What is the most essential ingredient in successful relationships? Is it love, honesty, or communication skills?
Actually, many believe that desire may be more vital to a relationship than any of these. Desire can be crucial for maintaining interest in each other and enhancing intimacy.
Esther Perel certainly believes it. Esther is a world-renowned relationship therapist, bestselling author, and sought-after speaker. She believes that desire is a crucial part of relationships because it can help fulfill our need for novelty and excitement. It can also make couples feel more desirable, which leads them to be more attracted to each other, thus increasing intimacy between partners.
In our conversation, Esther shares her thoughts on desire, its importance in relationships, and how couples can keep desire alive. We also discuss the core reasons why relationships break down. Lastly, we talk about if it’s still possible for people to have successful, rewarding romantic relationships in this modern world.
Esther’s thoughts on desire and relationships in general are fascinating! What are your thoughts on desire? Do you believe that desire is necessary for successful relationships? If yes, you’ll love this episode. Let’s dive in!
Who is Esther Perel?
Esther Perel is a psychotherapist, author, and presenter. She is well known for her TED Talks on love, sex, and infidelity, with her talks racking up over a million views on YouTube alone. She has also worked as a therapist for 35 years in New York City, and as an organizational consultant who advises powerful CEOs from Fortune 500 companies worldwide.
Esther is a Belgian-born Israeli who has been living in the United States for over three decades. Her parents were Nazi concentration camp survivors, from whom she says she owes much of her perspective on life. However, it was not just their past that shaped who Esther is today — the power of their will and their search for meaning formed a large part of her identity as well. She spent her early life in Antwerp, Belgium before migrating to Israel to earn her Educational Psychology and French Literature degrees.
Esther’s best-selling book Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence has been translated into nearly 30 languages. Her podcast Where Should We Begin? has won her many awards, while her other podcast How’s Work? has gained popularity for its focus on workplace dynamics.
She is married and has two sons, who she has said are her “most important work.” However, Esther never stops giving talks or writing books because she can’t imagine a life without telling people about love and desire. Her latest book entitled The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, is a collection of her thoughts on marriage, affairs, and why some people are more vulnerable to them than others.
Esther’s expertise on human relationships and intimacy, as well as her work with couples, is what she’s bringing to today’s episode. I’m excited to have her, and I hope you are too!
Why Relationships Break Down
Greatness is a rare thing. Most people spend their lives striving for it but never manage to find it. I think relationships are the same way: many start out with such great promise and potential, only to end up crashing and burning in flames of regret.
But why? Why do some relationships seem to fail when they could have been so fulfilling? Using what she learned from her years of practice, Esther gives four main reasons.
Reason #1: Indifference
Sometimes in relationships, partners stop doing the things they may have once done that communicated care and desire. The reason for this could be something other than a dwindling interest, such as a mental health issue or serious stress. Other times, this can occur when two people get so used to each other, putting effort into communicating desire begins to feel more like a chore than an enjoyable activity. Whatever the reason may be, it’s a hurtful experience for anybody.
“We are creatures of meaning. We want to matter, and when someone makes us feel the opposite, that’s indifference. This can be in the form of coldness, estrangement, or disconnect” – Esther Perel
Indifference can create resentment, especially when one person feels as if the other isn’t putting any effort into the relationship, and they begin to feel neglected.
Reason #2: Neglect
According to Esther, neglect happens when one partner in a relationship doesn’t give the other person the attention they deserve. Perhaps they spend more time and energy caring for themselves, or things in life that matter less such as their cars, pets, chores or yard work, or anything else — except their partners.
“It’s like, people have this idea that they need to put it all in when they’re dating. And then once they seal the knot, it’s like now they don’t have to squat anymore. And they go into this kind of complete sense of complacency, laziness. It’s an amazing thing. They think this relationship is going to live on its own, like a cactus.” – Esther Perel
A person might also neglect the relationship because they’re spending more time on their career, trying to achieve success. A person may feel a sense of resentment because they feel that their significant other is always working, or not giving them enough attention when they are together. This can lead to feeling unimportant or unloved, while the other partner feels frustrated by a perceived lack of appreciation.
Reason #3: Contempt
Contempt is the killer of all relationships. Esther provides this explanation:
“In contempt, there’s a real degradation of our partner. It’s like they’re nothing.” – Esther Perel
Have you heard the saying that contempt breeds more contempt? I think that in relationships, contempt can grow into hatred, and you’re left feeling completely empty inside once you realize that the love you had for your partner is gone.
Interestingly, Esther points out that the reason why some relationships end this way — in contempt and hatred — is not always because of a lack of desire or love. Instead, she suggests that the way we were raised as children can affect how or why our relationships survive or break down.
Esther says the way a child is brought up in a home affects the person they become as an adult, and this includes relationships and marriage. Our childhood can cause us to either repeat our parent’s mistakes, inspire new ideas that go against what they believed in.
“Home is where we learn about trust, love, loyalty, sharing, commitment. All the essential verbs of relationships come from our home.” – Esther Perel
We all have different reasons for ending relationships. Yet, I also agree that how we are raised can have a hand in shaping these decisions. If you’re feeling like your childhood or upbringing impacts your relationship and happiness, then do something about it! Through things like therapy, meditation, or just time spent in self-reflection, you can change your relationship dynamics and create better partnerships for yourself.
Maintaining Love and Desire
When we are attracted to our partners and deeply desire them, we might feel butterflies in our stomachs. Yet, when we don’t have these butterflies, we think it’s because we don’t desire them anymore. But is that the same as not loving them anymore?
According to Esther, love is a much more profound feeling. She sees it as an intense emotional attachment. To her, love is all about needing and caretaking — things we find easy to do, even (and perhaps especially when) life is hard or we’re feeling stressed out.
Desire, on the other hand, comes from pleasure. But what if our lives are full of stress, as they can be after years of raising children and working on advancing our careers? Is it possible to maintain desire for our partners even through a lifetime of ups and downs?
“If you ask people what turns them on, they would likely tell you that it is when they’re awakened by their desires. Most of their answers would be: ‘What turns me on is when I’m in nature, connected with my friends, when I get to do my sports, play or listen to music — stuff that gives me pleasure.’” – Esther Perel
This means that to keep the desire you have for your partner, it’s vital to keep on doing things that make you feel alive and vibrant. Esther says this is also how we maintain erotic desire, which she defines as a life force.
I also believe that when we’re passionate about investing time and energy into being our best selves and pursuing those things that light us up, that energy influences our relationships positively. We’re more confident, and that confidence makes us more attractive and desirable to our partners. I also believe that when we are passionate about investing in being our best selves and pursuing what lights us up, that feeling leaks into our relationships and we continuously desire for our partners to be the best versions of themselves. As a result, we feel excited and are attracted to their confidence and the sense of purpose they bring to the relationship.
Likewise, that confidence improves every aspect of our lives. When we have confidence in everything from our work, to our personal growth, to our futures, we end up having more energy to prioritize our relationships, and empathy for our partner who may also be pursuing their own life goals.
“You can make intimacy happen because you believe that you and your partner matter. That both of you are important, and there’s nothing else that matters at this moment. … That’s the erotic space in which sex may happen” – Esther Perel
What Esther is trying to say is that positivity and confidence — believing not only in yourself and your own personal pursuits, but also in your partner’s — you can maintain your desire and attraction for years to come.
Confidence also makes it so much easier to take risks and add novelty to our relationships. According to Esther, erotic desire requires some unpredictability and mystery to thrive.
“If you want desire, take risks. The risk is an emotional risk. It’s really a risk on the emotional front. It’s saying, ‘I’m bringing something else to you today, differently from the way I typically present myself.’” – Esther Perel
I challenge you to try adding some novelty and adventure into your relationships, as well as your business ventures. Go for what really excites and intrigues you! You’ll be surprised what great things can happen when we are willing to take risks, commit fully, stay open-minded, and prioritize ourselves.
The Pillars of Modern Relationships
So far, we’ve learned a lot from Esther’s insights on relationship breakdowns and desire. Now, it’s time for the big question:
How can we have fulfilling and successful relationships — that last?
Trust, affection, intimacy, desire — these are all very important factors for her when it comes to determining what constitutes a successful, long-lasting relationship. She believes that these four elements are what can help bring two people together to form a strong bond and share their lives with one another in a way that is fulfilling for both partners.
On the other hand, she also believes that when we’re missing any (or all!) of them, that could be the catalyst of an unhealthy relationship where one person feels trapped by the other.
Of the four pillars, I think what Esther has to say about desire — in particular, balancing desire and love — is especially interesting. She believes that desire requires a little bit of mischief, while love is more about neediness.
So how do we balance these so that we’re neither too needy nor too risky and mischievous in our relationships? Esther explains with a metaphor:
“Balancing love and desire is the same as when you walk. You have to move from one foot to the other. A balance is not about staying on one side. A balance is the ability to see, right now, that we don’t need to be needy at all times. We can be mischievous. We can be naughty. We can be playful. We can break our own rules.” – Esther Perel
Trying new things in relationships isn’t always easy. You need to have conversations with your partner about what “mischief” means to you, and what rules might be acceptable to bend or break. It will be tough, but when we want to make something work … we have to put in the work!
Lastly, Esther gives some advice on how relationships can strive in today’s world through what she calls internal incentives:
“Good relationships are the ones who created their own internal incentivized system. This is as simple as appreciation, gratitude, and acknowledgment of the presence of the other in your life. These are small things we can all do, but they can make huge differences in our relationships. ” – Esther Perel
I’m sure many of you are wondering, “Can I have an exciting and successful relationship today?” And while the work isn’t as easy as it may seem, Esther shows us that this is possible. Even when you’re struggling, remember that you can always do something to give your partner everything they deserve.
Why You Should Listen to This Esther Perel Podcast Episode Right Now…
Guys, Esther’s insights on how we can cultivate amazing relationships just by understanding the power of desire are fascinating. Speaking of, here’s Esther’s definition of greatness:
“I am a person who questions. I topple sacred cows. I open up possibilities. I’m rather non-judgemental. I like to shed a whole new light on something that people think they’ve already heard a lot about. I want them to rethink or challenge the conversation. I think greatness is like that. It’s starting from something common and ending it with something completely different.“ – Esther Perel
Greatness isn’t just about being great ourselves: it’s about having great relationships with others, too. You can have trust, affection, and desire — all at once. It can take work and time, but it’s worth the effort.
If you want to support Esther, please listen to her podcast where she shares more of her wisdom on relationships, sex, and intimacy. You may also check out her How’s Work? podcast if you want insights on relationship dynamics in the office. You can also find more of her work through her website, Twitter, and Instagram.
Also, if you enjoyed this episode, make sure to share it over on your Instagram stories. Don’t forget to tag Esther @estherperelofficial and me in the key takeaways! Lastly, subscribe to The School of Greatness podcast, and leave us a rating and review.
If you believe that desire is important for successful relationships, make sure to listen to this episode with none other than desire expert: Esther Perel!
The School of Greatness Podcast
Some questions I ask:
- How does your anxiety and dread for things work for or against you?
- Why did you write this book about sexuality?
- What are the core reasons you see that end relationships?
- How does your work support or not support your relationship with your husband?
- What’s the ideal relationship in the modern world?
- How do you know when it’s the person you can make a life with?
In This Episode, You Will Learn:
- Why Esther was inspired in her work by the Clinton sex scandal
- The cultural differences in how adultery is viewed around the world
- The effects in the U.S. of how sex education is presented
- Indifference, contempt, neglect, and violence are the main issues in any intimate relationship
- Why people often treat their partner worse than anyone else
- The impact our parents have on our relationship skills (this is big)
- Women get bored with monogamy sooner than men (because the romance usually dies after marriage)
- A better question than “What turns me off” is “When I turn myself off is”
- Why investing in being your best self and pursuing what lights you up keeps you interested in a monogamous relationship
- The relationship between emotional risk and desire
- We now expect our partner to be a whole village for us since we live much more private lives
- The 4 Pillars of Modern Relationships: Trust, Affection, Intimacy, Desire
- The idea that your marriage can have different phases (like a new marriage each time) with the same person
- The value of yearly check-ins with your partner (not when a crisis is happening) to see what’s going on
- Why it’s important to separate the idea of failure from divorce
- The Millenial generation are the children of the divorced and disillusioned
- The influx of couples who are married but live apart aka LAT couples (more common in the older generation)
- What originally attracts you to someone is often what eventually drives you crazy about them
- Plus much more…
Continue Seeking Greatness:
- Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence
- BONUS: Esther put together a list of the 10 questions to ask yourself about your sex life and her top 3 resources to improve your relationships – GET IT HERE
- FOLLOW ESTHER
- Check out Organifi, my favorite healthy green juice mix, and get 20% off when you use the code “lewis”
- Check out Thrive and their amazing market of healthy food and lifestyle products at amazing prices. Get 1 month free membership and 20% off your order by clicking the link below:
HAVE YOU READ THE SCHOOL OF GREATNESS BOOK YET? ORDER A COPY AT HTTP://LEWISHOWES.COM/BOOK
- Music Credit: Anagram by RSF
You may also like these episodes:
- How to Consciously End a Relationship in a Healthy Way with Katherine Woodward Thomas
- Neil Strauss and the Uncomfortable Truth About Relationships
- Matthew Hussey on the Secret to Attracting Your Dream Relationship
Did you enjoy the podcast?
I learned A LOT about my relationships from talking with Esther. I think everyone can. Tag a friend who wants to hear about this!