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20 Nuggets of Wisdom From Relationship Expert Esther Perel

Esther Perel might be the most famous couples counselor in America. The Belgian-born psychotherapist not only works with families and people in New York, but has become a public source of knowledge, comfort, and creative insight for the many fans of her podcasts, books, and philosophies on navigating modern relationships.

Perel’s debut book, 2006’s Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, might have nudged her into the public eye, but it was the 2017 podcast Where Should We Begin? that truly launched Perel into the role of a relationship guru. (She released her second book, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, in 2017.)

Where Should We Begin? invites the listener to be a fly on the wall during Perel’s counseling sessions — and her expertise is immediately clear and impressive. Each episode of the podcast focuses on the intimate journey between one couple as they tell their story in therapy. It’s an absorbing and enlightening listen, one that entertains without feeling exploitative. In late 2019, Perel also launched a second podcast, How’s Work?, that tackles many of the same interpersonal struggles, but between co-workers instead of couples.

Throughout her work, Perel is consistently generous about what makes a relationship successful, insightful about the conflicting desires within a partnership, and realistic — even authoritative — about how expectations don’t always match up with societal and personal realities. Read on for some essential relationship advice from the one and only Esther Perel.

The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.

Love is a vessel that contains both security and adventure, and commitment offers one of the great luxuries of life: time.

In relationships, trust isn’t a promise to never hurt each other. It’s the risk that we will hurt each other and the confidence that, if we do, we will come together to heal.

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.

We will have many relationships over the course of our lives. Some of us will have them with the same person.

Friendship is not a long-term commitment. It is a reliable gift.

We all need freedom and security, which is why when the world doesn’t feel safe, we often don’t feel as free.

Happiness is an outcome, not a mandate.

Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness. One does not exist without the other.

When you pick a partner, you pick a story — and often, you will be recruited for a play you didn’t audition for.

If you want to empower yourself to have the energy to help create a more just and safe world, do not deny yourself the right to feel and to self-soothe.

Assertiveness is a dialogue, aggressiveness is a debate.

There is no love without the threat of loss.

Love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery.

The seeds of intimacy are time and repetition. We choose each other again and again, and so create a community of two.

You can’t change people but you can change the way we dance with each other.

Co-creating a sense of belonging is one of the most satisfying aspects of having relationships at all.

Keep yourself open to a gradual unfolding of a person’s many layers.

If we want our partner to be vulnerable with us, we have to accept that true vulnerability is not a mandate. It’s a possible outcome that grows out of closeness and trust.

Love is a practice. It’s an active word and it is conditional.

Photo credit: Vivien Killilea via Getty Images

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About the Author
Nicole Villeneuve
Nicole is a writer, thrift store lover, and group-chat meme spammer based in Ontario, Canada.
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