Renowned couples therapist and TED speaker Esther Perel is the best-selling author of Mating in Captivity and the host of top Audible original series Where Should We Begin? Her newest book, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, publishes in October 2017. Her exclusive mbg class, The Essential Guide to Sparking Your Erotic Intelligence, will help you create the relationship you’ve always wanted and take your sex life to a whole new level. (This piece originally appeared on EstherPerel.com.)
Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. Stories of affairs have consumed, captivated, terrified, and titillated us throughout history.
Beyond the voyeurism of these public celebrity affairs, every day I work with couples who have been devastated by infidelity. Despite how common affairs are, the intensity of reactions that surround the topic of infidelity stands in the way of understanding, repair, and resilience —all elements that are crucial to the vitality of a relationship.
I knew that my new book, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, would be met with strong reactions on all sides. So why step into the fire?
When discussing the dilemmas of desire analyzed in my first book, Mating in Captivity, the conversation almost always led to a conversation about what happens when desire goes looking elsewhere—no matter where I was in the world. The prevailing questions that people asked were about infidelity. Many people struggle with the specter, the reality, or the aftermath of an affair, yet the subject remains taboo.
I knew that I had more to say on the subject. Why? Because I believe we need to have a new conversation about affairs in order to transform our relationships.
I believe that the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives. And affairs shed light on our expectations and desires—what we want and what we feel entitled to want. By understanding the very things that threaten our relationships, like infidelity, lying, betrayal, and breaches of trust, we can build stronger relationships.
The crisis of an affair, like many other life crises, propels us into the essence of things. It’s often the first time that couples broach conversations they’ve avoided for years. Conversations about unmet needs, longings, frustrations, and loneliness that in hindsight, people wish they had engaged in much earlier in their relationships.
I urge you to engage in these important conversations, regardless of where you are in the journey of your relationship.
As tempting as it is to reduce affairs to sex and lies, I prefer to use infidelity as a portal into the complex landscape of relationships and the boundaries we draw to bind them. Infidelity brings us face-to-face with the volatile and opposing forces of passion: the lure, the lust, the urgency, the love and its impossibility, the relief, the entrapment, the guilt, the heartbreak, the sinfulness, the surveillance, the madness of suspicion, the murderous urge to get even, the tragic denouement.
Be forewarned: Addressing these issues requires a willingness to descend into a labyrinth of irrational forces. Love is messy; infidelity more so. But it is also a window, like none other, into the crevices of the human heart.
Want more insight into your relationships? Find out the two types of passion (and which one is good for your sex life), then learn what the number of sexual partners you've had actually says about you.