In a new interview with The New Yorker, psychotherapist and podcaster Esther Perel shared the secrets to a functioning marriage, what kinds of problems couples bring to her office, and how our expectations for marriage far exceed the institution’s original, intended purpose.
Perel, who hosts a couples therapy podcast titled Where Should We Begin?, tells New Yorker staff writer Alexandra Schwartz that the idea that you should be happy with your marriage and with your husband or wife is a relatively recent invention:
[N]ever in the history of family life was the emotional well-being of the couple relevant to the survival of the family. The couple could be miserable for thirty years, you were stuck for life, you married once—and, if you didn’t like it, you could hope for an early death of your partner.
Yes. Go on.
Marriage was a pragmatic institution. You need to have it, but, once you’re in it, it’s not a great thing, and certainly not for the women.
Marriages survived because they had to—because that’s simply what marriages did. But now that these relationships are “an aggregate of multiple narratives,” i.e., now that woman feel more comfortable saying “but what about meeee,” you actually have to do shit like communicate needs and negotiate boundaries.
[W]hat used to be defined by rules and duty and obligation now has to take place in conversation. And so everything is a freakin’ negotiation! You negotiate with your partner about what matters, where you want to live, if you want to have children, how many children do you want to have, if this is the right time to have children. It’s an absolute existential smorgasbord. But at the same time it’s very difficult to have to define everything ourselves. We are not just in pain for no reason, is what I’m trying to say.
In order for a couple to move forward, rather than stay “stuck” in “the same thing over and over again,” they must be flexible and adaptable, “so that these two people can engage in multiple different configurations with each other, and not just all the same thing,” says Perel. This seems like very good advice. I have nothing snarky to add to it, that which I have aggregated.
Read the rest of Parel’s interview on The New Yorker’s website.