couples

6 pieces of relationship advice from Esther Perel you definitely, maybe need right now.

Let’s just jump right into it. How’s your relationship going? Honestly. How’s it really going?

Like almost every other aspect of our lives, it’s highly likely the coronavirus pandemic is having an impact on your relationship. Whether you’ve been together for five years or have five kids, or have been dating for five months or five weeks, anyone in any sort of relationship is experiencing some degree of change right now.

The good, the bad and the I’d like a divorce.

WATCH: Here’s how the different star signs are tackling isolation homeschooling in lockdown, is yours accurate? Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia

It’s for this reason there’s no better time to heed the sound and extremely wise advice of Esther Perel, one of the most respected and recognised experts on modern relationships of our time. The Belgian psychotherapist has written best-selling books about sexy topics like intimacy and erotic intelligence, has a number one relationships podcast called Where Should We Begin and has done countless TED Talks and interviews about how to have a good relationship.

Simply put: she’s the woman you want to listen to if you’re having relationship issues.

So, what better time to revisit Perel’s very best pieces of relationship advice than now? Some come from new interviews she’s done about surviving what’s been called the “greatest challenges to romantic relationships in modern history” (yeah). Others are pearls of wisdom that remain relevant and helpful, even today.

1. Know that COVID-19 is the great relationship accelerator.

In a recent segment on the Pivot podcast, Perel describes COVID-19 as being the great relationship accelerator.

“Disasters generally operate as an accelerator in a relationship. It means that life is short, mortality is hitting you,” she says

“It’s like in the shadow right here. And then either people say, ‘Life is short, let’s get married, let’s have babies. What are we waiting for?’ Or on the other side, ‘Life is short. I’ve waited long enough, I’m out of here’.”

ADVERTISEMENT

What that means is – living in isolation with your partner day in and day out will likely make what you currently have better and stronger, or be the death of it. And it’s proven because as Perel explains, in history there’s been “a spike in divorce and a spike in marriage and babies that follows disasters.”

We discussed Perel’s idea of COVID-19 being the great relationship accelerator in this episode of the Mamamia Out Loud podcast below. Post continues after audio.

2. Talk about your grief.

In these times, Perel points out grief is not just about death in the physical sense. It’s also about the death of small things we used to do and the little joys we once enjoyed. Things like visiting family, travelling, going out for dinner or hugging a friend.

The other thing about COVID-19 grief is it hits all of us at different times and with varying strength. When two people in a relationship grieve for and perceive a situation differently, it causes friction, which causes arguments, which causes resentment.

“It’s tempting to stay focused on the practical stuff, but it’s much deeper when you engage with people in a conversation about loss and grief,” Perel tells Pivot.

“In the process of grief you have different stages and different ways that people react. It’s like being in the beginning of a horror film where the characters have all been set up, but the action is yet to start or it’s just starting slowly and you know that you’re going to get really, really scared. We know it, but the level, the frequency and the intensity at which we’re experiencing this right now is different for everyone.”

The solution is… communication. Yep, that old chestnut.

3. People deal with stuff differently. Doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

When it comes to relationships, Perel says we all have different ways of dealing with challenges (which in this case is coronavirus).

For example, how do you approach information in a crisis – do you want to know everything, all the time, or do you prefer to put boundaries around your news consumption? And is COVID-19 and restructuring your life around it consuming you, or are you focused on maintaining a somewhat ‘normal’ life? You and your partner might be approaching the pandemic differently, but different doesn’t mean wrong.

In an interview with The New York Times, Perel says, “Some move through the world when disaster strikes in a way that’s structured, purposeful and proactive. Your partner may be more passive or fatalistic. If you polarise and you think that there’s only one way to do things… it’s fake certainty. The whole point is that you’re discovering it along the way.”

ADVERTISEMENT

4. Fix the sex and your relationship will transform.

This is one of Perel’s most controversial pieces of relationship advice, and it formed the basis of her best-selling book Mating in Captivity. What makes it ‘controversial’ is, it’s the opposite of what we’ve always been told. Over the years, many have believed if you fix the relationship through therapy, then the sex will fix itself. Perel disagrees, and now is as good a time as any to take in her words.

“I worked with so many couples that improved dramatically in the kitchen, and it did nothing for the bedroom. But if you fix the sex, the relationship transforms. People have known love forever, but it never existed in the context of the same relationship where you have to have a family and obligations,” she says.

“Reconciling security and adventure, or love and desire, or connection and separateness, is not something you solve with Victoria’s Secret. And there is no Victor’s Secret. This is a more complicated existential dilemma. Reconciling the erotic and the domestic is not a problem that you solve. It is a paradox that you manage.”

ADVERTISEMENT

5. Women are not less interested in sex than men, they’re less interested in the sex they can have.

This one’s especially relevant in the time of coronavirus with kids needing to be homeschooled and couples spending more time together at home.

Perel tells The Guardian women, in particular, don’t want sex any less than men, but what makes her lose interest? “Domesticity. Motherhood.”

“The mother thinks about others the whole time. The mother is not busy focusing on herself. In order to be turned on you have to be focused on yourself in the most basic way. The same woman who’s numb in the house gets turned on when she leaves. She doesn’t need hormones. Change the story.”

In other words: if you want to have more sex, share the domestic load at home, if possible.

6. If you want to be right, you’ll be alone.

Another timeless piece of wisdom from Perel answers one of the most common relationship questions: how do you fight fair, or make arguments more constructive? Her answer involves asking another question.

“I often ask the question: ‘Do you want to be right?’. It’s not difficult to be right, but you will be right and alone. You come in thinking one way and you leave thinking the same way. Nothing has changed and you’ve not learnt anything,” she tells Elle UK.

“It’s natural that people argue. It’s part of intimacy. But you have to have a good system of repair. You need to be able to go back, if you’ve lost it, which happens, and say ‘I bought in my dirty tricks, I’m sorry’, or ‘You know what, I realised I didn’t hear a single word you said because I was so upset, can we talk about it again?’”

And if you find you and your partner are having the same argument in isolation over and over again, Perel says you have to be the one to change it.

“If you want to change the other person, you have to change yourself. A conversation is a set of intersecting loops – if you do this, the other person will do that – typically when we argue we will end up making the other person say and do the very thing we expect, even though it’s the thing we don’t want them to do.”

“When you change your input, and do so consistently, there’s no way that the other one can continuously go on with that they’ve been doing.”

If you’re after more relationship advice from Esther Perel, you can listen to her full interview with Mia Freedman on the No Filter podcast below. Good luck!

Feature image: Getty.

How is your relationship going in isolation? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

00:00 / ???