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The case against Esther Perel - why?

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 Repossessed (original poster member #79544) posted at 11:43 PM on Sunday, November 21st, 2021

Been watching some Esther Perel of late and from reading here awhile I get that she's not popular in this community. I've read infidelity apologist and the like. However, my takeaway has been her explanations of the cheaters' why's to fill in the gaps in understanding. I've heard her give the nod to trauma caused the betrayed, and further explain the why's of it in the context of how marriage has evolved from something formerly contractual to expectations of a partner that now "completes me."

I've not actually heard her defend the cheater, and I just wonder what it is I've missed.

Here to keep myself mindful that I don't always see what actually is. I certainly didn't when I married her.

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This0is0Fine ( member #72277) posted at 3:37 AM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

She takes the "why's" from cheaters at face value. This turns to a subtle form of blame shifting. An endorsement of unmet needs fallacy almost completely.

She does give a nod to trauma but also indicates she thinks of it as a western overreaction. If we would just accept cheating like in Europe or other cultures it wouldn't be traumatic. Once again subtly suggesting the betrayed is the one holding themself in pain if they do so. They just need to shift their way of thinking.

She also suggests cheating can be a door to a healthy open relationship. This is basically untrue.

That said she makes some ok points in terms of pointing out happy marriages are vulnerable to infidelity, and that the growth you might have in R is like the growth you might have by fighting cancer. She wouldn't wish infidelity or cancer on anyone but getting through it can make you stronger as a person.

It isn't good for BS to read early on because it will play into blameshifting, minimization, and encourage rugsweeping (since she does very little coverage of how to repair) while giving the WS a "see I'm not so bad" narrative to stick to.

[This message edited by This0is0Fine at 3:41 AM, Monday, November 22nd]

Love is not a measure of capacity for pain you are willing to endure for your partner.

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 Repossessed (original poster member #79544) posted at 3:47 AM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

Interesting, I didn't catch or interpret any of what you say in the talks/interviews I've seen her in. Maybe I've not seen enough of her. Guess I'll watch a little more to try and pull some of that out.

Here to keep myself mindful that I don't always see what actually is. I certainly didn't when I married her.

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This0is0Fine ( member #72277) posted at 3:57 AM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

I've read "State of Affairs" and "Mating in Captivity". Have only watched one of her TED talks which was basically the intro to State of Affairs.

Love is not a measure of capacity for pain you are willing to endure for your partner.

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straightup ( new member #78778) posted at 4:23 AM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

I find her rather sympathetic as a person.

She says she has spent a lot of time dealing cross-culturally. She speaks many languages. She was born in Belgium. Her parents were Holocaust survivors and their whole family was exterminated. She said she observed some survivors were able to grasp onto life and thrive, others not.

One major thing where I part company from her on is that she seeks to persuade people that infidelity is ‘hurtful’ not ‘wrong’. She thinks that is how the French view it. It probably gives her more room to operate as a marriage therapist, to find a way through.

I think that if I actually approached a marriage with that level of flexibility I would call it quits, not even bother. The mix of things which have motivated me the establish a home and raise children for 15 years with my wife is not so light and easy. It runs deep and is tenacious. It can be meaningful and joyful too.

It’s not so much that I am black and white, but I do expect my partner to be using her insight, imagination and experience to inform her actions, and that, following her own lights, that I ought to be an important consideration. Sustained behaviour contradictory or blind to the pain of replacing or supplementing me would cause me, is more than hurtful. I think it is wrong. It is wrong like talking your grandmother into giving up her life savings, because she loves you and would give it up.

I think Esther Perel might well be a very good therapist for couples with a strong ethical background, who have lost their spark and are trying to bring their marriage back to life. She is quite compassionate and insightful. She does gently challenge people and gets them to communicate. But her main field of study and practice is infidelity. The focus is a bit off in that arena.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
Mother Teresa

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 Repossessed (original poster member #79544) posted at 4:49 AM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

infidelity is ‘hurtful’ not ‘wrong’.

Hurting people is wrong. And, like you, I don't consider myself an inflexible man, but I do expect earnestness at the outset when professing "forsake all others" and "til death do us part."

I just haven't seen where she gives infidelity a pass. Rather what I've seen of her so far is sharing what she knows happens to prompt straying. And in that regard, I find her observations helpful.

That said, plenty of us pine for lost passions but hold ourselves to a standard instead of behaving with the emotional maturity of a 5 year old.

Here to keep myself mindful that I don't always see what actually is. I certainly didn't when I married her.

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straightup ( new member #78778) posted at 5:47 AM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

I think you’re right. She doesn’t give it a pass, but she is progressive and relational. Often insightful. Here is an example. In one of her podcasts a husband and wife with kids had a poor sex life. The wife became interested in polyamory. She would date other men. The husband agreed. Their sex life improved quite a bit but it ate him up. He didn’t have other partners. The wife emphasized no one owned her body but her. She was reacting to a religious upbringing. The episode was called something like ‘you want me to look after the kids whilst you date other men’. Esther Perel said this is not polyamory. This is a man giving in for fear of abandonment. It can’t go on like this. The wife made lots of empathic ums and ahhs. I predict divorce.

Cheating? Well she saw other men with him knowing. But I am just thinking, how the he’ll could you ever come to do that to someone you once cared about, and still do, at least a bit?

One thing Esther Perel says I do like. She says that a person might have three serious romances in their life, and the emotionally intelligent person can have them with the same person.

Also, she says that it is hard to want what you already have. I found that helpful in my own situation, when I told my wife that I could not make her want our marriage. She would have to find that in herself. We are half way there.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
Mother Teresa

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Never2late ( new member #79079) posted at 6:58 AM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

I've also read her taking the position of not telling their BS of their affair (in short, honesty is not the most important thing). For me, this mindset alone disqualifies everything else she says.

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Wiseoldfool ( member #78413) posted at 12:58 PM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

I concur with the OP. I found what Esther Perel had to say, and her podcasts, extremely comforting after I discovered my wife’s affair. I’ve never really understood the overwhelming rejection of her here, a place that frequently says, "take what is useful and leave the rest."

It’s one person providing insight she’s gained from a lifetime of experience in marriage therapy. My suggestion is be curious, not judgmental.

Every secret you keep with your affair partner sustains the affair. Every lie you tell, every misunderstanding you permit, every deflection you pose, every omission you allow sustains the affair.

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Bigger ( Guide #8354) posted at 1:30 PM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

The wife became interested in polyamory. She would date other men. The husband agreed.

This is maybe the crux of the matter: By agreeing it’s no longer infidelity. It’s an agreement that the husband then regrets. It then becomes an issue of negotiations and reaching a mutually acceptable conclusion, but the Pandora’s box was opened by agreeing to polyamory and getting all the demons back in will be an issue.

I haven’t really got a strong opinion on Perel – neither a positive nor negative one. What I do take issue with is when she implies that sometimes the BS needs to shoulder accountability for the infidelity. I just don’t agree with that. I think the potential WS always has options other than infidelity and no matter how miserable the marriage is or whatever other reason is used to justify infidelity they can solve the issues without breaking the vows. It can lead to the end of the marriage, but frankly I think that is a cleaner and more honorable thing to do rather than cheat.

It’s a bit like trying to explain how you can understand why someone shoots the head of another person with a shotgun because everyone knows he had bad breath. It’s not the appropriate action to solve a problem. If your spouse refuses basic dental hygiene despite your best efforts, you weigh the importance of the issue on your life and values, do what you can to make changes or adaptations and if all else fails divorce. You don’t go looking for the trusty shotgun.

"If, therefore, any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone." Epictetus

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DevastatedDee ( member #59873) posted at 2:43 PM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

Bigger, yeah, you articulated my problem with her. To me it's like how I can read a book from the perspective of a serial killer and the writer can have me empathizing with him. Have me understanding his motives and for a moment in that fictional world, I'm not so judgmental over his actions. That's fun fiction, but it's not the really real world where "I have a twisted mind and a sad past" doesn't excuse slicing up someone who sucks from the perspective of the killer. She leaves me with the impression of listening to a story about a person who cheated with all their motivations and reasons that they wanted to and then "Oh yeah, and this person over here who was traumatized by it also exists and sometimes that person sucks". I never needed it explained to me that new sex with new people is fun and exciting. I mean, no shit. Grass is green, the sky is blue.

DDay: 06/07/2017
MH - RA on DDay.
Divorced a serial cheater (prostitutes and lord only knows who and what else).

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This0is0Fine ( member #72277) posted at 3:37 PM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

Let's look at a specific example of what offends.

In America, infidelity is described in terms of perpetrators and victims, damages and cost. We are far more tolerant of divorce with all the dissolutions of the family structure than of transgression. Although our society has become more sexually open in many ways, when it comes to monogamy, even the most liberal minds can remain intransigent. When discussing infidelity, we use the language of moral condemnation. And it isn’t only the act that’s reprehensible; the actor, too, is judged by the strictest standards. Adultery becomes a moral failing as we move to a description of character flaws: liar, cheater, philanderer, womanizer, slut. In this view, understanding an act of infidelity as a simple transgression or meaningless fling, or a quest for aliveness is an impossibility.

Might as well call the BS close minded and sexually immature.

[This message edited by This0is0Fine at 3:37 PM, Monday, November 22nd]

Love is not a measure of capacity for pain you are willing to endure for your partner.

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Wiseoldfool ( member #78413) posted at 3:50 PM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

If I adopted a world view where I had to choose between labeling my WW A "liar, cheater, and slut" or trying to understand that her affair began from a place of loneliness and resentment, I’ll pick the latter.

I reject the either/or dichotomy. I’m not offended nor do I feel like I’ve been insulted to have the mindset of a wayward put to me in human terms rather than moralistic labels that I personally find destructive, not helpful.

I’d be willing to bet the views of members here on Esther Perel are correlated to their pursuit of divorce or reconciliation. If one divorces, those moralistic labels are much more useful. If one reconciles, seeing the wayward spouse as a human being who made a series of very bad choices but who is capable of redemption is necessary, no?

[This message edited by Wiseoldfool at 3:51 PM, Monday, November 22nd]

Every secret you keep with your affair partner sustains the affair. Every lie you tell, every misunderstanding you permit, every deflection you pose, every omission you allow sustains the affair.

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This0is0Fine ( member #72277) posted at 4:17 PM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

If there is no moral failing, there is nothing requiring redemption.

Love is not a measure of capacity for pain you are willing to endure for your partner.

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TheEnd ( member #72213) posted at 4:17 PM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

I read Esther differently than the common view taken here.

I think she tries to breakdown how much of the pain is natural, a tearing of the pair bonding or triggering our base fear of abandonment and/or how much of it is cultural. So she looks at the history of marriage and how culture has changed it and how we have internalized that. Expecting one person to be everything, to meet all of our needs, etc. She looks at other cultures where that is not necessarily the expectation and sees a different reaction to affairs. If she, and we, can see the difference it tells us cultural dogma is at least in part at play and that increases everyone's pain/disappointment/disillusion.

She challenges that dogma on two fronts. I don't think she is saying to betrayeds that we are immature or what have you only to look realistically at what a marriage can be, to look realistically at their wayward as a flawed human being. After all, she is a marriage counselor. She is trying to save marriages. And if a cheater is now worthless, irredeemable as a human, garbage, loser, soulless lout, there is no marriage to save.

For the waywards she tries to get underneath their whys. And yeah, she looks at unmet needs but she's already established that "unmet needs" is an impossible standard for another person to meet. I do think she believes, and I do too, that there is context in a marriage that does play in to how people behave but I don't see her giving a pass on bad behavior, only looking to find what motivated the person so they can do the work to be better.

She tells both sides to give up the fantasy.

I do wish she'd talk more about the betrayeds pain, she does seem to gloss that a bit. She nods at it but then moves on. IDK maybe that goes to her original point: It hurts but it's not the end of the world. It truly isn't. Let's get to healing.

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This0is0Fine ( member #72277) posted at 4:23 PM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

Some cultures still stone adulterers.

Weird how the moral relativists hardly ever talk about that.

Love is not a measure of capacity for pain you are willing to endure for your partner.

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Wiseoldfool ( member #78413) posted at 4:27 PM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

If there is no moral failing, there is nothing requiring redemption.

I didn’t say there hadn’t been a moral failure; there has.

My point is that the labels aren’t particularly helpful if one seeks reconciliation. No one remains married to a "cheating slut" do they? The labels are reductionist, pejorative, and for me unhelpful.

My WW is not a static, two dimensional bumper sticker ("cheater" or "slut"). My WW is a flawed human who did terrible things, including moral transgressions. If I can’t see her as a human being with a long narrative and a path to redemption, it’s pointless to be her partner. The opposite is true, too, by the way ("princess" or "saint" or "perfect wife") - also reductionist and unhelpful.

Every secret you keep with your affair partner sustains the affair. Every lie you tell, every misunderstanding you permit, every deflection you pose, every omission you allow sustains the affair.

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This0is0Fine ( member #72277) posted at 4:34 PM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

A convict becomes an ex-convict.

A cheating slut becomes an ex-cheating slut.

It doesn't help to mince words before the recompose has occurred. "Sure you are fucking ten dudes but you aren't a cheating slut, just trying to feel alive!"

Love is not a measure of capacity for pain you are willing to endure for your partner.

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Underserving ( member #72259) posted at 5:43 PM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

Damn dude. Maybe you view your wife as a "cheating slut" or a "former cheating slut" but not everyone sees their wayward spouse that way. I understand it, don’t get me wrong, but that’s some projection.

I haven’t read anything by Esther, so I can’t give an opinion on her specifically. I honestly stopped looking for betrayal related books fairly soon after d-day. Everyone has an agenda. It’s either "this is the path I chose, it worked out for me, I want to continue to feel validated by that choice, and I think it’s the right one for everyone" or by professionals trying to have as many success stories as possible (at least in the short term) to sell more books/materials as to fill their pockets. The ONE book that helped me was written by a betrayed wife. I have no idea whether she stayed with her cheating husband or not. It focused solely on overcoming betrayal trauma. It’s Christian based, but offers no suggestions whether you should stay or go. It’s about healing individually. I’m not trying to recommend it, but just to say I wish more betrayed books/podcasts/videos were like that.

When it comes to understanding the wayward, I personally did have to see my husband as the broken man he was at the time. Yes, everyone has shitty things happen to them, and not everyone cheats. Ok fine. I’m not arguing. But stopping there wasn’t going to do me any favors if I wanted real reconciliation. I’ve done stuff I’m not proud of. Will I be considered an angry and hateful bitch forever because I was that way for a season? Or is it better to figure out why I was that way, have some compassion (not excuses) for what got me there, and resolve to do better? Seems more productive than simply saying "I was a shitty person. I will always be a shitty person. Even when I’m NOT being shitty, I can’t escape that underlying shittiness." Been there. Done that. Helps absolutely no one.

Idk maybe because I’ve fucked up enough in my life I have more compassion for fellow fuck ups who want to be and do better.

BW (32)Found out 3 years post end of AD-day 12-9-19In R

Infidelity brings out the cuss in me. I’m not as foul mouthed in real life. ;)

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emergent8 ( member #58189) posted at 5:59 PM on Monday, November 22nd, 2021

It isn't good for BS to read early on because it will play into blameshifting, minimization, and encourage rugsweeping (since she does very little coverage of how to repair) while giving the WS a "see I'm not so bad" narrative to stick to.

While I absolutely agree with this, I cannot get behind this:

A convict becomes an ex-convict.

A cheating slut becomes an ex-cheating slut.

Aside from linguistic semantics, I don't believe a person who has demonstrated remorse, empathy, and growth, should be forever defined by worst thing they did (I appreciate and respect that others will feel differently). I'm no Esther Perel apologist, expert, or superfan or anything, but she is a MARRIAGE COUNSELLOR, not a grief counsellor and not a trauma specialist. If someone is in marriage counselling after infidelity, my understanding is they are typically attempting to R. I don't think that a BS who thinks of their spouse as an "ex-cheating slut" - whether that is verbalized or not, is likely a good candidate for R.

Don't get me wrong, I am not being sanctimonious. I have been through the anger stage. I appreciate emotions run high, but if you can't, as WiseOldFool described, see your Wayward partner as a flawed two-dimension human with a long narrative and a path to redemption, you probably shouldn't be in marital counselling. And then, yeah, I don't think the words of a marital counsellor are really all that applicable to you.

Me: BS, Him: WS. Mid-late 30s.
Together 15 years, married 5 (11 m at D-Day).
D-Day: Feb 2017 (8 m PA with married COW).
Currently 4 years (and two kids) into R and optimistic.

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