Infidelity and the Future of Relationships
Esther Perel is recognized as one of the most insightful and provocative voices on personal and romantic relationships and the complex science behind human interaction. The author of the international bestseller Mating in Captivity, Perel believes that the most traditional aspects of a culture and the most progressive and radical changes in a society take place around sexuality. Much of Perel’s work—both lecturing internationally and advising couples in her private therapy practice—centers on the topic of infidelity. Why do happily married couples cheat? Why does the modern egalitarian approach to marriage quash desire? Are the heightened expectations we bring to modern love combined with our pursuit of happiness directly related to infidelity?
Author and therapist Esther Perel cringes when she hears a lot of couples’ wedding vows. How can the promise to be their spouse’s everything and expect a marriage to last? Listen to Perel talk about why she thinks the romantic ideals of modern marriages are disastrous:
What happens to a relationship when the people in it expect each other to be comfortable yet daring, familiar yet edgy, and steady yet growing? These tensions are fundamental to contemporary relationships, Perel says, and that’s why so many are doomed to fail from the outset. When spouses are expected to want both dependency and freedom in a relationship, something will inevitably buckle under the pressure of unmet needs.
This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity
Esther Perel: We all grow up with dualisms, but each of us will come out of our history with a different experience. Some of us will need more space, and some will need more protection. And in every relationship, you will find that there is one person that is more in touch with the fear of losing the other and one person who is more in touch with the fear of losing themselves. And that’s when you start to look at infidelity.
There’s a note of worry in Perel’s voice when she describes how men have fallen behind in discussing manhood, desire, and relationships, in contrast to an awakening of women’s conversations around those topics. For millennia these topics were the purview of men, and now that women have taken back the narrative men are stuck thinking of themselves in self-sabotaging ways. Watch as Perel calls for men to step up and have tough conversations about how they can think differently about themselves for the sake of stronger relationships:
The evolution of sex, relationships, and marriage over the past has moved the institution of marriage away from a model of economic necessity to one of love and passion, argues Perel. While that’s been liberating for many, especially women, we have to be very purposeful about continuing the conversation. Perel wants us to keep talking about monogamy, infidelity, and what those mean in this new conception of marriage.