ESTHER PEREL: Those are the four killers. But what people think they divorce for is that hey couldn’t communicate. But why didn’t they communicate is because they were doing one of these four things or they had arguments about money or they didn’t agree around the children or they had no sex or they had terrible sex. They think there’s a reason, there’s a topic, but in fact, the topic is less important than the way they were dealing with the topic. You have 2 kinds of couples. Those who are at each other like this in the negative space. They are high conflict or they are avoidant. Too much avoidance, that’s it. That’s like everybody’s gone off somewhere. And too much conflict is this: it’s escalation upon escalation. On these two axis since the death of a couple.
ESTHER PEREL: Yes, yes. This. I mean, this conflict, you resolve it, you move again, you get close again. It’s a dynamic thing. Estrangement is like, “I don’t even know who’s living here.” When’s the last time you had a conversation about something? When’s the last time you touched each other? When’s the last time you looked into each other’s eyes? When’s the last time you talked about something else than what needs to be planned for tomorrow? It’s not always negative.
LEWIS HOWES: How important is touch, sex, hugging, kissing-how important is that for a thriving relationship? Because you hear about a lot of marriages like, “We have sex once a week, once a month, once every six months.” Are those dying if they’re not having that intimacy?
ESTHER PEREL: Yes, but you can’t live without touch. If you don’t get touched as a human being, you become irritable, aggressive, depressed. We know that children who are not touched have attachment disorders. We are people who feed on touch. Sex is a different thing because people have had sex, women have done sex with men as a marital duty for centuries and felt nothing. That doesn’t mean it’s a good experience. I don’t care about numbers, I don’t care about frequency, or numbers of orgasma or any of that. What you want is the quality of the experience, that’s the erotic. How fun is it? The pleasure? Pleasure is the measure, not the performance. That’s a great line of a wonderful author named Emily Nagoski.
And she says the only time he’s really intimate is in sex
I think touch is essential. Humor, touch, playfulness, an ongoing curiosity. An interest in who this other person is, what they’re about, what they’re thinking about. What they feel, what they look at, what interests them, what ticks them. Just that that you remain not just a function of a person who has a few jobs that you have to accomplish. Cuddling, skin to skin contact, looking into each other’s eyes, a smile, a moment where you stop and you just kind of take each other in. This is the lubricant of a relationship. The rest can be a good partnership. You can have good partnerships, you can have affectionate coupledom, and you can have relationships that are minimal on the sex because they lost the interest in that, because they have it somewhere else, because they are sick. There are all kinds of reasons, but it depends if one person really misses it.
It’s a loss not about sex, it’s about what sex gives you access to
If one person is longing for that kind of a connection and while the other one says, “If I never had it ever again, it would be fine.” Then you would pay attention, because the loss of the erotic is as real loss. For example, I know a lot of guys that I work with. If she says, all he wants is sex. Not all of them, but you will understand. And I know that’s not the point. I know that for this guy, sex is when he actually allows himself to be touched because he’s not necessarily a touchy guy outside. Sex is when he can be tender. And she says it often of from a place of, “I wish he was intimate with me at other times, too.”