stresses and presses. And if anyone who's stresses and pressures, sorry, if anyone's listening or watching right now, I hope you're hearing how you may be going through a really tough relationship or a tough loss right now, but often that can be the birthplace of so much power and so much greatness. I wanted to ask you, Esther, from your perspective, what do you think is the biggest challenges that we faced for our relationships during the quarantine and lockdown?
Relationship challenges while in quarantine and lockdown (04:37)
Because I feel like this is just the biggest part of our lives that has been affected, has been our relationships. You know, what has been the biggest challenge for our relationships during the quarantine, whether you're hearing from clients, people you're working with and the communities that you're serving, what are you hearing? It's a great question. I would divide it in three main categories. The first thing is that lockdown, quarantine, pandemics, disasters are relationship accelerators. What it means is that when you deal with a massive global event like this, it puts you in touch with mortality. It is a pandemic. So life is short. Life is fragile. And so you begin to rearrange your priorities. What truly matters? Who's really important? Who are the few people I'm going to make sure to stay in touch with? The accelerator says, "I've waited long enough. I'm out of here. I want something else." The accelerator also says, "What am I waiting for? I like you. Let's move in together." So you get the beginnings and the endings really heightened. The pandemic also highlighted all the cracks that existed in the relationships, but also highlighted all the lights that shines through the cracks in the relationship. So people got to really experience their strengths, but also their challenges with each other. The pandemic highlighted how much when you live with a partner, you have a rhythm. You move away from each other, you leave for the day. One of the people travels. Both people travel. You come back. It's like an accordion. You expand. You get some air. You get input from the world. And then you come back together. Here, people who live together were 24/7 on top of each other with no air. Now, I've written mating in captivity to say that fire needs air. This was mating in captivity, the quarantine edition. No air at all coming into the relationships. People needing to flatten the curve and ending up flatlining themselves. Then what was missing as well is that a relationship dances between the need for security and stability and the need for novelty and exploration and risk-taking and experiences. And we could not do any of that this year. We had to completely stifle the erotic. The erotic in the sense of what makes us feel alive, curiosity, adventures, novelty, change, risk-taking. That whole side of us had to be shut down so that we could feel stable, secure and safe. And that made people really feel that the life, the energy, was being siphoned out of their experiences and out of their relationships. And for those of us who were alone, this prolonged isolation with the prolonged uncertainty about how long the isolation will even last, really was crippling to people. The degree of loneliness, the degree of longing, the degree of touch hunger that people have experienced, I don't think we've even begun to understand the long-term effects of all of that. And this is just talking about adults. I haven't even begun to talk about what this has done to the little ones that live with us. That is such a great analysis. That is without the best analysis I've heard of how the quarantine has affected our relationships. Thank you so much for that. I think I was listening and I was just nodding the whole time. I was like, that is so true. That is so true. And I'm sure everyone who's listening is feeling the same way. You know, when we think about relationships during these times of extreme pressure, there are those of us that are trying to be the perfect partner, the perfect parent, the perfect person at this time. And there are those of us that are just so overwhelmed that we can't even feel like we're getting ourselves together.
Approaching a relationship at times of pressure (08:55)
Whichever side you're on from that perspective, how do you approach a relationship at times of pressure? What is an effective way to approach relationships at times that are completely unexpected, completely, you know, no one could have predicted this was going to happen? What are you meant to do at that time? What's the right thing to do if there is one? Well, I will start by saying that the right thing, if you want to call it like that, is certainly not to try to be perfect and to think about optimization at all time. There is other things. You know, I did a whole season for the podcast, "Where Should We Begin?" on couples under lockdown. Couples in Nigeria, in Sicily, Germany, in New York, that were in the middle of April and May, but this could still be today. This is not a passé at all. About what were the tensions that they were experiencing? What were the questions? So you had the couple that is on the verge of divorce and that suddenly has to be together just as one person is about to move out. And basically, they have to just be civil. They don't have to be perfect. They just have to be kind. Then you have the couple in Sicily where the woman goes to work in the hospital and the husband suddenly became the front-line parent with three young children. And every time she comes back from the hospital, she's just afraid that she's going to contaminate them and she scrubs herself so that she can protect her family because she is, as we've come to call her, an essential worker. Then you have the couple who was separated for a year and a half and suddenly in the pandemic she says, "Come back!" And they realized that they really didn't have a really good reason to separate that in fact they had so much more to stay together. So the stories are very, very jade. It's not one thing. But if I was to say, what are some of the things that have helped people? Because I think that's what you're asking, right? What has helped people be together in a better way possible? I would say three things have been extremely useful. Actually four. One is boundaries. The loss of boundaries that we have experienced, especially when you sit at the same table and all your roles, mother, teacher, parent, lover, friend, sister of, daughter of, boss, you name it, are all in the same spot. Without any delineation, you don't know where one thing stops and the other things start. Boundaries. Boundaries between work and home. Boundaries between the table that is used as an office and the table that becomes the dinner table. Boundaries between weekdays and nights. Just boundaries to recreate structure. And then routines. People really needed to stay connected to their routines. No ones that they created, you know, old ones that they really liked. These routines became a marker of continuity, of stability, of consistency. And then rituals. Rituals that people created. You know, I always say, if you cook every day, it's a routine. It means you have to eat. But if you actually suddenly make a very nice table and you pretend that your kitchen has become your favorite bistro, then you have turned the routine into a ritual. The routine says we need to eat. The ritual says there's something special between us. And these small three categories of events have been extremely helpful in people being able to be with each other, you know, and with the people that they stayed connected with in their parts. Add to that kindness. Just civility. Not perfection. When somebody brings you coffee, you can be very nice and just say thanks for bringing the coffee. But you can do even better when you say thanks for being such a thoughtful person. And especially at a time of isolation, when you don't have 20 other people that can give you feedback. And the person that gives you feedback is the one that's all the time right there with you, with whom you have to suddenly do all those things at the same time. It's very important to feel that they get you, they see you, and you're not just a function. Because those are the validations that we get when we leave home as well. And here we suddenly asked one person to replace an entire community. That's incredible. Those are such great tips, rituals, routines and boundaries. Three really, really powerful steps. And I know that when I was thinking about it at the beginning of the pandemic, me and my wife had to reset our new expectations and boundaries of each other, of our space, of our home.
Resetting expectations of ourselves and boundaries of our space (13:26)
And what's one way you did this? What's one of the ways that you think you made a tweak that really was helpful? So one of the things that me and my wife did was she said to me that now we're just living in the same spaces, I need to make sure that I feel that you're helping this space remain what the space is. So she was like, you know, before we would leave our laptop out, or we would leave our trainers, or our sneakers in the living room, because we were going to the gym or whatever. She was like, now that we're enclosed, we need to make each space feel like the space that it is, because we no longer have the freedom that we're going out to the gym or that we're going out to see a friend. So we need to make sure that we're cleaner, that we're tidier, that we're making sure that we're putting everything away. Now we're not ordering food, we're not going out to restaurants. So we need to make sure that we've cleaned up everything straight afterwards. It's very basic things, but these things often get lost when you're all going through your own pressure and stress. And to me, those simple resetting of expectations and boundaries were so useful. We also made a rule that we wouldn't, we would only work in certain areas of our home. So she had her work area and I had my work area in the beginning, we were both on the same dining table, taking both of our phone calls and trying to get the other person to be quiet and it wasn't working. And so for me, it was integral that we had that conversation, but here's the interesting ester that I wanted to ask you, is when couples are having those conversations, they think it's bad. We get worried, we think, oh no, my partner should just know this, they should just understand this. And we almost get scared when we're having conversations like that because we think that we should just know, we should just be aware. How do we get beyond this false idea we've created, that difficult conversations show weakness when actually difficult conversations help build strength? You just said it, you know, difficult conversations, when you get through them, you feel emboldened, you feel more trusting and you feel more confident. You know, the one time where the other person knows what you need, what you want, what you care about without having to say anything is when you're in utero. Before you're born, and just as soon as you're after you're born. You know, after that, your whole life is a dialogue in which you begin to express your thoughts, your wishes, your needs, your hurts, and you begin to intuit what other people need from you. We are relational creatures. The only time where somebody guesses for you is when you're a baby and you can cry and then there are five things which the caregiver can decide is probably what you need. I think what you did was it looked small because if you think about this as the laptop, you know, and the shoes, and you think that it's about the shoes, then it looks trivial, but you missed the point. Because what you're really doing is you're creating an awareness of the other. You say we are both people here, we each have things that we need to do, we have to show up, I respect your work, you respect mine. I am aware of your presence, I don't pretend you're not here. I think of you even when you're not there. I know what matters to you and what you care about even when you're not telling it to me because you've told it to me before. I carry you inside of me and vice versa. It's that the conversation. If you think that it's about the shoes, you missed the point. The shoes are a representation, the shoes, the table, all of these things. And in addition to why it is important is because it says where you stop and where the other person starts. And that sense of boundary is extremely important because every relationship is made up of my relationship to myself as I am with you and my relationship with you while I don't lose myself. It's both and. It's how I hold on to me and how I hold on to you. Vice versa. How I hold on to you without losing me and how I hold on to myself without losing you. That's the dance. And this conversation that you were having with your wife is all about that. And when you put it this way, it's no small feat. Yeah, absolutely. I love how you unpack that. It's so much more deeper and it has so much more of a true impact on each other when it's performed in that way. I'm sure there are a lot of people listening right now as they're going, you know what? I'm doing all of that, but my partner is not responding, right?
When you’re putting an effort but your partner is unresponsive (18:23)
Like they're not putting, they're not thinking about me. They're not aware of my presence. They are priorities prioritizing their work. They are not being aware and being conscious and being intentional. When someone is feeling that way, this is probably the number one question you get asked always. But when someone is feeling that way that they're doing everything they can, they're trying to clean up and do this and do that, but the other person doesn't respond. What happens? What do you do in that situation? Well, there's a few things you do. See, the beauty of couples is that you have another person to blame. And to think it's unavoidable, it's irresistible. I am doing my share. You're not. You know, it's like when people come to couples therapy, they come to my office and they often come to tell me, "Here's my partner. Let me tell you what's wrong with them. Fix it." You know? And fundamentally, I mean, it's a drop-off center, you know? There is a reality in which this is one of the hidden truths of relationships. If you want to change the other, change yourself. If you continuously go and say to the other person, "You're not doing, you're not listening, I keep asking you, why don't you pay attention?" You're going to get the same response. You're going to get defensiveness. You're going to get what about you. You're going to get tit for tat, etc. If you want to call the attention of the other person, maybe there's a way in which you actually think to yourself, "What's different way I can say this?" How do I remind the person that when we pay attention to each other, things are much better? How do I make a request that doesn't turn into a protest? Meaning, instead of criticizing the other person, tell them what you want. And tell them what you want without implying that they're not doing it. Because then they pay attention only to the fact that you told them, "You're not doing it, you're wrong, it's you again." And then they will basically do what every human being does, which is defend themselves, because nobody likes to be attacked. So, the temptation is to say, "How do I make my partner different?" And I say, "Start with the one thing you can control. Is there anything I can do different that is more likely to elicit a different response from my partner?" It's the one thing you can control is you. Start there. Yeah, great advice, great advice. And you're so right about the blaming. We're always looking for a scapegoat in any scenario. And often, I want to be empathetic and compassionate that it can be true sometimes that you could be doing everything you possibly could and someone is not conscious or focused. But then, again, it comes back to what you just said, which is you still need to go and do what's right for you and do what's best for you. If you need to feel connected and loved, you may spend more time with family or more time with your friends or spend more time on the phone to get that fuel you need. Now, moving forward, Esther, I know a lot of people are struggling with what you call re-entry anxiety, right? The idea that we're entering back into the workplace, we're entering back into dating, we're going back into being in person. What are the symptoms of that re-entry anxiety that people are feeling that you so beautifully explained and have coined? And also, how can we start? Actually, this is the question I want to ask. What are the skills that we lost in the pandemic and what are the skills we gained?
Skills we lost in the pandemic and the skills we gained (22:14)
Because I think people are unaware of it. It's a beautiful question. Right? It's like we gained some really good people's skills during the pandemic and we lost some, too. Tell it me about the re-entry anxiety and what we lost and gained. I think that what many people have experienced, well, there's a range. There's people who have experienced acute loneliness and they have been talking way too much with themselves. They've heard their own echo in an echo chamber, me and me. And for them, suddenly hearing the real voices of others can be quite shocking. Then you have people who have reduced their pod and basically the acquaintances have dissipated and they have really stayed in touch with a few important social ties. For them, the re-entry is, "Oh God, I'm meeting you. Shall we hug? Do we kiss? Vaccinated? Tested? What's the protocol? Do I trust you? Are you just saying this because we're here at this gathering together or is this really true? What can I ask?" So that's the first thing. Then there is, "Are you huggable?" That's a question many people are asking. Are you huggable? Because we arrive with this, "I haven't held you. I haven't touched you in so long." And the hugs that you see people do, it's just like usually you see them at airports when people come back from many years of not having seen their loved ones. And they hold each other for their life like that. Then there is, the fact is basically many of us have only seen each other from the chest up for a year and a half. What's it like to suddenly be embodied, just fully embodied? We can't hide in the same way. And then what is the chat gonna sound like? Chat is a four-letter word. What's the chat gonna be when I see you? So I see you and for the first time we actually have a whole different range of conversations. Every gathering where I've gone so far where people are meeting, it's like, "Oh, this is my first time. I haven't seen that many people in a long time. I'm so hungry for this." Or, "This is weird. I've not been so close to so many people in a long time. I don't know how close I can come to them." You know, there is all these experiences that people are talking about. Where were you? Where you were your family? Where you were your loved ones? How was it for you? And, you know, what were the important moments? Have you lost anyone? Is everybody okay? You know? And when it's lost could be loss of your plans, your weddings, your birthdays, your anniversaries, loss of family members, loss of income, loss of your apartment, loss in the multiple sense of the world? You know, and I think that's what people are experiencing in the reentry is what is okay to talk about. How do we deepen the conversation? People are slightly less in the mood to be just on the surface completely. And, you know, I had a very interesting experience about this because during this pandemic at one point, I just began to feel like I miss my friends. I miss being in my other homes and abroad. And I thought, you know, I'm writing about playfulness, but I want to create something playful. I miss my dinner parties. How am I going to do something of that sort? And I kept noticing, you know, there's very little surprise. There's very little mystery unknown. And the unknown is basically something you worry about. And I thought, I'm going to create a game. You know, I want to actually create a game that reconnects us with our storytelling. It was, it was, and what I ended up doing, because all of this I did on Zoom, I came up with a thousand questions on Zoom, but it was all Zoom. So you can't play. Playing is me looking at you, that smile, you know, that mischief that it's all this. And so I brought friends together in a pod that I've known for 25 years. And we basically started to playtest every night after dinner. Just what are the really important conversations we want to have? What are the stories we feel we need to tell? And it was very moving, actually. It was like, you could see a social atrophy, you know, when you use a social muscle you haven't used for a long time. And slowly it opens up, it loosens, it strengthens, and people are laughing and sharing and asking questions and building on the stories of others and basically recreating social threats. That's I think what we are going to do in this reentry at this moment. And basically, you know, the question was always the same. Where should we begin? And it was like, I want to know about this. Tell me about that, you know. Yeah, what are some of your favorite questions from the game? Where should we begin? Can we play or try to play some part of it so that we can, and then you can let my audience know where they can find the game so that they can actually get it and play it too. I'd love for them to have that.
Playing the ‘Where Should We Begin?’ game (27:47)
It's really a game, it's not just questions. So in the game, there are prompts because I was thinking this is what happens at my dinner party. How do I, I needed this? Like, I want to feel that thing. And generally, you have a tone at a dinner party, right? Like you set an intention when we started. So you can have, there's a set of prompt cards. The prompt cards basically can say, share something that nobody knows, or that change your worldview, or that is embarrassing, or that was heartbreaking, or that you would never tell your mother. That's the prompt. That's the emotional lens with which I'm going to then put a card in front of you. A rule that I secretly love to break. Now imagine that you get to think something embarrassing, and I put in front of you the card, a rule that you secretly love to break, because we all, all the players put a card in front of the storyteller. It's a game where there is one storyteller at the time. A phone number that I would like to delete. Yeah, everybody has some phone numbers that kind of linger with them in their life, you know? If I wasn't working as I would be a, if you caught me at my fridge with the door open in the middle of the night, you would catch me. Yes. My most irrational fear is, and it is a combination between the prompt cards and the story cards. And then we have coins so that if you want to evade my question, I can impose on you, you know, push you to answer the question that I want, you know, and then you have deeper question, you know, I've never told you the story. I've never told you the whole story about. Everybody has stories that they have fudged, you know, and what is it like? My guilty pleasure is, if I could change something about the way that I was raised, you know, or I'm most judgmental when it comes to. And then we go a level deeper, a dream that I've never shared out loud, a blind spot that I have, a mistake that I will never make again, or I haven't told anyone about the time when. And then we have a whole set of questions around sexuality and intimacy, you know, a text message that I fantasize sending. I wish that somebody had told me X about sex. My sex life was never the same after. And a sexual situation that I have always wanted to try. So you can play the sex cards or you can take them out if you play with colleagues. But basically what I try to do, I thought, what are the many dimensions of my life? What do I want people to ask me about? And what am I curious about? And we all have a storyteller inside of us. And anybody who has ever been a child knows that one of our greatest pleasure was someone telling us a story before we go to bed. Yes. I love that. I'm so glad. Where can people find the game if they want to go and get it? I know I'm going to order it straight after this. The game will come out in June. It will be called, "Where Should We Begin?" Like the podcast, A Game of Stories. Okay. And when it is out, Jay, I promise I tell you and then you can tell your entire community. But it will be available directly to my website. Where should we begin? Okay, perfect. We'll make sure that we put the link in the comments when the episode goes out and then when it's available because that sounds like a storyteller. And I thought of it as a reentry game. It's a game for connecting and reconnecting. Because everybody is asking me, "What do we talk about? What are the conversations we can have?" And I just said, "Let me create it because I see it in my office. I see it on the housework podcast as people are going back to work and all the work-related questions." Yes. One thing is love, one thing is work. What happens when people start to go back to work right now? And all what that evokes in us. And I just thought, "Okay, let me select." But the thing that was so important was the shift between the time when I did it on Zoom and then doing it in person and then doing it with strangers and doing it with people who I thought I knew or who we thought we knew each other. And to realize how much we still had to discover. I think that that's one of the things about friendships, love relationships is how do we remain really curious? Yeah, I love that. I'm so glad that you designed a game around it. I always think people approach these conversations feeling. It's very heavy and they feel like it's going to be quite stressful and they think it's going to be like really weird. And then when you have a game, it's like all of a sudden, you know, we drop our guard, we start laughing, we get playful. I love that. I can't wait to play it myself. And I've been saying the same. I was doing a corporate keynote recently and I was speaking to an executive who was briefing me on, you know, what I would be talking about and what the audience was like. I know you do lots of corporate speaking as well. So it was one of those briefing calls. And he asked me a question. He said to me, "J, what's the coolest thing that you've done in the last seven days?" And all of a sudden, I was so alert and fresh because no one had asked me a question like that. I can't remember the last time I answered a question like that. Most questions are like, "How are you? How's your day going?" You know, it's the usual stuff and the small talk. And as soon as he asked me that, all of a sudden, like, I felt alive. And so I can only imagine that your game will do the same thing. And the other thing was I was encouraging a lot of people to ask more interesting questions because otherwise, of course, the people in your life are boring. Right? We asked them boring questions. So how can people be interesting? And I was also encouraging people to look... I want to repeat this. I want to repeat this. If you ask boring questions, you will feel that people are boring. If you ask, you know, interesting questions, questions that breed energy in you, like you just described with this guy, you receive a completely different person right in front of you.
Asking boring questions makes you feel that people are boring (33:58)
Totally. It's really crucial. I actually came alive. And even the idea of, and I was going to say with your beautiful painting or artwork you have behind you, I was encouraging people to be more curious about what they see in the Zoom call with people. So I was sitting with another client and he had a paintbrush hanging on his wall behind him. Like, you're speaking to me now. And he was a corporate client and he had a paintbrush. I don't know him that well. And I said, "Hey, look, I don't want to be creepy or weird. I'm just intrigued. I'm curious. I've never seen a paintbrush on someone's wall. Can you tell me where it's from?" And he started laughing and he said to me, "Oh, you know what? No one ever asked me that." And I was like, "All right. Well, do you mind telling me?" And he said, "I have it there because my first ever job, he's probably in his 50s now." He said, "My first ever job when I was around 14 years old is I used to paint fences and paint walls and paint homes." And so this paintbrush reminds me of where I started. And you know, it just opened up. And then I told him what I did as my first job. I used to be a paper boy and deliver newspapers in my area. And it just was such a refreshing conversation that I'm still talking about it right now. And so I can't wait for people to play, you know, where should we begin. It sounds wonderful. I just wanted to share those with you because I couldn't agree with you more. Objects are super important. Objects tell stories. You know, I ask in many sessions, bring an object that represents the part of your relationship that you would like to harness, to develop further, to maintain, and bring an object that represents a part of your relationship that you would like to let go. Now it can be your relationship with your partner. It can be your relationship to money. It can be your relationship to sex. But objects are wonderful catalysts. You know, you start to talk. People bring things. I did a conference this year on sex, death, and money. And for each one, people brought objects that represented the relationship, the taboo to death, to sex, and to money. The stories that people with a caption, the objects that they chose, it was a book. It really was a book. So this brush is very telling. Everybody has a brush. Everybody has a version of that brush. I love that. Thank you so much. How can people be encouraged to try out that activity at home to think about what object represents their thought around sex, death, or money? And what does that indicate for them?
Relationships about death, sex, and money (36:48)
Oh, you know, when people did their relationship, the biggest one was the relationship to money, actually, interestingly surprising to me. I thought death or sex would be way bigger. People had, it went from a checkbook because my father lost all his money and could never pay his bills to a pair of shoes that represented either the shoes I would never allow myself to buy. The shoes I finally felt I deserved to buy because I've worked so hard. The shoes that I've never dared wearing because they were so expensive, I've kept them in the box. And the shoes I continued to wear while they are holding it because I don't feel like I deserved to get new ones. Shoes were very important. You know, about money. The ring, the ring that I received for a wedding that I married that lasted for a year or two. So people told stories of homelessness, of destitution, of hard work, of intergenerational legacies inside the family around what was lost and what was gained. I mean, that's it. A little object told stories of generations. So you can do this at a table with a small pod with your friends. There's a few of them actually in the card game as well. But basically, bring an object that represents what you discovered most about this year, for example. What was most important to you this year? Bring an object. And what you will notice, I've done that one. People have brought things that involve baking because they've been baking. Why? What was that sourdough thing? It's not the bread. It's the fact that people needed to create something. People needed something from nothing that became something. It's an antidote to death when you bring something into the world, creativity, things like that. People brought things related to nature. People brought things related to painting, writing, you know, art and the importance of art to pets and to children. Because children were the ones who could remain imaginative. You know, they put three books on a floor and it becomes a rock. That's beautiful. I love those examples, especially the shoes. I'm going to go and try that out with my wife later on and see what we would pick for each. I love that. Tell me, Esther, one of the things that I see a lot of my closest friends go through and experience is that they're all, you know, they're doing well for themselves. They're successful. They're in their own way. But they have this desire to be in love and often they fall in love too fast or they fall for someone very quickly, only for that to end very quickly as well. They have this rush to want to find that right person and when they think they've found someone they're all in and then within a month, things are kind of going backwards again. What is the intention or the mindset with which one should approach love and relationships when seeking out a partner? Today, we have guides on how to have the perfect online dating profile and how to put the perfect caption to describe how you look and how you, what you like and what you're looking for and what you're interested in.
The intention or mindset one should approach love and relationships when seeking out a partner (39:48)
What really should be going on in that preparing for a relationship and love phase? I have bad news for your friends. I'd rather you tell them than me. I get it. You know, I've been working for almost 40 years now helping people with, you know, the challenges of their relationships. The first thing I would say is love is a verb. It's not a permanent state of enthusiasm. It's not about finding the right person. It's about being the right person. You know, if you just want to be dazzled, you will have an adventure. You will be infatuated. You will fall in love. You will have a love story maybe, but you won't have a life story. And a life story is different from a love story. Many love stories that are never becoming life stories. You know, people have had beautiful things, experiences with others of a few days or of a few years for that matter, but they don't really integrate to become a life. And a life has more than just a feeling of love. It's to build something. It's sometimes to raise children together. It's sometimes to bury parents together. It's sometimes to deal with illnesses together. It's sometimes to move countries and migrate together. It's a lot of other experiences that make a life. It's building a business, losing a business, or building a second one after the first one did very well. All of that. If you just think of it as, "I see you and I have butterflies inside of me." And then after a few months, I see you and I don't feel the same intensity anymore. I'm sorry to say, but your conception of what is love is not one that will give you that what you are looking for. Yeah, so well said. And I love that idea of, I think so much we're always about like, does this feel right and does this feel good? And I've been thinking about that a lot lately. I've been thinking how I'm not, and I'm still trying to investigate this thought. This is not something I'm sure about. I'm sharing it as an experiment. And it's the idea of just, I'm not sure if asking myself how I feel is always the right question. Because sometimes you feel like doing something, and sometimes you don't feel like doing something, but it's often the times when you show up, even when you don't feel like doing something, that something builds. Something is created. There's more of a possibility and opportunity. So I'm just investigating that thought recently around how people go from feeling madly in love to then feeling out of love.
From feeling madly in love to then feeling out of love, when they weren’t truly in love (42:57)
When actually they were never in love in the first place, like you rightly said, they may have had a life story. Or love is something that you actively cultivate. You nourish it. You do things that express it, that show the other person that you're thinking of them, that they're important to you, that you carry them inside of you even when they're not there. I mean, to just think, you know, it's an in or out. It's very, very narrow. Now, the other thing is when you say, you know, how do I feel? I think it's a very important question to ask, but it is one of many questions. Our emotional life is one narrative. Then we also have a values life. Have I acted right? Have I done according to my principles? Have I done right by virtue of this person, to whom I owed something? You know, you don't always feel like going to the gym, but you rarely regret afterwards because it feels good. So sometimes the feeling comes after the act. Not always as a proceeding of the act. And then sometimes it's not how do I feel, but what am I thinking that is coloring the way that I feel? So you have behaviors, actions, thoughts, feelings, and then you have a spiritual dimension to what you do as well. And to just sit with the emotional truth as the only truth, I think we miss a few other parts of life. We miss the values, we miss the morality, and we miss the spiritual and all four are part of our life. This is why I love doing this podcast. I don't have to investigate that thought anymore. You just answered the question for me. You just, you gave me exactly what I was looking for. That is such a brilliant answer. And I love how you explain the idea that, and that's kind of what I was trying to think about. And I was playing with was the idea that sometimes you have to do something and you get the feeling afterwards. And working out is definitely, you spoke my language. That's for me. I say to my wife every time I get back from tennis, which is what I do to exercise. I say to my wife, I say, never let me miss a tennis lesson. Every time I get back, I always tell it. Never let me miss a tennis lesson because I always feel phenomenal when I get back. But in the morning, if I'm not feeling up to it, my mind can trick me. And so we have to remind ourselves. So that's such a brilliant answer. Esther, what, you've advised couples for so long, you've worked on relationships, you've seen every different type of relationship. When you've really looked at the heart and the core of it, what are the deepest, truest, most root reasons that relationships fail?
What are the deepest, truest root reasons that relationships fail? (45:36)
What is it at the heart of it? Like you said, you've unpacked everything so deeply today. What is that deep root of why relationships fail? I haven't thought about that, but I'm going to say that in light of what you just said. What I did when I answered you is share a thought. I never think I'm right. I sound very confident, but that doesn't mean that I know. This is how I think of it today. And if you come back and we have another conversation, I may answer the very same questions differently. And I think that that's very important for all our listeners here. These are not questions that have a black and white answer. And it's so important to be able to hold nuance and ambiguity when we think about these things. So when you ask me, what are the killers of a relationship? I do turn to the work of John Gottman very much. I would add a few, but he talks about the four horses of apocalypse. And one thing is criticism. There's constant negative sentiment over right criticism. And that's why I said before, remember, behind many criticisms is a wish. Ask for the wish. Don't give the criticism or you will never get the wish. Love that. Two stone walling. Stone walling. Shh. You know, and that lets the other person just feel like they don't exist. They can talk, they can weep, they can scream. They can even hit you. And there is no answer. There is no answer. The third one is defensiveness. I can't say anything that you don't answer defensively. You never own anything. You don't take responsibility for your actions. It's all about blaming the other or externalizing. And it's always everybody else's fault. And everybody, every other circumstance that made me do, and I'm just a victim, and I've never done anything. And then the big one, the fourth one is contempt. And that's considered the killer of them all. Contempt. Because when I am contemptuous, I look down upon you. I despise you. I belittle you. I diminish you. I devalue you. And I basically do one of the most important things. I take away your meaning. And we are creatures of meaning. We want to know that if I'm here or if I'm not here, there's a difference. I matter. And if you manage to make me feel like I matter, none, that one is the, you know, the real zinger. So I think these four basically sum up the death of a relationship. I can give you smaller ones. Smaller ones, you know, that I'm, that, because not everybody is at that end. So the smaller ones for me are complacency. Freaking complacency. People would never, you know, you have a lot of entrepreneurs and a lot of people who do their best at work when, that listen to you. And most of these people would never treat their clients the way they treat their partners. They give the best to their clients and they give a smitter of that attention to their partner. So to the people at home with them. That laziness, complacency, lack of curiosity. Just routine management ink. I do this. You do that. And when is the last time we actually looked at each other and checked in with each other and said, "And how are you today?" "Not how was your day. How are you today?" Because I think of you, you know, that. And that is the many, many couples that come to couple therapy feeling like the life has been siphoned out of the relationship. So then when they say, "I mean, I still love you, but I'm not in love with you." Or, "I feel like, you know, we have nothing to tell each other." Or, "It's kind of a dead end between us." I say, "What are you doing to enliven yourself? What do you do that brings energy and aliveness and vitality and curiosity?" If you do none of this, it's like leaving something in the fridge for months on end. It dries up. Well said. So well said. I love all of those examples. And I think the interesting thing about the first four that you mentioned also is that like you said, behind the criticism is a wish. And often behind the stone-walling is just a genuine desire for space. But when you don't express that and you don't communicate that, of course, the other person thinks you're just ghosting them and that it's about them. That's right. And as you can see that behind each of our behaviors, there is a deeper desire that may be genuine and may be necessary. And even behind your contempt, there's some sort of internal contempt that's bringing that out. There's some sort of internal criticism that's going on. And you know it's so crazy because when you hear it, it sounds so simple and it sounds so obvious. But one of the things that's really helped me and my wife is I do this thing where I... And I really liked what you said about how we treat our clients. I try to do this check-in thing with her all the time and I'll be like, "How do you think our relationship is going?" And I always ask her that question, "How do you think our relationship is going? What do I need to improve? What do you think? You need to improve? What are you working on? What have I been working on?" And it's funny because you never do that update or status update with your partner because... Not enough. You just assume that you've already made the decision and now it's stayed. That's right. We married and now the thing is just going to go on like that for 30 years on roles, on wheels. I mean it is a very strange type of exceptionalism that people think about when they think about marriage or committed relationship. This notion that you made the decision at 25, 35 and this thing is just going to go on with you intact. I mean it is really strange. It is such a strange thing but it's something we all live with. I know so many people who have unfortunately experienced infidelity or been cheated on and you know you write about this. As I said this is one of my favorite books that you've written. I highly recommend it to anyone. I mean I recommend any of Esther's books. We'll put the link in the comments. When you're working with people who've been through that, a lot of people take it so personally that it demolishes them and destabilizes them for the future.
Dealing With Infidelity And Decision Making In Relationships
Have you been affected by the experience of infidelity in your life? (52:00)
What parts of it do you take personally and what parts of it do you distance from? How do you respond to that experience? And I know that it's case by case but how do you know which parts of it you should use to improve versus how do you know which parts of it you shouldn't? I think that my first entry with you into this topic would be this. If I ask you have a huge vast audience that is currently listening to us, have you been affected by the experience of infidelity in your life? Either because you were the child whose parent was unfaithful or who left for another partner, either because you are yourself the child of an illicit love story, either because you have been unfaithful or you have been cheated on or you are the third person in the triangle, the secret lover, or because you're the friend on whose child or somebody's been weeping for days or the one to whom somebody's confiding. If I ask your entire audience now about 85% of the people will tell you that they have been affected by the experience of infidelity. So the story of infidelity is not just a story of two people, of one cheater and one betrayed. The story of infidelity is the story that accompanies marriage from the day marriage was invented. And it travels in families and it travels all over the world. And my exploration of infidelity was using this betrayal, this violation of trust as a way to understand modern love. Because infidelity hasn't always meant the same and doesn't mean the same depending on the various cultures and the various models of marriage that we have. But if I live today in the West and I wait till I'm in my 30s to choose you and I've had loads of people before you and I ever met, which means monogamy is not one person for life, but monogamy for me is one person at the time. And I have been on apps and I have had to deal with all my foremost and the thousand people I could choose from and you're the one I've honed in on. Now my sense of trust for you, what you represent for me is all those people I didn't choose. And with you, when you and I experience infidelity, it's like the shattering of the grand ambition of love. I thought, "This is it, you're the one and you're my soulmate." You know, we today have brought the divine into the social and I call you soulmate. I don't turn to go, I turn to you. And you did this to me and I feel like I've lost my entire sense of self. Some affairs really are expressions of relationships that are in trouble. We never talk, we never touch. When's the last time we made love to each other, you despise me, you control me. I can, you know, the breath of reasons for why people want to run away. And then some affairs have very little to do with the partner, unfortunately, or just as a matter of fact. They often have to do with the fact that people will breach and betray in search of something that they have lost. Lost parts of themselves, lost, you know, the sentence that always stayed to me is when somebody would say, "I didn't just want to find another person. I wanted to find another self. I didn't want to leave my partner. I wanted to leave what I had become." And I didn't know how to change with my partner. That's not a justification at all. But it explains to the partner, "This is not about you, not smart enough rich enough tall enough thin enough. This has nothing to do with you." To the extent that this can help you understand why this happened, my work with you is going to be not on the facts, and if they did it standing or lying flat. My work with you is going to be on an understanding, the meaning. And infidelity tells a story. What is the story that is a fair? What does it mean? Not what did you do? And therefore, how is this relationship going to be able to either learn from it, grow from it, or make a decision to leave because of it? All options are open right now. Your first marriage is over. Your first relationship. And we can decide together. You will decide. If you want to have another relationship with each other in light of what has happened. And we will need to heal like many other crises. There are ways that you can heal from this and trust each other again and love each other again. And maybe even better than what you were before. I can hold that space for you. So powerful. When does someone know that it's time to break up and move on versus it's time to still try and build?
When to break up and move, when to stay and hold on (57:21)
I think a lot of people that I meet, and this is in any breakup, it could be leaving a job, it could be breaking up with a person, it could be leaving a long-term commitment, whatever it may be. You always find people say, "I stayed in it for six months too long. I stayed in it for two years that I shouldn't have. I was in it for six years that I shouldn't have." We spend so much time making that decision. What are the signs that you know that it's now time to move on and call it quits, or it's time to actually build and try our best? But that presupposes that once you know the signs you're ready to act. And what you've just told me is that people often knew the signs for a long time, but they needed to prepare internally and sometimes externally to do the act, to do the leaving. So we sometimes know for two years that this is probably not going to last. But then there is a process of preparing. And when people say, "Why did I stay so long? I say you left when you were ready to go." Because after the fact, it's easy to say, "I should have left sooner." But sometimes I was there two years before, so I can tell you two years ago, when you thought about what will happen the day that you walk into the house and there is nobody there, you couldn't bear the thought. So we needed to prepare you for that. We needed to prepare you to know that you won't be seeing your children every day. We needed to prepare you to realize that you were going to be working again after not working for a long time. We needed to prepare you to accept that there is another partner here that is going to be loving your children as well. And these things are all, or if you want to do about work, we needed to prepare you that you had done the thing that you loved all your life, and you were going to let go of this. Or you needed to prepare to accept that you had done the thing that was right, and you were finally going to do the thing that you really wanted, and they were not both the same. And once you lay down like this, people actually closed the gap between the "I knew it and it took me so long." Esther, I love that. It's such a joy talking to you. I'm just loving the back and forth and being able to find so many of the answers I've been thinking about and speaking with you and reflecting together. I could do this with you for hours, but we have two last segments that we do on on purpose that I want to do with you.
Fill in The Blanks (59:55)
One is called "Fill in the Blanks." So I'm going to read out two sentences and you have to fill in the blanks to start off with. Are you ready? Okay, I'll try. I'm very proud of those. No, no, you're going to be great. You're going to be great. Okay. True love is. True love is living with those differences that you think you can never tolerate. I love it. Great answer. Okay. Great partners are. Funny. They know how to bring in humor just when you're about to bite. That is my wife. My wife is a genius at that. And it comes naturally to her. I have one like that too. I bless him for being able to make me love at the moment that we could go down that path that is just like, "Mwah!" Absolutely. Conflicts in relationships are... Defeating. But part of relationships. Conflicts are part of relationships and yet they can be so defeating. Couples therapy is. Couples therapy is the place where you create a safe and provocative environment to check yourself as you walk in and stop focusing on checking your partner and leaving yourself out of the game. Amazing. Great answer. See, that was great. That was phenomenal. So I'm now going to ask you the final five. These have to be answered in one word or one sentence maximum.
Esther on the Final Five (01:01:30)
Same as last time you did great job. So these are your final five. What is the best relationship advice you've ever received? It's perfectly fine to go to sleep angry. Ah, okay. Great answer. Okay. What is the worst relationship advice you've ever received? You have to tell your partner everything. So what do you not have to tell your partner? Let's just dive into that. That's an interesting answer. Tell us a bit more about that. Certain truths are cruel and overrated. Ask yourself, is it wise? Is it kind? Not just is it true? What do you want me to say? Jay, you really are awful. You look awful. It's like I'd never want to touch you. You smell badters me. I can't believe I'm sitting here with you every day. Then leave. Got it. Makes sense. That's more than a sentence. No, no, no, no. I was encouraged. I wanted to learn more. I was encouraging you too. That was great. Alright, question number three. You're the dumbest person I've ever been with. I can't believe that this is the way. It's the stuff that is insulting. I never want to make love to you again. If I'd never had sex with you for the rest of my life, I wouldn't be bothered. Is there a value in saying these things? Does anybody see anything positive? But this sometimes people think that in the name of truth, in the name of your question before, I should tell you how I feel. Well, some of your feelings you should go tell to somebody else. I love it. That's so great. Alright, question number three. What's something that you know is true about relationships, but people are still disagree with. They're still trying to get there. What are you so sure is true about relationships? But most people in society, they haven't quite got there yet. Or they may disagree with it. That at times when it feels like it's a mission impossible, repair is possible. Beautiful. Question number four. What's the biggest lesson you've learned in the last 12 months? I've relearned it. It's not that I never thought of it. But that helping others is one of the most powerful ways for me not to feel scared or helpless myself. I can so relate to you. I love that. I can so relate to you. Okay. Question number five. The final question. If you can... Bumbumb? We don't need the sound effects guys. That was the sound effect. That was the one used as the sound effect. If you could create a law that everyone in the world had to follow, what would it be? It would be the law of decency and respect for the humanity of others. Don't use them. Don't abuse them. They're people. They're like you. If you lose your sense of morality by being violent or enslaving people or humiliating them, you lose your own humanity. Everyone Esther Peral, the author of the State of Affairs, Rethinking Infidelity, and the author of "Mating in Captivity". New York Times best-selling author. Please, please, please go and grab a copy of this book. If you loved our conversation today, hopefully you can also get the game by this time as well. I'm excited. And you can of course listen to Esther's podcast that I highly recommend that we will be putting a link in the comments too as well. Esther, thank you so much for giving so much of your love and heart and energy to the on-purpose community today. I hope we get to do this in person again very soon. I'd love to sit with you and just talk for hours. Is there anything that I didn't ask you or didn't let you share that's on your heart and you really want to tell people that you really want to share with Envira? You know what I often enjoy is to ask you, like, you know, I saw often think like where shall we begin, right? That's the podcast, how's work, where should we begin the game. And I think here is how we began. And you asked me, you know, a question that brought me to a place that was very surprising to me. Where did I first think about the importance of relationship in my life? Where did you first think about purpose? It was, you know, I grew up just completely. Didn't even know purpose existed. Like, I didn't even know it was a real thing, right? You just kind of, you just kind of assume that life is what it is. You go to college school, you go to college, you go to university, you get a degree, you get a job, you get married, you play golf. Like, you know, that's what life looks like, at least from where I was brought up. And you're just working hard for filling that. And I think the first time I thought about purpose was when I met the monk for the first time.
Finding Happiness And Purpose
Meeting people who are truly happy and purposeful (01:06:30)
So when I was 18 years old, I heard a monk speak and I write about that in my book and he was living with purpose. So not only did I start thinking about purpose, I got to experience purpose. And I think that's what's so hard about relationships is that we don't always get to experience fulfilling relationships in our life through other people. And so we don't even know what it looks like. And I have to be honest and say that that was the first time I thought about purpose because this monk was super educated. He could have been making hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars, but he'd given it all up to serve humanity. And I thought... And what made you receptive to him? I think it was just the idea that at least at that time, I'd met many people who were... I'd met a few people that were rich. I'd met people who were famous. I'd met people who were strong and beautiful and attractive. But I don't think I'd met anyone who I felt was happy and purposeful. And what made me receptive was that I felt that he was happy and purposeful, truly, in his heart. And it was something you had to feel and experience. I mean, I'm still friends with him today. He still has it today. But I always feel that when I'm with him, that he always feels happy and purposeful. And that experience is so rare, I feel, when you're around someone. So I think that for me is probably the first time I started thinking about purpose. And today I also believe that a relationship needs a purpose. So I love these worlds colliding. And a lot of my personal work in purpose has been massive for helping me in my relationship. So yeah, hopefully that answers your question. Yes, yes. It's really beautiful because one thing is, where were you in your life? But the other thing is, how come he could speak to you? There was a space that was waiting for him. There was a need, a longing, a wish. And I think that's exactly what happens in people's relationships, too. It's just that they often come very bruised and very wounded from all kinds of relationship experiences in their childhood. And they first need to basically take the parts of the childhood that still lives inside of them and put it aside so that they can create a different script. Your purpose is a story and relationships are stories, too. I love that. That's such a wonderful reflection and such a beautiful way of looking at it. And yeah, I just always feel that we all have the opportunity today even more so because of podcasts like these and interviews and conversations where we have more opportunities for our autopilot to be disrupted in a good way. I think, you know, for me, I had to go to an event and this speaker was speaking at an event. But today you can just hear something on YouTube or a podcast. And all of a sudden, your mind is just moved in a different direction. I think we have such a benefit today that we can connect. And I'm so grateful that I got to connect with you today because I'm sure you've done that for a lot of people today where you've shifted their mindset or their paradigm. So I thank you Esther and I deeply look forward to meeting you. I want dinner with you when I'm in New York next. Okay. And I'm just, I'm excited to play the game. I can't wait for the game. I want to do it. I promise you get one. Okay, amazing. I love it. And maybe we will actually play together. If you want even more videos just like this one, make sure you subscribe and click on the boxes over here. I'm also excited to let you know that you can now get my book Think Like A Monk from ThinkLikeAMonkBook.com Check below in the description to make sure you order today.