Why 90% of relationships don’t last

By Esther Perel

Rough transcript of Esther Perel video: Why 90% of relationships don’t last

We tend to think, once we commit, that you are mine. You’re my property.

We buy into all the romantic books, songs and movies that feed us to have a romantic possessiveness and this has often led us astray.  The verb for love is to have. The verb for desire is to want and to want something sometimes requires us to have a little bit of a psychological distance from it.  In order to get a sense of otherness to see that there is a bridge to cross, something or someone to visit, on the other side.  That longing, the space between us, is where the erotic tension lies.

The erotic longing between us.

I began to think about this dialectic, this distinction between closeness and space.  In terms of love and desire the question that I would ask my clients to complete: “I am most drawn to my partner when…”

For distinction, I would mean just more drawn to, not sexually attracted to.  The most common response would be; I’m most drawn to my partner when he or she radiates. Radiating being the best word for it. The other word for it, is confidence, but it’s a type of confidence with illumination.

I am looking at this person who is already so familiar to me and yet is momentarily, once again somewhat unknown, somewhat mysterious, somewhat elusive to me and it is in this space, this unknown mysterious place between me and the other lies this erotic longing.  

What is generally become known and ‘boring’ becomes momentarily, once again, somewhat unknown. It allows me to explore, become aware of something new and first and foremost be curious. 

Something new and unknown.

The essential experience that comes with desire is curiosity.  The second one is when we’ve been apart.  What happens is that we get to connect with the other dimension of desire, which is that it is also rooted in longing and in absence.

There is something about not having that allows us to want more. Not just because we want what we can’t have, but because when we don’t have it, right in front of us, it allows us to engage our imagination about not only what it is, but what it means to us, or what this person means to us, represents for us and who we are in their presence. 

When I’m surprised for the sake of being surprised, I am drawn to my partner.  When he is vulnerable and it’s not typically what I see, or I’m surprised because I see you do something that you don’t usually do, or I’m surprised because you come to me with a different tone that you usually do.  Surprise breeds novelty, change, difference that too is a ferment of the desire. 

Don’t belong to me.

And when I see my partner in the eyes of the others, when other people are taken by his or her intelligence, their words, their charm, their weight, their humour, their looks, basically when I experience in the moment that my partner doesn’t just exist in my own gaze but also exists in the gaze of others and they don’t belong to me. I don’t own them.  Can we want what we already have is best answered if we accept that we never have the person who is next to us.  They have never belonged to us.  They are actually free to go.  Of course we can control them we can lock them up, we can create a system of surveillance but that’s not intimacy or closeness.

See more amazing articles by Esther Perel