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Thoughts on Esther Perel and more


HouseOfPlane ( member #45739) posted at 5:32 AM on Monday, October 2nd, 2023

She delves into the "why" to a depth few others do, but the why almost always sounds like a justification, so everyone thinks she is an infidelity apologist.

She spends the time talking about the WS, but of course. The WS is the one who did something, and is the one that needs to change their fundamental behavior.

She talks about saving the marriage, which inevitably requires change from both parties, the WS and the BS. But for the BS to need to change, it can be interpreted as the BS bears some blame. It doesn’t, but it can be seen that way. As unfair.

DDay 1986: R'd, it was hard, hard work.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
― Mary Oliver

posts: 3012   ·   registered: Nov. 25th, 2014
id 8810197

Copingmybest ( member #78962) posted at 8:13 AM on Monday, October 2nd, 2023

I'll admit I dabbled into the "Esther" banter, although I never read any of her books, I was watching some of her videos on YouTube. My take was that she certainly did dive into the why's of the cheater, but she also focuses on the point that the cheater must take lead in recovery. I think she touched on how damaged the BS was and how they were going to need the WS's help to recover. I never felt she held the WS's feet to the fire though, she seemed to focus on how much better the relationship could be, but again, that all depended on the WS's work.

Me: BS 56
Her: WW 50
A 8-20?-4-1-21 (April Fools Day)
Attempting recovery me-90%~her 10%
Married 25 years

posts: 135   ·   registered: Jun. 16th, 2021   ·   location: Ohio
id 8810206

Ozzy1788 ( member #83108) posted at 11:25 AM on Monday, October 2nd, 2023

I found Esther Pearl quite helpful. I did not see her as an affair apologist at all, but more so as one that can help a non cheater understand the cheating mind. She helped with some of the "how could you?" questions. Although she doesn’t demonize the cheater I don’t think she excuses them at all.

Agree 100% with this. I find that she isn't excusing anything, but is helping to give reason to it. I have found her work exceptionally helpful in understanding the mindset of my W.

Further, I read someone recommend Brene Brown recently. I listened to a few of her talks which were also quite illuminating, and then found a conversation between Brown and Perel where the mutual respect was off the charts. If good enough for Brown, then good enough for me?? Worth a listen for anyone who hasn't discovered it yet.

posts: 135   ·   registered: Mar. 23rd, 2023   ·   location: UK
id 8810221

Devastated0ne ( new member #83143) posted at 12:18 PM on Monday, October 2nd, 2023

My first post!
I have not read any of Esther Perel's books. I have watched her video on you tube "Rethinking infidelity ... a talk for anyone who has ever loved | Esther Perel" many times. I found it both helpful and informative.

They say "Shit Could Be Worse" but I find that hard to believe.

posts: 4   ·   registered: Mar. 28th, 2023   ·   location: Kentucky
id 8810224

straightup ( member #78778) posted at 3:05 PM on Monday, October 2nd, 2023

Here goes.

I have read two of her books, most of her ‘where to we begin’ podcasts, several interviews and talks.

I think she is charming.

She would be an interesting person to talk to.

It takes one to know one - but I call BS on much of her french, deconstructionist, cultural studies nods (Derrida, Foucault, Lacan etc). I have close to a college major in it. It’s mostly just people trying to sound clever. I became so seriously jaded with it that a legal career seemed like a good option in comparison.

More interesting is her family background of holocaust survivors.

I think she is a fairly keen observer, and quite good at feeding that back to people she interviews.

I think she can occasionally be stern.

I agree she comes at things from a different cultural angle, and although she is from Belgium, I have heard her say that the French think of affairs as ‘hurtful’ rather than ‘wrong’. I think she found that a useful way to create some room for a couple to get past the ‘how could you?’ to the ‘what now?’.

And to add to this, she describes herself being an expert on cross- cultural marriage counseling generally.

The problem I have is that I don’t think life or relationships are like that. Monied, upper middle class Parisian’s or Hollywood A-listers might tolerate affairs of the heart, but my experience is different and much worse, and I’ve been touched by infidelity since I was a child. It just staggers me that people can be scrupulous in business, for example, but duplicitous in personal relationships. I think the real world calculus is closer to right/wrong.

I had to stop listening to her last season of ‘where do we begin’, when she seemed to be twisting some young guy’s arm to accept a bespoke new-normal in a relationship, where I thought the only correct advice would have been to reconsider his commitment to his unfaithful spouse. Put simply, he deserved better and would never get it from her.

I think she has run afoul of a pitfall many people with a following experience. She needs to speak too much. If she didn’t need to proselytize and project brand-Esther, I expect she could be a perceptive clinician, who could do better justice to the couple in front of her.

I think her ‘rekindling desire’ talk is okay, but best if the couple brought with them to therapy a functioning moral compass and some attachments to good role models (like Esther speaks of her family). Getting rid of some hang ups might be great for couples like that, not so much where one or both are vacuous brats.

[This message edited by straightup at 3:19 PM, Monday, October 2nd]

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
Mother Teresa

posts: 296   ·   registered: May. 11th, 2021   ·   location: Australia
id 8810241

Retrospected ( new member #75868) posted at 9:52 PM on Tuesday, October 3rd, 2023

To my mind, Perel's rhetoric is meant for two folks who are willing to try to make the relationship other words, she's a couple's councilor. I think she's masterful in that capacity. But for a newly minted BS, she's gonna sound at best like the teacher on those old Charlie Brown cartoons.

It's my opinion that all of Perel's WS defending/apologizing/explaining is for BS's who have decided to swallow the proverbial shit sandwich. A gruesome task to be sure. My only complaint with Perel is that she seems put little condiment on the sandwich to soften the taste.

Let the sleeper awaken.

posts: 32   ·   registered: Nov. 16th, 2020
id 8810438

RealityBlows ( member #41108) posted at 9:11 PM on Wednesday, October 4th, 2023

I think Straightup and Retrospected nailed it with Esther’s "bespoken" nature of her approach. Her approach is tailored for those wishing to reconcile and you can’t reconcile if you demonize the WS or, more accurately, place self improvement goals for the WS too far out of realistic reach. Esther’s "delving" into the WS’s why and how’s may seem superficial to the BS, but is she just trying to keep the goals realistically obtainable? I don’t know. We talk about diving deep into a WS’s psyche to get at the fundamental underpinnings of infidelity, but is this realistic? How many WSs are willing and capable of actually doing this? How much time would this take? Are adults capable of this degree of introspection and change? It seems to me that this would be a lifelong endeavor, much like coping with alcoholism. I believe couples counselors are in the business of repairing relationships, individuals and instilling hope. If this involves goals that are too timely, lofty and unobtainable, it would be a hard sell. Telling a couple that the WS has deep character flaws, that go beyond the palatable whys and unmet needs, that will require deep delving, lifelong attention and comprehensive therapy, is off-putting, but at least it’s honest.

[This message edited by RealityBlows at 9:49 PM, Wednesday, October 4th]

posts: 1243   ·   registered: Oct. 25th, 2013
id 8810545

HouseOfPlane ( member #45739) posted at 10:27 PM on Wednesday, October 4th, 2023

… if you demonize the WS

A thought…demonizing the WS is not an honest thing to do. It might help get you off top dead center and moving toward a divorce (or put you in a dominant position of power in your relationship) but it is fundamentally dishonest.

We get to pick and choose what we put our attention on. We can focus on the negative, to help pick divorce. Focus on the positive to try to save the relationship, or have a "conscious uncoupling" I guess. But that picking and choosing is kind of a self-manipulation. Dishonest in its own way. Better to consider everything and make the decision.

DDay 1986: R'd, it was hard, hard work.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
― Mary Oliver

posts: 3012   ·   registered: Nov. 25th, 2014
id 8810554

TheEnd ( member #72213) posted at 10:35 PM on Wednesday, October 4th, 2023

I think it's interesting how Perel addresses unmet needs (if I'm recalling her correctly).

She basically says we all have unmet needs. She deconstructs the romantic notion that a marriage can or should meet all of your needs.

I think some folks take that in and stop absorbing what else she says because that certainly sounds like letting the WS off the hook. But essentially she's saying "so what?" You have unmet needs. You have unrealistic expectations of your partner. You handled it badly by having an affair. Now what?

Which is in line pretty much with SI's approach to it.

Agree that her advice is likely simplified for publication and TED talks. She's gotta sell her message and we consumers have a short attention span.

posts: 525   ·   registered: Dec. 3rd, 2019
id 8810556

OnTheOtherSideOfHell ( member #82983) posted at 3:26 PM on Friday, October 6th, 2023

The End, I got a lot out of Pearl’s words on unmet needs too, specifically the point she made about how marriage used to be more of a business agreement, but now culture expects your spouse to be your everything. I am of the belief that no one person can or should be another’s everything. For me, the only thing I ever needed and expected exclusively from him was sexual and romantic intimacy. He certainly never was my everything. I’ve always had other important yet appropriate relationships in my life. He never did. A counselor told him early on he needed to make friends (male friends). Up until that point, I don’t think my husband ever had a relationship outside his distant FOO that wasn’t sexual or romantic in nature. He’s an awkward guy and that’s the only way he could
Make any sort of connection. I also think that helped me come to realize the entire thing was his issue, nothing to do with me. I would be lonely with unmet needs too if HE was the only relationship I ever had so it’s his problem he can’t find more love in his life, but he needs to figure out how to make some appropriate friendships if he wants to also keep this wife. Anyways, to make a long story short I found Pearl very helpful.

posts: 104   ·   registered: Feb. 28th, 2023   ·   location: SW USA
id 8810734

Seeking2Forgive ( member #78819) posted at 8:42 AM on Sunday, October 8th, 2023

I haven't read her books but I've seen some of her seen some of her stuff online and I'm thankful that I avoided them. She pushes the same kind of "shared responsibility for troubles in the relationship" BS that our MC served up. It's a perfect vehicle for blame shifting and history re-writing.

She creates a false equivalence between infidelity and marriage problems and then assumes that these are legitimate complaints and that the BS at least shares responsible. But that's often not remotely true. Sometimes WSs are just hugely selfish and if they're feeling contempt, neglect, or indifference it's because their partner is giving everything they have and it's never enough.

Here's an example from an interview.

"Everyone thinks that as soon as you find out there is an affair, you've got to get a divorce," she said. "God forbid you still love the person who cheated on you." Meanwhile, myriad other betrayals happen in relationships, she says, like contempt, neglect, and indifference. Yet "nobody tells people to get the hell out it," she said. "It's a real pressure, especially for women."

So feeling contempt, neglect, or indifference are a betrayal comparable to infidelity. Even though those feelings may be a fantasy that the WS has brewed up to justify their cheating. For Perel the trauma of infidelity is no worse than the pain of unmet needs.

This was the case with my FWW. She said that she felt abandoned and neglected and I bought into the blame shifting that our MC served up. Even later when my FWW took full responsibility I always responded, "but I shared responsibility for the state of the marriage."

Only years later when I finally did my own timeline and really looked at the state of our marriage at that time with clear eyes did I realize that it was her that abandoned me. She checked out of our marriage well before she cheated. She blamed that distance on me even as I fought to find ways to make her happy.

Me: 62, BS -- Her: 61, FWS -- Dday: 11/15/03 -- Married 37 yrs -- Reconciled

posts: 523   ·   registered: May. 18th, 2021
id 8810985

HouseOfPlane ( member #45739) posted at 9:19 AM on Sunday, October 8th, 2023

So feeling contempt, neglect, or indifference are a betrayal comparable to infidelity. Even though those feelings may be a fantasy that the WS has brewed up to justify their cheating.

If it’s a fantasy, a made-up argument that the WS is using to try to manipulate the BS into thinking they share the blame in the infidelity, then it’s not actual contempt, neglect, or indifference. Or it is, but it is from the WS to the BS, laid on top of the affair.

DDay 1986: R'd, it was hard, hard work.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
― Mary Oliver

posts: 3012   ·   registered: Nov. 25th, 2014
id 8810986

Never2late ( member #79079) posted at 8:52 AM on Monday, October 9th, 2023

Ah, the patron saint of deceit and betrayal.

posts: 186   ·   registered: Jul. 7th, 2021
id 8811026

crazyblindsided ( member #35215) posted at 5:11 PM on Monday, October 9th, 2023

Yeah it's a hard pass on Perel. Have no interest in justifying an affair even if it is this...

So feeling contempt, neglect, or indifference are a betrayal comparable to infidelity. Even though those feelings may be a fantasy that the WS has brewed up to justify their cheating.

And what about the WS that creates contempt and indifference the BS feels towards them. My xWS was NEVER home. I raised my 2 kids alone with barely any help from him and I worked, cooked , did all the housework. Yes I did feel contempt towards my WS. He did nothing to help make that better instead it festered and festered. Really made me feel like not having sex with him in an intimate way (was just doing it to get his needs met rolleyes ) and he cheated on me. Claiming I no longer loved him or wanted to have sex with him anymore rolleyes in other words "unmet needs." Yet I had so many unmet needs and he could have cared less. It was all about him and his fweelings.

[This message edited by crazyblindsided at 5:11 PM, Monday, October 9th]

fBS/fWS(me):50 Mad-hattered after DD (2008)
XWS:53 Serial Cheater, Diagnosed NPD
DD(20) DS(17)
XWS cheated the entire M spanning 19 years
Discovered D-Days 2006,2008,2012, False R 2014

posts: 8634   ·   registered: Apr. 2nd, 2012   ·   location: California
id 8811046

Shehawk ( member #68741) posted at 4:26 AM on Tuesday, October 10th, 2023

I am not an Esther fan.

I use this example but I have a big unmet needs for some classy designer clothing right now (and maybe some
Sole shoes. My wardrobe NEEDS are not
Being met. But funny thing… I don’t walk into macys and boost (steal) clothes.

In other words I do not act out.

Like other posters have said, many of us Betrayed spouses were marrried, as an example, to all or some combination of the abusive hack of attention seeking whore man child. And we didn’t trip and conjoin our private bits with some
Random other person.

Call me mean but if EP was interviewing shoplifters I am sure they would have their excuses too.

"It's a slow fade...when you give yourself away" so don't do it!

posts: 1476   ·   registered: Nov. 5th, 2018   ·   location: VA
id 8811109

Bigger ( Attaché #8354) posted at 3:12 PM on Tuesday, October 10th, 2023

I think many might be taking her theories out of context.
She does talk about unmet needs, but she also talks about unattainable and unrealistic needs and contradictory needs. Like the need for your partner to be mysterious and spontaneous yet the same partner should be reliable, accountable and dependable. How we want dependence without sacrificing independence. How we have a notion of what married life should be without wanting to fit into that notion…

I do think most infidelity originates from the same source. I think most people cheat to feel validated. A confirmation that you still "got it", are desirable, someone finds you exciting and all that. Now… the question is – is this the CORRECT way to get validation?
I actually think we all seek and need validation. Only most of us get it through "healthy" ways. That could be self-validation by reaching set goals, being proud of your work, family etc or it could be external validation like praise from your boss or customer, appreciation from friends or whatever.

Is it our task to make our spouse feel validated? Well… yes – AND no.
At what point do my comments about my wife looking good in that blouse, or appreciating her new hairdo or whatever sound shallow and empty in her ears? At what point do I start to take her for granted? I have to WORK at keeping the relationship fresh, albeit we also want stability, roles, known expectations… and we want spontaneity and all that…

What is clear is that even if I were to feel unappreciated by my wife I am not allowed to get my "needs" for validation, passion, kinky-sex or whatever met elsewhere. Needs that most-likely originate from the same, basic need: validation. It’s not so much that I want to have sex in public or while wearing spandex or whatever, but more that I might want to sense that my wife is into me – validation.

This is where Perel comes in: She emphasizes communications.
The unmet needs? Well… she wants to get to the bottom of them and what they really mean and how we can find realistic and mutually acceptable ways to have those needs validated.

Like if I give my wife the expected "that blouse looks good on you" and she isn’t feeling it… she should let me know so. She can tell me she feels taken for granted, and the two of us then discuss what we could do to change that.
We have had that conversation in various forms and for various reasons on a regular basis: Our marriage is stagnating – what can we do? We might decide to go to a spa for the day, or a couples retreat in the countryside. Spend time together away from our reality… BUT… (and this is what Perel is referring to in the conflicting needs) we would also make sure the treat was within our budget (boring…) and probably then discuss who does the groceries tomorrow and who picks up the dry-cleaning (boooooorning….)

I don’t see her theories as excuses for infidelity, but more as reasons because with those reasons and a bucketload of questions about marriage, monogamy and all that you can possibly find a path to a good relationship.

"If, therefore, any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone." Epictetus

posts: 11922   ·   registered: Sep. 29th, 2005
id 8811128

sisoon ( Moderator #31240) posted at 4:00 PM on Tuesday, October 10th, 2023

Thanks, Bigger.

To repeat something I've written in different words:

As I read and (mostly) hear Perel, she reports what she WSes tell her, and she reports without judgment. To turn that into 'she supports the 'unmet needs' theory' is a mistake that BSes don't need to make, a mistake that hurts BSes.

It's important for all of us to read/hear what people actually say - and only after understanding what we've read/heard is it useful to evaluate for truth, utility, other POVs, etc.

IMO, getting in touch with reality is essential for BSes' recovery, and part of that is understanding what is communicated and evaluating - not simply reacting.

(signed) sisoon, as a human being, not as a mod

fBH (me) - on d-day: 66, Married 43, together 45, same sex ap
DDay - 12/22/2010
Recover'd and R'ed
You don't have to like your boundaries. You just have to set and enforce them.

posts: 29262   ·   registered: Feb. 18th, 2011   ·   location: Illinois
id 8811133
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