Wow, I already know this is going to be another one of the most popular episodes on the podcast to date.
The first time the queen of relationships, Esther Perel, came on the podcast, she blew me away with her insights about love and intimacy. (A few hundred thousand downloads of that episode later and I know I’m not the only one).
So when she told me her new book was about infidelity and unpacking why people cheat (especially when it’s on the people they still love), I knew it was going to be a powerful conversation.
Esther spoke just last month at the second annual Summit of Greatness, and she was by far one of the most popular speakers. (People were booing me as I had to wrap up our Q&A because they wanted to hear more from her.)
She has an incredible ability to speak the truth in a way that cuts you to the core and also makes you feel safe to explore topics we usually don’t talk about.
This topic is no different.
Cheating, being cheated on, and seeing a friend be hurt through infidelity are all some of the most painful experiences in life.
But what Esther has discovered, through her decades of experience as a psychotherapist who specializes in couples therapy, is that we often don’t cheat because we are looking for sex.
There are many layers to a satisfying, loving, committed relationship, and when couples are unwilling or unable to communicate about what they need in order to have that, they look elsewhere for it.
I learned so much in this interview, especially about how to be a better friend. I hope you share this episode with anyone in your life who has been affected by these issues. It’s a sensitive topic, but it’s so important to talk about.
Get ready to go deep into the matters of the heart in Episode 548.
LEWIS HOWES: This is episode 548 with Esther Perel.
LEWIS HOWES: Welcome to the School of Greatness. My name is Lewis Howes, former pro athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur. Each week, we bring you an inspiring person or message to help you discover how to unlock your inner greatness. Thanks for spending some time with me today. Now let the class begin.
Having your heart broken is the easy part, knowing when to move on is the challenge. I am so pumped for this episode because the last time we had a [inaudible], it blew up. It blew up everywhere. And this one is even bigger and more mind-blowing. Get ready and start sharing this out with your friends right now, lewishowes.com/548. I’m telling you, this is going to be a powerful one for you.
For those who don’t know who Esther Perel is, she was recognized as one of the most insightful and provocative voices on personal and professional relationships in the complex science behind human interaction. She’s also the bestselling author of “Mating In Captivity” which was translated into 25 languages. She is a practicing psychotherapist, celebrated speaker, and her critically acclaimed viral Ted Talk have collectively reached over 10 million views. I think it’s almost 20 million views now. She’s a podcast host of the show Where Should We Begin? Where you can listen in on real client sessions actually going through the challenges in their life. It’s powerful. Also her clients in platform include companies such as Nike, Tony Robbins, [inaudible], Founders Forum, and so much more. Including the Summit of Greatness. And she’s a frequent guest on shows like Oprah, The Today Show, Dr. Oz, The Colbert Report.
She’s got a powerful, new book out called The State of Affairs. You’re going to want to make sure to get it, and you can get actually a free copy when you get my book. That’s right. You can get a free copy of her book when you order two copies of The Mask of Masculinity. All you need to do is go to lewishowes.com/esther That’s E-S-T-H-E-R. Again, if you get two copies of my book at lewishowes.com/esther, E-S-T-H-E-R, I’m buying a physical copy and I’m going to ship you her book. That’s right. We’ve only got a limited amount.I think the first 150 people, so make sure to go to lewis howes dot com slash E-S-T-H-E-R, and I’m going to get you her book. You got an amazing deal, so go get it right now.
What we’re covering today, guys, is so mind-blowing. I’m telling you, you’re going to be tweeting me and messaging me on Instagram DM throughout this, I can already tell. We covered the definition of infidelity. What is the definition of it? Is it just thinking about someone else? Is it actually acting on it? Is it flirting? What is it? We talk about it. We talk about why affairs are about desire and not about sex. We’re getting deep, guys. We’re talking about the difference between how men and women talk about infidelity. We also talk about knowing when is the best time to talking about boundaries and infidelity when you enter a new relationship. It’s getting hot, guys. Then we’re talking about how to rekindle trust after someone’s cheated. This is a big one. And also what to do as the friend of someone who has been cheated on.
Actually think this might be one of the most powerful parts of the whole interview because Esther normally doesn’t talk about that. So if your friend has been cheated on, or maybe been treated poorly in a relationship, how do you have a relationship and how do you have a conversation with your friend so that you don’t alienate them from everything? There’s a way to talk to your friends when they’ve been cheated on, and this is going to transform your life.
Before we dive in, want to give a shoutout to the fan of the week. This is a review from iTunes. This is from “orangelint” who says, “I look forward to listening to every new podcast on the School of Greatness. Honest, genuine, insightful, thought-provoking, and necessary. Love this podcast.” So thank you so much “orangelint” for being the review and fan of the week. It means a lot to us over here at the School of Greatness. Everytime someone leaves a review, it helps us get the message out there more, the rankings go up in the podcast. So if you’re a fan of the podcast, that’s added value, too. Head over to the Podcast app on your iPhone or on any app and go there right now. If you just log in on the podcast app, you scroll down, you can see a place to leave a review. It’s pretty simple. Click a button, type in your review, and get your chance to be shoutout on the podcast for the review and fan of the week.
Also, our sponsor DesginCrowd. For all you entrepreneurs or creatives with a side hustle looking to get your message out there and have powerful design, I constantly talk about the power of great photography and design. When you couple those together, you can separate your brand from the rest of your industry. You can separate yourself and start attracting hiring clients, getting more customers for your products and services. Without building a brand of high quality photography and high quality design coupled with storytelling throughout that design, it’s really challenging to grow your side hustle or your business. And DesignCrowd has been a partner for almost a couple years now. They have over 500,000 designers from all over the world or they’re [inaudible] dedicated to giving you the best design that they can for really not that much. All of my courses, my book covers—we’ve been doing stuff with DesignCrowd. You can get logos done for your websites. It doesn’t matter if you’re a law firm or an entrepreneur, with courses, it all works, guys. Go to designcrowd.com/greatness for a special $100 VIP offer for our listeners only and get started. Test it out. Do one for a couple hundred bucks for a logo and see that you’re going to have 50 different submissions, and you get to work with the designers until you’re happy with the design that you like. So check it out, designcrowd.com/greatness.
Again, before we dive in to this episode, you can go get a copy of Esther’s book for free. All you need to do is go to lewishowes.com/esther to claim this deal. When you get two copies of The Mask of Masculinity, I’m going to physically buy you a copy and ship you a copy of Esther’s book. Full price on me. That’s how powerful this book is, I want you to get it. Again, all you need to do is get two copies of my book. You’re going to upload your receipt at lewishowes.com/esther and we’re going to ship your her book. It’s going to be a game changer. Go do it right now while you’re listening, and let’s make it happen.
Okay, guys, get ready. This is going to be powerful. I’m super pumped for you. Without further ado, the one, the only, Esther Perel.
LEWIS HOWES: Welcome back everyone to the School of Greatness podcast. We have the legendary Esther Perel in the house. I’m very excited that you’re here.
ESTHER PEREL: Back again.
LEWIS HOWES: Back again. The last time we had you on was about a year and a half ago. I think it was a few hundred thousand views on the video on YouTube, over a hundred something thousand on the audio, and people can’t get enough of you. We had you speak at the Summit of Greatness recently, and people were booing me when I had to take you off the stage to get to the next speaker. So I’m excited to have you back on. You’ve got a new book out right now, it’s called The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity. We don’t have the copy here, but you can see it here right here on this card. Make sure you guys go pick it up. The State of Affairs, it’s going to be a game changer. You had a book come out 10 years ago, roughly, so you have been doing a lot of research, diving in, and working with a lot of people. You work with people one on one in your practice, so you’re seeing what’s happening at the deepest levels of love, pain, suffering, and everything in between, right?
ESTHER PEREL: Yes.
LEWIS HOWES: You’re constantly in this, and you’ve been doing this work for a long time.
ESTHER PEREL: 30 plus.
LEWIS HOWES: 30 plus years. Rethinking infidelity, most of us never talk about this, right? It’s like a subject we don’t go into. It’s like a scary thing to talk about, but you’re saying we should be thinking about it and talking about it more, is that right?
ESTHER PEREL: See, the interesting thing is that it’s not because you don’t talk about something, that it doesn’t exist. If I go and ask audiences all over the world for the past—since 2009, I began to research on this book. How many of you have been affected by the experience of infidelity? About 80% of the people raise their hand, and that means that they were the children of parents who were unfaithful or they were the children who were born in an affair, in a love story or they were the siblings p or they were the friend that was consoling a broken heart or they were the friends that was listening to the “confidances” of someone who’s in the throes of an affair or the other third in the triangle.
It is systemic, but the topic of infidelity which has been historically condemned is historically practiced. Shrouded in secrecy and shame, and hence kept very, very silent. Unfortunately, not helpful to the thousands of people who grapple with it. So I’ve spent the last years working with hundreds of couples who’ve been shattered by the experience of an affair and an infidelity in the US and abroad. I thought, we can do better.
LEWIS HOWES: So what’s the definition of infidelity, then? Or how should we be defining it? Is it thinking about being with other people? Is it flirting? What’s the line? What’s the boundary? What’s the definition?
ESTHER PEREL: The definition keeps on expanding, that’s the first thing. It is no longer just because you got pregnant from somebody else. With contraception today, the definition has become is it watching porn, is it chatting, is it a massage with happy endings? Is it staying active on your dating apps when you’re already seeing somebody more steadily? Is it reconnecting with your exes on Facebook? Is it actually rather unclear, and it is often left to the people to define it. But there are three major elements that I think make it very clearer for me anyway to define it. The first thing is that it is usually organized around a secret. The constitutive element of infidelity is the secrecy. When it’s not a secret, when it’s consensual, then is a completely different story. So the secret is at the heart of infidelity.
LEWIS HOWES: So when your partner doesn’t know or isn’t aware—
ESTHER PEREL: That’s right. Of course, that today requires you to ask, “What must be shared and what is private?” What is the extent between privacy, secrecy, and transparency? Then the second element is a certain kind of emotional involvement, to one degree or another. Even if it’s hit and run, there’s still is an emotional involvement. It takes effort to make something mean nothing. The quality of that involvement with the person, with the sex, with the feelings, that. And then the third one which is really the most important one is that it’s a sexual alchemy. The element of sexual alchemy is not sex. We know that most affairs are way less about sex and a lot more about desire.
Now desire for what? Desire to be desired, desire to be seen, to feel important, to have someone’s attention, someone who cares about you, desire to feel alive, desire to reconnect with lost parts of yourself. Way more important than the sex itself. The kiss that you only imagine giving can be just as powerful as hours of actual love making. The mind is the most important sexual organ. These three things—secrecy, emotional involvement, sexual alchemy intersecting with each other are the three central elements of what makes infidelity. But today that we don’t have religious institutions necessarily telling us what is the king of sins, it is left to us and our relationships to make sense of this, to define it, to know where our lines will be with our partners. To know when we crush those lines. If it’s about thinking, if it’s about remembering, it’s about fantasizing while you’re with your partner. If it’s a subject that is deeply entrenched in our lives and often very difficult for us to open up. And yet, we need to because we need to help people who suffer with it.
LEWIS HOWES: Otherwise, there’s always going to be so much more conflict in the relationship if we don’t talk about it, right?
ESTHER PEREL: Look, the majority of people don’t talk about any of this. Their desires for others, the boundaries they want to establish with each other, what they share sexually, what is private, what is the space of their erotic freedom. Even in their head, what feelings are they allowed to have, what kind of friendships do they have with others? Most people talk about none of this until the shit hits the fan. In most straight couples, the negotiation of monogamy is very simple. It’s five words: I catch you, you’re dead. That’s it, end of conversation. Then when there is a crisis, when something breaks out, suddenly, people launch into conversations that they’ve never had, and they are finally grappling with a level of honestly about this. But in the midst of so much pain—
LEWIS HOWES: And resentment and anger, yeah.
ESTHER PEREL: Confusion, pain, rage, disappointment, romantic frustration—you name it. Could we do better? Can we do it sooner? Can we have the courage to have some of the difficult conversations before we’re in the midst of a crisis?
LEWIS HOWES: I love that you talked about—I’ve heard you say this before at a few of your speeches but at our event as well. You mentioned how we expect our partner to be sexy and on all the time and to be intellectually stimulating to us all the time and to be playful and fun and adventurous and hardworking in their jobs and take care of the kids and all these things. We expect so much of them, but it’s hard to get everything from one person.
ESTHER PEREL: It’s a tall order for a party of two.
LEWIS HOWES: It’s really challenging. So, I’m assuming—
ESTHER PEREL: It’s one person to give us what once an entire village used to provide, that’s what happens. You used to have a community, and the community had all kinds of people in there that gave you a sense of identity, a sense of meaning, a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose, all of this. And then you had a church, youu had a religious—you had the realm of the divine. The one and only was called God, not your lover. Now all of this has been siphoned into one relationship. So when you have an infidelity, it shatters the great ambition of love. Because what does it say? You’re not the one and only, you’re not the only one. You’re actually replaceable, you’re not really that unique. You’re not indispensable, and it breaks you. It’s a crisis of identity.
It used to always be painful, but it wasn’t a crisis of identity where people say, “Who am I? What am I?” This is not me, this isn’t my life. My whole life is a lie, this whole thing is a fraud. I can’t recognize myself or I can’t trust—not only I can’t trust you, but I can’t even trust my own perception. I have lost my own sense of orientation. It is a complete shattering of the self, and that has never been so acute. And it comes because we really talked. Once I find the one and I am your one, this is never meant to happen. We’ve been looking long enough. We’ve stalled marriage or whatever commitment 10 years later than we used to, by now when I pick you, we should be clear of all of this. This should not happen.
LEWIS HOWES: But it’s still happening more and more, it seems like today, right?
ESTHER PEREL: Look, it happens more and more primarily because women are closing the infidelity gender gap. Women, for the first time, have also the possibility to choose who they want to be with. They have [inaudible] for divorce, they do not risk being excommunicated from church, and they have some probably, in many quarters at least some form of economic independence that allows them to take care of themselves.
LEWIS HOWES: [inaudible] is in fear of making a mistake or whatever.
ESTHER PEREL: Of losing everything. They used to be the possession of men. Look, infidelity has been practically a license for men throughout history all over the world.
LEWIS HOWES: Because they’re going to have this power. They have the money, they have—
ESTHER PEREL: They have privilege, that’s it. Male privilege allowed them to do this almost with impunity. Then we had all kinds of theories that came to explain why men are natural roamers and they are the conquistadors and they’re not made for monogamy whereas women are made for monogamy. The theory suited the status quo of the power structure. But is that really the case? We don’t know if it really goes up, because it depends on the definition. What we do know is that when it comes to sex, men and women lie. Men lie by boasting, by exaggerating, by inflating because the social pressure for men has always been to pump themselves up as it comes to sex. And women lie by denying, by minimizing, and by underrepresenting because the pressure for women has always been to protect themselves and they need it to therefore…
LEWIS HOWES: Minimize it.
ESTHER PEREL: Minimize it. So we don’t have numbers, and the numbers go from 30 to 70%, depending on the definition.
LEWIS HOWES: What do you mean by that?
ESTHER PEREL: The numbers of people who cheat in the research.
LEWIS HOWES: 30% of women are you saying?
ESTHER PEREL: No, no. 30% of the gap between men and women today is 3, 4% it’s not much in this country.
LEWIS HOWES: Really? It’s pretty much the same.
ESTHER PEREL: In this country, yes. Maybe 6, 7% difference. It’s really minor, but the dangerous thing is depending on how you define it, you going from 30 to 70%. 90% of people would say that it’s terribly wrong to lie about cheating, and the same amount of people say that that’s exactly what they would do if they were on the other side. People are rather inconsistent about that stuff. What we know is it hurts like crazy. It’s a violation of trust, it’s a betrayal, and people need tools how to recover, how to heal, how to love again, and how to trust again. And we need to make better sense of why does this happen, why do people do it, what does it mean, etc.
LEWIS HOWES: If you’re advising someone that just got into a relationship in the last month or a recent relationship that they just got into and they’re watching or listening, would you advise them to have certain conversations early on once they realize they’re going to be committed to each other or give it a shot and be monogamous with each other? Would you tell them to start talking about these things, even when it’s the puppy love or it’s the romance time. Is that the time to talk about it?
ESTHER PEREL: That’s a fantastic question. Because in the beginning, you don’t want to talk about it because you don’t want to jinx it. And then you don’t want to talk about it because you didn’t talk about it before. And then you’re looking for the right moment to talk about it, and then when you bring it up later, the person says, “have you been thinking about this the whole time, have you done anything? So now I’m already suspicious. Why are you—“ Look, I think the simplest thing for the difficult conversations is to have them be integrated as part of the whole thing. When you talk about previous relationships, you ask. Have you been heartbroken? Have you ever left somebody in a shitty way? Have you ever lied to someone? Have you ever cheated on someone? Have you been cheated on? Have you ever made up with someone who cheated on you? Do you have trust issues in general? Because of your mother, because of your father, not even because of your own experiences.
Infidelity is a conversation like you talk about intimacy, like you talk about other relationships. I mean, if you grow in a business experience and you’re with a new partner, you probably would say, “What have been your experiences with other co-founders? What have been your other experiences with business partners? Have you had good experiences? Is this experience sitting on the top of a bad divorce from before? In general, whoever you choose next is always chosen by default in relation to the one that preceded. Anyway, so, it is right there. And then you say, ‘listen. This is not because I’m thinking about it or because I want to do it. It’s because I actually want to get to know you and I want you to get to know me.” That is a conversation, too. When you love, what is your experience about exclusivity?
Many people, the romantic idea makes that question forbidden because once I’ve found one and only, and that is the one for whom I’m willing to delete my apps and that is the one for whom I’ll stop my looking. You are now the person that has so captivated me that I stopped searching. That’s it, my fomo is taken care of. Doesn’t matter that there are another thousand people out there, you caught me. How am I going to then say to you, “You know what? On occasion, I still think about this one or that one or my ex. I have attractions.” This is normal. We choose not to act on them. Monogamy is a practice. It’s not a dogma, and it’s not natural. It’s a choice, it’s a practice that we exercise because we choose a certain relationship that we want to be in.
So I say, from the start, in an integrated—”no, we need to discuss [inaudible].” Isn’t it a normal question to ask to a new person, have you been heartbroken? That’s kind of a different way of saying, have you—and why? Have you ever dicked somebody around? Have you ghosted somebody? Have you been ghosted? Have you had somebody who just kind of—yesterday, I had a woman come to me at a conference and she says to me, “Do you think people can change?” I said, “How many times? You did it once, you did it six times, what’s the story?” She says, “It hasn’t stopped.” And I said, “Look, it’s eating you up at this point. I see you, and it’s not like I have to ask if I have questions. It’s eating you up alive. How long?” “Two years. But she has a child from a previous relationship,” and then she said, “he must be suffering from something.” I said, “Now you’re going to take care of him? On top of it you’re going to be the nurse? How about you take care of yourself for a minute? You’re about to have your self esteem crumble under you. At some point, you say no because it just is like saping your confidence.”
LEWIS HOWES: Or you accept it, and that’s your relationship, I guess. If that’s what you choose to be in.
ESTHER PEREL: If that’s what you choose, but she wouldn’t be coming to me to say…
LEWIS HOWES: She was heartbroken.
ESTHER PEREL: Because she couldn’t talk. When you see this, you know that you’re not with somebody who says, “I know my man. That’s the kind of guy he is. It doesn’t matter to me because I know I’m his queen.” Okay. But no, no. We’re in a complete different story here. She’s like aching.
LEWIS HOWES: So how does someone regain trust then, because we’re talking about this earlier. How do you regain trust and regain open communication if someone’s been unfaithful or just hurting them for a couple of years in their relationship and they feel like it’s not working?
ESTHER PEREL: You know, it’s interesting because you’re asking me this. And yet you, as an amazing role model, have spoken about some of your own experiences of abuse, so you know this question. How do you let someone touch you, come near you, not feel like they’re going to harm you? Understand the difference between caring touch and hurtful touch. Allowing yourself to experience pleasure again, allowing yourself to surrender without thinking that while you’re not on guard, nothing bad is going to happen.
LEWIS HOWES: That’s really challenging.
ESTHER PEREL: Right, but it’s that same trajectory. First of all, in this case, you’re a child versus adult, but you hope that it’s not because one person hurt you that you lose your faith in humanity. You hope that you know there are people who are not harmful, that they really are good people that care and love. You probably trust with your eyes more open. It doesn’t have the same naivety. And it depends if you’re asking me how do I trust you again after you have cheated on me, or how do I trust another people again? I think it’s two different stories.
LEWIS HOWES: What about the person you’re in a relationship with?
ESTHER PEREL: Look, it depends as well.
LEWIS HOWES: It’s hard to let go of stuff in the past, right?
ESTHER PEREL: So it depends how long is the past. If you and I have been together for two years and this just happened, it’s a different story than if you and I had been together for the past twenty years and we have a family and we have built a life and we have buried parents and we have birthed children and we have built homes and we have created jobs and we have a whole life together. In the midst of this, this experience happened. You, my woman, or my partner, male or female partner went out. And then, you kind of want to know, how did this happen? What happened to us? Where were we at? Is this related to the relationship?
I think the big distinction for me is to figure out what betrayals take place because the relationship had disintegrated in some way, or degraded. And which ones have nothing to do with the relationship. People who have been sick, people who are unemployed, people who have lost their sense of confidence, or people who have made a lot of money, suddenly the other way around. People who suddenly feel like they deserve something because in a way, when you allow yourself this experience is because you feel you deserve it. You justify it to yourself. You come up with good explanations for why you of all people can do this.
I need to understand what you were thinking about me while this was going on. Did you even think about me? Did you think what this would do to me or to our kids if we have kids. Did you feel guilty about it? Were you tortured in any way or did I disappear from your screen and you were so grandiose that I didn’t exist anymore? Did you want me to find out? Are you relieved that it’s come out? Do you actually want to come back, and are you coming back just because it’s convenient to you or are you choosing me again? I think the most important future in the trust is not only that you won’t do it again, but that you really are choosing to be with me again, and that you’re not just here because it suits you or because I make the money, or because we have a family.
LEWIS HOWES: Comfortable or whatever.
ESTHER PEREL: Because it’s comfortable. What I really want to trust is that you love me and you want to be with me. And not that you’re here while you’re thinking about the person there. That goes hand in hand with something else. I think that’s probably the most important thing about hurt and the breach of trust is I come to you and I say to you, “I’m really sorry.” That we know from any trauma that it’s the wrongdoer coming to acknowledge what they’ve done. If the perpetuator isn’t able to acknowledge it, and I’m not calling these “perpetuators,” but we know in the the experience that when you hurt someone, nothing helps you more than the person who hurt you to say to you, “I have remorse and I feel guilty for hurting you,” even if they don’t feel guilt about the experience of the affair itself.
Maybe you think that the affair was one of the greatest things that you have experienced in a long time. Or you’ve been a mother and a wife for the last seven years and you haven’t had a minute to think about yourself and you felt like you had completely died inside, and for the first time, you reconnect with your own sexuality and your aliveness and you remember that you’re more than just a mother and just a wife, for example. You may think, “This was really important to me,” but nevertheless, what it meant to you and what it does to your partner are two different things. So my acknowledging that remorse and that guilt is ascension.
LEWIS HOWES: It’s the first step.
ESTHER PEREL: First step. And that is very different from feeling shame. Because when I feel shame and I feel so bad about myself, I can’t believe I did this. There’s more self-involvement. It’s more about me.
LEWIS HOWES: Make it about me so you can say it’s okay or whatever.
ESTHER PEREL: I feel so bad about myself that I can’t feel bad for what I did to you, right? So I have no empathy. I still [inaudible] empathy. It’s like you need to be able to feel bad for making the other person feel bad, and that means that you can’t feel so bad about you because then it’s all about you. Big difference between shame and guilt. Guilt is a relational responsibility. Guilt is an accountability to the other. That’s the first one. And the second thing is that I’ve been become the vigilante of the relationship meaning that I, for a while, while you are asking me the same questions again and again because you’re trying to figure this out, because your whole reality has just been shattered. I am able to tell you “It’s okay, I am here, just keep asking. I’ll answer you.” I’m not going to say, “Come on, enough already. Haven’t we gone over this? Let’s move on, let’s move on. It’s over, don’t you see?” No, I cannot rush you. I have to give you the space to make sense, to be in your pain, to hurt, to get angry, to push me, to pull me until we slowly settle. And there is a period like that of that acute crisis that you just can’t push, you have to go through it. Because it is in the nature of the beast.
LEWIS HOWES: It’s a process.
ESTHER PEREL: It’s a process.
LEWIS HOWES: No one’s going to rationalize it right away and move on, it might take some time. Some people takes years, probably, that you’ve been working with where it takes years for them to fully trust again, right?
ESTHER PEREL: But you know, even when you say “fully trust,” trust for what? I saw this couple last week, I said, “You still leave with your children with him, you have your money together, you share a home together. While your mother was in the hospital in the last year, he continued to come see her every week. He still is paying for your alcoholic brother. You trust him for a lot of things. It’s not one big categorical. You don’t trust that he really has finished his story with this woman because you actually know that he fell in love with this woman, and you’re right not to trust him. You are right because he doesn’t trust himself yet. He is going to take some time to come back, and this is a very ambiguous period for the two of you where it’s very, very shaky, because you want him back but you know he’s not fully back and he wants to come back, but he knows that he’s not fully there. But you trust him for many other things, and you need to remember that, too. And it’ll take a few months. It’ll take a few months because he has made a decision, he wants to come back. He believes in what you’ve built together, but yes, for a moment, he was ready to go.”
LEWIS HOWES: Wow.
ESTHER PEREL: And my work is I hold this, I offer structure, calmness, reassurance, and I basically try to not make anybody make rash decisions because when your limbic system is hijacked, you better not make a decision about your life.
LEWIS HOWES: Should be emotional and it’s—
ESTHER PEREL: No, you’re just in [reptile?] mode.
LEWIS HOWES: Yeah. In your sessions, what do you find as the root of most divorces or breakups or separations? Is it infidelity or is it something else?
ESTHER PEREL: Infidelity is high up there. It’s high up there. But is it the consequence or is it the cause? That’s the question you want to ask. In some relationships, affairs are the death knell for a relationship that was already dying on the vine. But it was already dead. This was just the way out. And in other relationships, the affair actually is an alarm system that jolts people out of the state of complacency for the first time in a long time, they realize, “Oh my god, I better pay attention. I have so much to lose here.” So it can make it and it can break it. I think the biggest killer for relationships in general, it doesn’t matter if they’re short term or long term, is contempt. Contempt. You can have volatile relationships, that people scream, fight, but they make up and they know that fundamentally, they care deeply about each other. Contempt is a form of dehumanization, that’s the research of one of the big researchers on relationships, [inaudible] The 4 Horses of Apocalypse equals that. What is criticism?
LEWIS HOWES: 4 horses of what?
ESTHER PEREL: Apocalypse.
LEWIS HOWES: Apocalypse, got it.
ESTHER PEREL: Criticism, defensiveness, defensiveness, right? It’s like everytime I say something to you, you can’t just say, “It makes sense,” or “tell me more,” or “let me try to understand this.” “Yes, I’m really sorry.” “Yes, that is a bad habit of mine.” No, I constantly defend and counterattack and put it back on you. Criticism is I can’t just say, “I want you to do this.” It’s like, “You have to let this sit here again? It’s like you’re doing this on purpose, right? I have to tell you five times I don’t want that IPad on the table here.” What kind of a thing is this? This is just in spite. Can’t we just for something rather than make a judgment on the entire person? Because criticism is a veiled wish. Behind the criticism, there’s actually something I want from you, but I have a way of asking it in such way that guarantees I’m never going to get it.
LEWIS HOWES: Right, it’s passive-aggressive energy.
ESTHER PEREL: You can leave the passive out of it, it’s aggressive [inaudible]. I’m picking, I’m going after you. Because it’s less vulnerable than to put myself out there with a request and say, “You know, it would mean a lot to me when I ask you this that you would do this. Sometimes, I’ve already asked it to you like that twice or three times and I begin to get more and more upset.” By the time people come to me, they’ve often asked very nicely for years before. I don’t get to see that. Because usually, people come to the therapist late in the game. So defensiveness, criticism, stonewalling. Stonewalling, silent treatment. I talk to you, you look up. You’re somewhere else, I can’t get a response. You withdraw, you withhold, all of that. And contempt is that gaze, that face that just says, “Really?” You can with one facial expression, literally, reduce somebody to nothing. And I think that one is probably the end of the road.
LEWIS HOWES: Those are the four killers of the relationship.
ESTHER PEREL: Those are the four killers. But what people think they divorce for is that hey couldn’t communicate. But why didn’t they communicate is because they were doing one of these four things or they had arguments about money or they didn’t agree around the children or they had no sex or they had terrible sex. They think there’s a reason, there’s a topic, but in fact, the topic is less important than the way they were dealing with the topic. You have 2 kinds of couples. Those who are at each other like this in the negative space. They are high conflict or they are avoidant. Too much avoidance, that’s it. That’s like everybody’s gone off somewhere. And too much conflict is this: it’s escalation upon escalation. On these two axis since the death of a couple.
LEWIS HOWES: What’s the perfect relationship? A little bit of each other, a little bit of [inaudible].
ESTHER PEREL: Yes, yes. This. I mean, this conflict, you resolve it, you move again, you get close again. It’s a dynamic thing. Estrangement is like, “I don’t even know who’s living here.” When’s the last time you had a conversation about something? When’s the last time you touched each other? When’s the last time you looked into each other’s eyes? When’s the last time you talked about something else than what needs to be planned for tomorrow? It’s not always negative. It’s just the affection leaves, the warmth, the love, the aliveness, the vibrancy, it seeps out.
LEWIS HOWES: How important is touch, sex, hugging, kissing—how important is that for a thriving relationship? Because you hear about a lot of marriages like, “We have sex once a week, once a month, once every six months.” Are those dying if they’re not having that intimacy?
ESTHER PEREL: Intimacy and sex is not always the same. You can live without sex.
LEWIS HOWES: You can live without sex.
ESTHER PEREL: Yes, but you can’t live without touch. If you don’t get touched as a human being, you become irritable, aggressive, depressed. We know that children who are not touched have attachment disorders. We are people who feed on touch. Sex is a different thing because people have had sex, women have done sex with men as a marital duty for centuries and felt nothing. That doesn’t mean it’s a good experience. I don’t care about numbers, I don’t care about frequency, or numbers of orgasma or any of that. What you want is the quality of the experience, that’s the erotic. How fun is it? The pleasure? Pleasure is the measure, not the performance. That’s a great line of a wonderful author named Emily Nagoski.
I think touch is essential. Humor, touch, playfulness, an ongoing curiosity. An interest in who this other person is, what they’re about, what they’re thinking about. What they feel, what they look at, what interests them, what ticks them. Just that that you remain not just a function of a person who has a few jobs that you have to accomplish. Cuddling, skin to skin contact, looking into each other’s eyes, a smile, a moment where you stop and you just kind of take each other in. This is the lubricant of a relationship. The rest can be a good partnership. You can have good partnerships, you can have affectionate coupledom, and you can have relationships that are minimal on the sex because they lost the interest in that, because they have it somewhere else, because they are sick. There are all kinds of reasons, but it depends if one person really misses it.
If one person is longing for that kind of a connection and while the other one says, “If I never had it ever again, it would be fine.” Then you would pay attention, because the loss of the erotic is as real loss. It’s a loss not about sex, it’s about what sex gives you access to. For example, I know a lot of guys that I work with. If she says, all he wants is sex. Not all of them, but you will understand. And I know that’s not the point. I know that for this guy, sex is when he actually allows himself to be touched because he’s not necessarily a touchy guy outside. Sex is when he can be tender. And she says the only time he’s really intimate is in sex. And she says it often of from a place of, “I wish he was intimate with me at other times, too.”
Then it makes perfect sense. But I also know that this is a guy who probably was given the masculine code, your masculine code, in which tenderness, vulnerability, surrender, being taken care of, all of that has only one place where you can experience it and that’s in sex. Sex becomes the language, the gateway to all those other feelings that are not acknowledged in the male code, unless they’ve been sexualized. So of course he wants sex, but it’s not sex he wants. It’s all the other things that sex gives him access to. If he just wants to get laid, he can go and find that. What he wants is the connection with his partner, male or female.
LEWIS HOWES: Yeah, because he hasn’t been able to express that in other ways, or he doesn’t know how to.
ESTHER PEREL: He doesn’t know how to.
LEWIS HOWES: He doesn’t feel like he can, or it’s not manly enough or whatever.
ESTHER PEREL: That’s right. Sex is the way to experience all these things without feeling like a little boy. So in those situations, I would say, “Do you need sex to be in a good—” No, you don’t. But when it is part of your vocabulary, it’s like, “Do you need to eat certain things in order to—” No, you can live on a lot of things. It depends which is the life you want to lead. I am less interested in sex, the performance, that’s for sure. I am interested in the erotic connection, in the intimacy, in the pleasure that people can experience with each other. Getting it done is really not an important thing. You can have junkfood and you can have junk sex. And it leaves you with a bad aftertaste.
LEWIS HOWES: Very bad, yeah. Wow. In your sessions with couples, and mostly with couples or is it one of the pair? Is it mostly individuals or—
ESTHER PEREL: Both.
LEWIS HOWES: What is the percentage of male and female infidelity? Are you saying it’s pretty much 50/50 right now and both sides are doing it equally as much or is it [inaudible]?
ESTHER PEREL: I think the gap is closing. Everywhere you look, the gap is closing. And that means it’s not men who are doing more of it necessarily, but we know that women for the first time are leaving their home. They’re going to conferences, too, they have jobs away from home. You need to have a certain space away—that’s what he had. The thing that maybe we need to add [inaudible] because it needs to be said. When you have a conversation about infidelity, it sometimes looks as if you’re justifying it. You could be justifying it, and I think that understanding isn’t justifying.
LEWIS HOWES: Understanding isn’t justifying.
ESTHER PEREL: Yes. To try to understand something isn’t a way to make it right. And to not condemn something isn’t a way to condone it, because I think some of the people that are listening here need to be very clear on that. That we’re talking about it as if it’s a subject, same as when you talk about abuse. You talk about it like it becomes a subject of conversation while other people are aching in their belly.
LEWIS HOWES: Sure, sure. Wow.
ESTHER PEREL: I see couples, I see partners in the couple, one of them. And I see other partners, business partners who deal with betrayal, too. This is not the only betrayal. And people whose trust has been violated. So the themes like why did I want to write a book about infidelity because I think that you’ll learn about resilience and strength from looking at the worst experiences people can have. You learn about trust from studying betrayal, you learn about fidelity and loyalty from studying infidelity. You learn about how people recover by looking at what happens when they are in the worst of the crisis is that—and this is one of the many crisis that couples can experience.
LEWIS HOWES: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from researching and doing this work on this topic for the last few years? The biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself or about humanity in general?
ESTHER PEREL: The two things that I think that—actually, three things that probably stand out. One, I, too, for a long time thought affairs only happen in troubled relationships. If you have everything you want, there should be no reason to go looking elsewhere. Then I began to hear more and more people come into my office and say, “I love my partner, I’m having an affair.” In the same way that when I wrote Mating in Captivity, people would say, “I love my partner. We have no sex.” And I was like, “I thought if you love, you desire.” And now, “I thought if you love, you’re faithful.” So this idea that not all affairs are symptoms of relationships gone array that people in happy relationships also stray and it isn’t because of their partner or because of something in the relationship. That there is another theme here, that affairs, and this led me to the second thing, which is that you always have to look at infidelity from a dual perspective. At the heart of affairs is betrayal and hurt, but there is also longing. Longing for an emotional connection, longing for intensity, longing for a different sexuality, longing to reconnect with lost parts of ourselves. Longing to suddenly feel alive because people have allowed themselves to feel dead on the inside. That what it did to you, and what it meant to me that you have to be able to figure out both is a much more useful way to help people.
LEWIS HOWES: All those things you’re talking about, longing for desire, someone else, or a different experience, or something from the past, all those things you’re talking about, how do we get those things in our partner if we’re feeling those things that we’re missing?
ESTHER PEREL: Say that again.
LEWIS HOWES: Even if we love our partner, sometimes you’re just like, I love my partner but I feel like I’m missing these other things. How do we not miss those things or create those in our relationship?
ESTHER PEREL: You know how many times I say to people, tell me something. The person that is here in this other relationship, is that the one who comes home? I mean, the one that your partner—boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, is dealing with is not nearly as charming and as attentive. When you prepare your suitcase and you fly and you choose your carefully chosen clothes and you prepare yourself, you don’t bring work with you. But when you go home, you’re on your phone the whole time, you bring the leftovers, you’re not nearly that attentive, you’re way less is charming, your humor is gone, and then you tell me that your wife is boring or your husband is boring? And you? Who are you here versus who are you there? Not who are they, who are you? So that’s the first thing. It’s like what happened to you that you let this thing seep out of you, and what makes it difficult for you to bring this back into your own relationship?
LEWIS HOWES: Why is that?
ESTHER PEREL: Magical reasons why people neglect themselves in some way. Why is it that there you can be such a free woman, and here is this boyfriend of yours who think you hate sex, you have no interest, you are utterly frozen, and this one is the same woman. What happened? That’s the bigger lie. The bigger lie is not only that you’re having a lover. The bigger lie is that your husband, your boyfriend has no idea what’s the truth about you. Why? And then different stories. Sometimes it’s stories from childhood. “I have no idea how to bring that part of me in the context of family because family was the place where sexuality was the most dangerous so I had never known how to experience pleasure at home. Home was the place where I’m made sure to be safe. Pleasure, I took somewhere else.” Then you start to see the way that people have carved out and compartmentalized themselves and the reasons behind it. Now is real therapy work, that’s the difference. That’s when you start to really try to understand why can’t you integrate the different parts of you?
LEWIS HOWES: Is it kind of like the idea of always dating in your relationship, it’s like always trying to be your charming self and not forgetting it? How you got into the relationship, don’t forget that, is that kind of the concept or—
ESTHER PEREL: I don’t know if it’s always dating, but for sure, the couples that are erotic couples are couples who maintain a level of attention on each other. They don’t take each other for granted. They flirt, they ask physical, they continue to play with each other. They create desire. I mean, it doesn’t just stay. It is an amazing thing to see how attentive people are to their creative projects, to their artwork, to their businesses. Often rather neglectful, even a date night. It’s nice, but what do you bring to the date night?
LEWIS HOWES: [inaudible] emotions or is it [inaudible]?
ESTHER PEREL: Do you do something? Look, we know that if you do familiar activities with your partner, it’s very nice and it creates a real sense of comfort to go back into repeatings that you enjoy. But we know that if you want to bring excitement into a relationship, you need new experiences. You need to have this relationship be one in which you take yourself out of your comfort zone, in which you discover something, in which you explore travelling, but it doesn’t have to be just travelling by going abroad. It’s travelling, it’s taking yourself to new places, to new experiences with each other, to new threshold. All the research backs that up. It also builds testosterone for that matter. Novelty breeds testosterone. That’s the work of Helen Fisher.
If you look at it metaphorically or biologically, it makes all sense in the world. Growth involves exploration, involves curiosity, involves discovery. We know it, and it involves risk-taking. We know it in business and it is no different in the relationship—in the business of intimacy, if you want to call it like that. Do you do any of these things?
LEWIS HOWES: Of course, yeah. We do it, for sure. And if we’re not, my girlfriend always reminds me like, “Let’s go try something new.” If it’s been like a week or two where we’ve kind of been doing the same thing, just like going to the movie or the same place to eat. She’s like, “Let’s go try something new.” And I’m like, “Yeah, we need to.” She’s actually good at that because sometimes, I can just be focused on my vision and my work and just like not stop. It’s comfortable to just do the same thing and not have to think about creating something new. But I could see a difference in that creativity and that uniqueness when we go do something different as opposed to the same thing. I can feel the desire and curiosity and testosterone.
ESTHER PEREL: And then you say thank you. I mean, one person says, “It’s so nice.” I mean, I wouldn’t have thought about it. I love it when you take me, you remind me. And then I don’t mind doing it if I feel appreciated for it because then okay, it became my role. For some reason, I have more availability in my headspace to think about those things. As long as I know that you really appreciate it, that you value this, that you’re coming along not to just doing me a favour, then I’ll come up with more and more ideas, and I would keep this going for years. We study erotic couples. It’s not an unknown. We know that there are people who maintain a certain spark, and it has nothing to do with how often they make love. But they are engaged with each other, they enjoy each other’s company after decades. They still find each other interesting. They’re not bored.
LEWIS HOWES: What else should we know about this?
ESTHER PEREL: I wanted to say one other thing that I had discovered that to me was really important because it is not getting enough attention these days. Everything these days is about you make it or you break it, you end. It’s not good, you leave. You can do better, you leave. You’re not happy or you could be happier, you leave. And I think that the people who actually want to stay after an infidelity in their relationship are often judged and looked down upon. “What’s wrong with you? You let him walk all over you, you let her boss you around.”
LEWIS HOWES: That’s scary, too. It’s kind of like your friends are constantly pressuring you, “You can do better.”
ESTHER PEREL: You don’t even tell them. The majority of people I meet won’t tell their friends.
LEWIS HOWES: They feel guilty or they feel like weak or whatever.
ESTHER PEREL: They feel judged, yes. Yes. You dumped the dog on the curve.
LEWIS HOWES: Forget everything that happened. Put five years of the relationship—
ESTHER PEREL: That’s right. Three, five, or twenty five, out. And I think sometimes out is what needs to happen. But sometimes, this happens in a good relationship, and it happened. And we need to know what to do when it happens, but just to judge people and shame them for staying isn’t fair.
LEWIS HOWES: It’s not good.
ESTHER PEREL: It’s not right. And I think it really is not giving relationships the credit they deserve.
LEWIS HOWES: Because they’re not perfect.
ESTHER PEREL: Because they’re not perfect. And you know what? Sometimes what comes afterwards is going to be even better than what was before.
LEWIS HOWES: The wakeup call.
ESTHER PEREL: It’s the wakeup call. Like when you have an illness, it gives you a new perspective on life. Do I recommend you to get sick? No. But do I accept that sometimes out of that crisis, you will actually reprioritize your life and live with a different level of honesty and authenticity? The same happens in a relationship.
LEWIS HOWES: You’ve seen this with couples you’ve worked with?
ESTHER PEREL: Again and again, but you have to believe in the strength of people to actually take this, learn from it, resuscitate, and revitalize.
LEWIS HOWES: Yeah. So if you are the friend of someone who went through infidelity or has a girlfriend or boyfriend cheated on them and you’re hearing this as the friend, how do you create a space for your friend who went through this to make sure that you’re—I don’t know, you’re giving tough love like, “Okay, let’s make sure this doesn’t happen over and over,” or what’s the structure they can give if they can’t hire you or a therapist?
ESTHER PEREL: I think it’s a great question because so many of us have been that friend. And the first thing that I say to the friend is “try as best as you can not to insert yourself in the story.” It’s not about you and what happened to you and what your mother did to your father or your father did to your mother and therefore what your girlfriend needs to do. Try to create a space, it’s exactly that.” If you have a girlfriend and every time, this is now three times in a row, she finds herself with a guy who treats her like shit, you really do want to tell her, “This is not okay.” And you want to help her pull out.
But if you are with a girl friend or a male friend and they have been together for 12 years and you know that these people have really been good together and they’ve build a lot of things together. Tell her, “Figure it out. I’m here for you. I have no idea what’s the right thing for you. I’m here to hold you when you doubt yourself, I’m here to remind you that you are more than just the person that just has been shafted and betrayed. I’m here to give you back your sense of value when you think you have been completely devalued and pushed aside. I’m here to tell you that you’re beautiful when you think are not beautiful enough anymore. I’m going to hold the other view of you that you don’t have in this moment because you’re so low. That’s my role as a friend, not to tell you ‘do this’ or ‘do that,’ and judge you.” I mean, the amount of people I’ve seen who said my best friend doesn’t talk to me anymore because I’ve decided to stay. And why? “Not because I think he’s such a great man or such a great woman. We have four children, my mother is dying. I haven’t worked in twenty years…”
LEWIS HOWES: We have a business together.
ESTHER PEREL: We have a business together. There are other considerations here and I’m not ready to walk out on all of this. Even if it’s not for the quality of my relationship, but it’s because my relationship is the nexus which so many other parts of my life depend upon, and I’m not willing to let all of that go at this point. Who are we to say? So it’s a very delicate thing when to leave, when to stay, when to try again, when to give up, when to accept finally that this is never going to change, when to know. I think it’s different when you’re with a chronic philanderer and when you’re with the person who you know for years before that none of this happened. And what was going on? And where is the shared responsibility for the deterioration of the relationship as well? Is there things that we colluded on together? But as a friend, you really want to be there to give people back their sense of self-worth at the moment when they feel like it’s been sucked out of them, more than to tell them.
LEWIS HOWES: Leave.
ESTHER PEREL: Put the clothes on the street.
LEWIS HOWES: Kick them out.
ESTHER PEREL: Kick them out, kick her out. Because the fear of staying, the shame of staying is even worse on men.
LEWIS HOWES: Oh my gosh. Oh, really? So if men get—
ESTHER PEREL: Because we understand that women, historically, are used to be cheated on. Therefore, they need to go now because they finally have the choice to do and the possibility to go, but the guy who stays? What kind of a man are you?
LEWIS HOWES: Weak.
ESTHER PEREL: He instantly gets emasculated. He’s weak, he lets her walk all over him, he has no balls. I mean, his entire masculinity is instantly put on the line. And even more so when you go to Latin cultures and more traditional cultures. There it’s like, horns don’t exist on a woman.
LEWIS HOWES: Right, so how would a guy friend support the guy who got cheated on?
ESTHER PEREL: You don’t start trashing the partner right away. That’s the first thing. On neither side. Because if I start trashing your girlfriend, look at her, what the—what are you going to do? You’re going to defend her. You’re going to end up defending her because—
LEWIS HOWES: “She’s not that bad, it’s—”
ESTHER PEREL: Instead of you being angry at her, I am now [inaudible] as if it happened to me, I’m even more angry than you. So now you’re caught in a triangle. I just need to say, “Look, man, this is horrible. This sucks. What happened there? Do you think you’ve been good to her? Do you think she had reasons to? Before you start cursing her, maybe we check a little bit on here for the moment, too. You know what, it looks like she’s not really into you. Or she has issues, or maybe she doesn’t love you anymore, but you’ve made it impossible for her to go because you have this business together and you basically told her that she won’t get a penny when she goes.” If you love someone, set them free. If they love you, they’ll come back.
LEWIS HOWES: I got chills like the last five minutes because I think that’s actually the most powerful part of this is having that conversation of what to talk to when your friend goes through this because I think we experience that a lot in relationships where someone gets broken up with. I hear about it—my friends and I will be quick to be like, “Leave that person, quickly.” So that was important for me to hear and I think for a lot of people to hear.
So if you have someone in your life who has gone through this, send them this or send their friends this so they can hear how to approach that and create the space, because I think that’s going to be huge for a lot of people, especially the women, I think. They’re constantly hearing these things if the guy’s cheating on them or whatever, and it’s like quick to leave the guy. So i thought that was powerful, thank you. Is there anything else—
ESTHER PEREL: I could speak for two hours about what friends can say because every friend is in that situation. What I know is I can’t tell you how many people come to say, I can’t talk to my friends about [inaudible].”
LEWIS HOWES: You can talk to anyone. My family has already [inaudible]
ESTHER PEREL: [inaudible] double secret.
LEWIS HOWES: Oh my gosh.
ESTHER PEREL: [inaudible] double secret because now, I have the secret of what you did to me, and now, the secret of not being able to—
LEWIS HOWES: Share it with anyone, which is suffering [inaudible]
ESTHER PEREL: She is not allowed, she can’t come to this house anymore, and I see the people. Now they’re caught between—”my parents didn’t want me to marry him,” “my parents didn’t want me to marry her.” Now I have to go and say you were right, as if this means that they were right. 15 years later [inaudible] sometimes.
LEWIS HOWES: Oh my gosh.
ESTHER PEREL: And people are caught like this, and friendship is not really—on occasion, you really say, “Come to my couch. You can’t think at this point, you should not be in the house. Stay on the couch, stay a few days.” Just open your house. Cook, take them out, distract them, remind them that they are more than just what has happened to them. You do that, people will come to tap into their own resources and their own resilience. They have the strength to go through it. And then you just say, “Sometimes, it takes a few weeks to find out if you want to leave, if you want to stay, what you’re going to do.” Let them land, don’t just instantly—
LEWIS HOWES: Don’t make the decision for them.
ESTHER PEREL: Don’t make the decision for them because you don’t have to live with the consequences, you don’t. And people have financial issues and money issues are really complicated and children things are complicated and extended families are complicated. A marriage is not just two people, it’s a whole network. When you dissolve the relationship, you dissolve a whole life. And none of the friends have to go through this, but I don’t want to see a victim. I don’t want to be a friend of a victim. Maybe the person, he’s not necessarily just the victim. The person has gone through a real rough experience. And it depends if there is STDs involved, it depends if there are other children involved.
LEWIS HOWES: A lot of this [inaudible]
ESTHER PEREL: Stop a second, give people the space, and be there for them, and ask them, “What do you need? Do you need me to help you stay? Do you need me to help you leave? Do you need me to just be here for you and shut up? Do you need me to go and just walk in nature in silence and just remind you that you’re not alone? You’re not alone. I’m here for you.” That is the most important thing a friend offers.
LEWIS HOWES: Make sure you guys get the book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, it’s out right now. Go check it out. There’s going to be a lot more about how to address infidelity in your life, how to think about it, how to talk to your friends about it who have gone through this, plus you have a lot of exercises throughout the book, questions you should be asking your partners. Some of the things we’ve talked about
ESTHER PEREL: It’s based on hundreds and hundreds of stories. So people that I’ve seen, it has every [reputation?] of the experience. There is not a person who won’t recognize something about themselves in there, even if you haven’t gone through the experience. It’s a book about relationships in the end. Today I was talking to someone that’s married ten years, she says to me, “I have never gone through this, but I really felt like it’s telling me everything I should pay attention to to have a thriving relationship, to actually make that not happen to me.”
LEWIS HOWES: To avoid it.
ESTHER PEREL: To avoid it.
LEWIS HOWES: [inaudible] happened [inaudible] what to to do but how to avoid.
ESTHER PEREL: I use this experience to dive into all kinds of things. We talk about jealousy, we talk about vengeance, we talk about sex, we talk about monogamy, we talk about heartbreak, we talk about shitty things people do to each other, we talk about guilt, we talk about being accountable and not ghosting each other in [inaudible] ways. It really covers, actually—love is messy, and infidelity, even more so.
LEWIS HOWES: Wow. Make sure you guys get it. You can go to estherperel.com as well to learn more about all your programs—the book is on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, everywhere else. The State of Affairs.
ESTHER PEREL: And the podcast, I think you [inaudible] mentioned.
LEWIS HOWES: Oh, yes, and the podcast. On Audible, right?
ESTHER PEREL: Well, it goes out on iTunes the same day as [inaudible]
LEWIS HOWES: So the podcast is fascinating because—and what it’s called?
ESTHER PEREL: Where Should We Begin?
LEWIS HOWES: Where Should We Begin? Download the podcast. I think it’s had over 6 million downloads on Audible already, and it’s coming out on iTunes right now. Download it because it’s sessions where you do two or three hour sessions with another couple.
ESTHER PEREL: Edited, in a half hour.
LEWIS HOWES: So the half hour podcast sessions where you did three-hour sessions with couples who are anonymous. Their names are anonymous.
ESTHER PEREL: But real life, unscripted sessions. You just enter in the midst and you get to watch and listen and actually realize that you’re in front of the view on mirror.
LEWIS HOWES: I haven’t listened to it yet, so I’m excited to check that out. I’m very excited.
ESTHER PEREL: To listen with your girlfriend.
LEWIS HOWES: Sure. Of course.
ESTHER PEREL: I’m telling you, you drive, you listen with her.
LEWIS HOWES: It could be powerful.
ESTHER PEREL: It’s very powerful because it gives you the conversations that you want to have.
LEWIS HOWES: Amazing, so make sure you guys get that. Also at the end of this, there’s going to be information afterwards about how you can get a free copy of Esther’s book because I bought a bunch of them, so we’re going to be doing a little special package. So stay tuned on that information at the very end. I want to ask you a couple final questions. I think I asked you the last time, but I’m going to ask you again. This is called The Three Truths. So if this was the last day for you many years from now and you’ve achieved everything you’ve ever wanted to achieve. You’ve written all the books, podcast, videos, speeches, and yet for whatever reason, it was all erased. All your content was gone and you had a piece of paper and a pen to write down three things you need to be true about all the experiences in your life. These lessons would be all what people have to remember of you. What would you say are your three truths?
ESTHER PEREL: Oh, I would love one of them to include all the people who think their lives have been changed by working with me, reading me, interacting with me. For whom I really—when people come to tell me that today, I just think, “If one day I die and a lot of people walk around this planet and just say, ‘She changed my life because I was stuck or she saved my marriage—’” I went dancing recently and these people just literally showed up on the pier and just like, “You don’t know us but you’ve changed our marriage, you’ve changed our life. And I’m like, [gasps].
LEWIS HOWES: That’s great.
ESTHER PEREL: That, that would be one.
LEWIS HOWES: What about lessons you would share with the world? Like three lessons?
ESTHER PEREL: Lessons I would share.
LEWIS HOWES: From your life experience.
ESTHER PEREL: Yes, yes, yes. You judge people by their actions. That’s one [inaudible] how decent are they, and that has very little do with how much money they have, how much dedication, or which political party they belong to. It’s really the kindness of strangers. You have no idea who can one day be the one who shows up for you. It’s just the humanity, it’s not what they stand for and represent. That to me is probably one of the most important—it changes every time you look at people. It keeps you open and curious because you have no idea. They may look like whatever and—that’s one, Know where you come from. Always remember where you come from. Doesn’t mean that you stay stuck there, but it is the source. We only have one source, each and everyone of us. And never forget that identity. And have your loved ones at least.
LEWIS HOWES: Loved ones at least.
ESTHER PEREL: You need to at least have loved ones. I think everybody should know that experience. Everybody shouldn’t have had children. Not everybody needs to have children, but everybody should have loved ones.
LEWIS HOWES: Sure, sure. Those are great. Before I ask the final question, I want to acknowledge you, Esther, for being an incredible gift to humanity and helping so many people through hurt, pain, confusion, heartache, create healing within themselves and in their hearts, and mend certain relationships, especially the relationships with themselves. I want to acknowledge you for the consistent work you’ve been doing for decades in helping humanity.
ESTHER PEREL: Thank you so much.
LEWIS HOWES: Final question is what’s your definition of greatness?
ESTHER PEREL: Oohh. God. To have a full life. To have a full life. Whatever it means. For me, it means fun and interesting things and creativity and enough money to do what I want and a robust group of friends and a great relationship with my son and with my husband. I mean, full. Just to feel like—you [inaudible]. If you [inaudible] life in which you feel [inaudible], to me anyway, then feel like I have greatness. But I could answer this ten different ways. It’s a great word because you can apply greatness to everything. Today, at this particular minute, that’s what came out.
LEWIS HOWES: Esther, thank you so much. I appreciate you.
ESTHER PEREL: Thank you, it’s a pleasure.
LEWIS HOWES: There you have it, my friends. I hope you enjoyed this one. Again, share this with your friends. Take a screenshot right now, post it on Instagram story, post it on your page, on Twitter or Facebook. The link is lewishowes.com/548. The full video is over there, the interview, it’s powerful. Go watch it. Check out the resources. If you want to get a copy of her book, all you need to do is get two copies of my book, The Mask of Masculinity, and upload your receipt at lewishowes.com/esther. I’m going to ship you a physical copy of her book as well. Make sure to follow through the instructions on that page. I think the first 150 people so if you’re able to go to that page and it still works for you, then we’ll ship you a book. Again, lewishowes.com/esther. Go get my book right now and we’ll send you a copy of hers.
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You were born to experience incredible love, you were born to experience incredible dreams and desire. Continue each day listening to that thing in your heart that beats, that gets excited about something. Keep leaning into that thing. You’re here for a reason, it’s your duty to figure out what that reason is every single day. Continue to live with gratitude, continue to grow, and continue to give back. I love you so very much, thank you so much for being here and be a part of this mission of inspiring greatness in the world. You know what time it is, it’s time to go out there and do something great.