Full Transcript: Esther Perel on Modern Love and Relationships at SXSW 2018

Esther Perel

Relationships are going through a complex cultural shift. Expectations on intimate partnerships are at an all-time high, yet we lack the tools and resources to reach this new Olympus. Join iconic couples therapist Esther Perel as she shines a light on the state of modern love, the importance of erotic intelligence, and how listening to the stories of others helps us navigate our own relationships.


“Relationships, people, they are your story. Write well and edit often.”

Below is the full text of Esther Perel’s talk at SXSW 2018.



You’ve just entered my office and these clips are from the podcast: Where Should We Begin?

I’m Esther Perel, and I am a couples therapist. For the past 35 years I’ve been helping couples and people navigate the challenges of relationships. And until not too long ago, there was no such a thing as a couples therapist.

Basically you got together with somebody you married, and that was it: you were stuck for life. If you didn’t like it, well you could concern yourself with an early death. It was till death do us apart. Not as we have it today as till love dies.

Never before has the survival of the family dependent on the happiness of the couple and this has made the couple such a central unit. Also the unit of relationships that is probably undergoing the most changes in a very short amount of time.

Never have we invested more in love and never have we divorced or broken up more in the name of love. I imagine a world in which we can experience our relationships with a sense of vitality and aliveness and vibrancy.

Because I live with one perennial truth. The quality of your relationships is what determines the quality of your life, and the bonds and the connections that we make with other people that we established with them gives us a greater sense of meaning of happiness of well-being than any other human experience.

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So let me ask you just for a moment. How many of you are in a relationship at this moment – a romantic relationship, let’s put it like that? And how many of you would like to be in a relationship?

And now I would like some more light on the house for the next question. How many of you would like to be out of the relationship that you’re in at least sometimes? You can leave the lights on at this moment. So we we can actually really relate to each other too, do here what we’re talking about.

Relationships at this moment are undergoing such a massive shift. The norms are literally changing under our feet, and we have to make up the rulebook as we go.

You know for a long time, our relationships were pretty simple because they were dictated by rules. Religion had clear strictures, and it had structure and it had incentives and it had prohibitions. And social hierarchy was also very clear and it told us how parents had to talk to the kids, how children had to respond to adults, how husbands had to talk to their wives and how wives didn’t have to answer their husbands.

Things were clear. All the decisions were made for us – the big decisions. Who was going to be the breadwinner? Who was going to wake up at night to feed the baby? Who has the right to demand for sex?

What you did is what you father did and at this moment we have unraveled this system, and we have created a world of options and choices and unprecedented freedom. But as a result, we have to negotiate everything.

It’s all up for grabs. It’s no longer clear who’s going to be the breadwinner. In fact, whose career is going to take priority at this time, who’s going to wake up tomorrow morning to feed the baby? Who’s responsible for anything sure initiating sex next time? Who’s going to plan the date?

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