A Tibetan Buddhist monk, the Dalai Lama, said, “Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.” And Dolly Parton said, “If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”
It’s a fact — relationships are beautiful but sometimes painful.
There is always pain and suffering in every relationship — heartaches, stress, anxiety, depression, pressure, jealousy, and more. No relationship exists without being hurt in some way or another. Pain is always a part of relationships — there is no relationship if you don’t get hurt at all. Can you choose to be in suffering or not? Can you learn to suffer less over time? Suffering will always be there, whether you like it or not. But the choice is yours if you want to suffer less over time.
Today, our special guest will talk about relationships that determine the quality of life. She is the perfect person to talk to about this because, as a relationship expert and a psychotherapist, she has helped millions of people manage their relationships in business and their personal lives. She is an incredible leader, writer, thinker, and coach. She is my inspiration, and I’m happy to bring you, Esther Perel!
Esther Perel is a Belgian psychotherapist and an organizational consultant for several Fortune 500 companies worldwide — to keep up, she is even fluent in nine languages! She is also the executive producer and host of the celebrated podcast Where Should We Begin — a podcast for anyone who has ever loved and How’s Work?, where she provides one-time therapy sessions with co-workers and co-founders, giving them a new perspective on the invisible forces that shape the connections, dynamics, and conflicts in the workplace. Her popular TED talks have more than 28 million views and counting.
Esther Perel is also a New York Times best-selling author of The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, a book that took a provocative look at relationships through the lens of infidelity. Another bestselling book of Esther’s is Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence that investigates the paradoxical relationship between domesticity and sexual desire and discusses what it takes to bring home lust.
In this episode, Esther Perel will help you understand why relationships are hard for some people in business or with an intimate partner, the different ways to make a relationship work, and how to manage distressed relationships. It’s an incredible interview packed with valuable insights. So buckle up, and let’s dive in.
Many people are searching for perfect relationships — unfortunately, there is no such thing because relationships are a continuous journey to perfection. There will be trials and obstacles that may cause pain and suffering. Is there a way around these trials to avoid pain?
“There is always going to be suffering as part of life. Yes — you’re going to deal with loss. You’re going to deal with tortured hopes. You’re going to deal with the disappointments, with heartbreaks, with death. … Nobody is going to tell you that there will never be [a] loss — and loss is probably one of the most important sources of suffering.” – Esther Perel
Suffering is not a choice — it is a part of life. The moment you enter into a relationship, you should be ready to suffer and bear the pains of the journey in that relationship. Is there a choice to suffer less?
“I think that you don’t suffer less — you suffer differently. And the most important thing is, … you’re not alone. … That’s why we read books that inspire us from other people who have also lost and found their way back and [seen] the light again. … They created new hope, … reconnect[ed] with someone and allow[ed] themselves to love again, … have another child, … [or] start another business. … You have a sense … that there is hope, that you’re not alone, that there is a day when it won’t hurt and ache as much, that there is a day you will be able to wake up, and you won’t be … obsessing over it.” – Esther Perel
Sometimes, a breakup may look like the end of the world. However, you’re not alone in this pain because others have experienced the same heartaches. And yet, they were able to move on with their lives — they are now happy with their present relationships. So, if you feel like you are at the end of your rope in your relationship and you’re in pain, take inspiration from other people. Remember, time will heal the heartaches — you will wake up someday, no longer in pain in that relationship.
A breakup is just one of many painful experiences in relationships. There are many forms of suffering — emotional, mental, social, and physical. A battered wife is physically and emotionally suffering—stress and anxiety at work cause mental sufferings in employer-employee relationships. Racial discrimination creates social suffering in relationships with the community, and jealousy is emotional suffering in a relationship with an intimate partner.
It’s no wonder many people find it hard to figure out how to manage suffering in relationships. Many are always struggling, whether in intimate or work-related relationships.
“Why is the simple feeling of loving or caring not enough? — Because the entire human drama is really complex the same way as nature is complex. So, is human nature complex? … I spent my whole career studying what is changing in relationships. [Do] you know why are they more complicated today? Are they more painful today? … We live … in traditional societies where relationships are clearly codified. There are clear rules — there are roles, there are obligations. There’s a tight structure from which you can’t get out. But it tells you clearly who you are, where you belong, where you’re rooted, and what’s expected of you. All of this was super regulated.” – Esther Perel
Every relationship comes with responsibilities to the other parties. There are obligations and expectations. You don’t necessarily have to talk about the obligations, but sometimes some things are already expected by the other party without discussing it. When these expectations are not met, these become the source of disappointment, resentment, and misunderstanding — and eventually, suffering and pain.
So many relationships today do not last long. They are in the state of surviving instead of thriving. It’s because the involved parties have high expectations, and their expectation of happiness is so high that only a few can reach that level.
“We have such high expectations. … We want everything. We want the partner to be an entire community — my best friend, my trusted confidant, my passionate lover, my intellectual equal, my co-parent. … What you call that happiness is [like] the top of the [Mount] Olympus. It’s climbing the mountain. And at the top of the mountain, the view is fantastic, but the air is also thinner. And not everybody can climb the mountain.” – Esther Perel
People have different perspectives of happiness, which most of the time are defined by expectations. Those living in urban areas probably have high expectations that they can only become happy if they are successful in their careers, relationships, and the luxury they want to have.
But some people in the rural areas are already happy to survive. They already feel blessed to have enough food on their plates and the comfort of the small space to sleep at night. Their expectations are low, and so they are happy with small things. You can see their smiles and hear the laughter amidst the calamities and the absence of luxury because they are happy to survive every day — relationships work the same way.
“When it comes to intimate relationships, people have very few models now. Maybe it is because what they want is so high. …. And that’s probably the challenge of intimate relationships today. … I think, sometimes, if you lower your expectations, you’re much better off — no doubt.” – Esther Perel
Lower your expectations — that’s the key if you want to be happy in your relationship. Don’t expect too much from your partner, but grow together towards perfection. Sometimes, you may have to recalibrate your expectations to make your relationships work. You may also manage your high expectations by allowing others to come in and help meet your relational needs.
“Three main things for … successful relationships and calibrating doesn’t mean you lower your expectations, necessarily, but you also diversify them. You don’t ask one person to give you what the whole village should actually give you. … One is the calibration of the expectation. Two — is diversification. And three, … is doing new things with your partner. … If you do the things that you enjoy — that’s really nice, that’s comfortable, that’s cozy — that solidifies the friendship. But if you want to create intensity, it demands risk-taking doing new things outside of your comfort zone.” – Esther Perel
Recalibrating, diversifying, and doing new things together can help strengthen the relationship and make it successful. Sometimes, these things may demand personal transformation and getting out of your comfort zones. It may require sacrifices to align yourself to the relationship goals.
A relationship is not one-way communication and sacrifice. Instead, it is a two-way personal transformation that sees the growth of the other party in a positive way. Unfortunately, many people only see the negative perspectives of the other party, while the positive ones have become the standard expectations that are seldom acknowledged.
“In a distressed relationship, the tendency is to highlight the negative and disregard the positive. The positive is just a given. … So the one thing you didn’t do becomes the whole conversation. … You disregard all the other stuff.” – Esther Perel
How many times have your quarrels and altercations started this way? You make a big deal of the one thing the other party didn’t do, disregarding the many positive things they did in the past. At work, when an employee is late, that one instance of tardiness is highlighted and attributed to the character of that person, disregarding the multiple times the employee reported to work on time. In that case, the distressed relationship could eventually lead to business relationship problems.
A personal transformation involves a shift in mindset to make the relationships work. Look at the positive sides, and be patient and understanding with the imperfect things. There is truth to the song All of Me by John Legend that states, “Love your curves and all your edges. All your perfect imperfections.” The beauty of the relationship comes from growing together and working out the imperfections in the journey to the perfect relationship.
This session with Esther Perel was truly fantastic. I’ve seen many businesses, including my past successful venture with a partner, fall apart due to relationship issues with the co-founders. Esther Perel showed us why these problems emerge and how to manage communication gaps to make the relationships work. I’m sure many businesses would greatly benefit from the wisdom of Esther Perel. If you would like to have a session with her, check out her How’s Work podcast on Spotify. And if you want to know more about Esther, visit her official website or subscribe to her YouTube channel. You can also follow Esther Perel on Twitter for more insights.
If you know someone having relationship problems in marriage or at work, share this full episode with a friend and make a difference in someone’s life. The full interview is also available on Spotify and The School of Greatness podcast.
We’d also like to know how this conversation with Esther Perel inspired you! Take a screenshot of this episode and post it on Instagram. Tag us both — Esther Perel, @estherperelofficial, and myself, @lewishowes, and let us know your key takeaways today.
As always, do something great today!
Until next time,