Point of View

Point of View

Reinventing Couplehood: Intimacy and Commitment in the Age of Consumer Marriage

By Ryan Howes

January/February 2015

We’ve gotten used to the idea that families today come in many shapes and sizes—blended families, accordion families, single-parent families. We no longer cling to an idea that one model of family structure should apply to everyone. But when it comes to couples, we still hold onto the romantic ideal of finding that one soulmate who’ll fulfill all our needs for companionship, emotional intimacy, and erotic adventure in a single relationship. Couples therapist Esther Perel, however, in her 2006 book, Mating in Captivity, zeroed in on the inherent conflict in even successful marriages between emotionally safe but mundane intimacy and the potentially disruptive need for eroticism and novelty in committed partnerships. Ever since, she’s been sought after as one of the most provocative thinkers exploring new possibilities for modern couples, recognizing the mismatch between the romantic ideal and the realities of contemporary life.

A native of Belgium and fluent in nine languages, she’s a keen observer of the pivotal influence of culture and social context on human experience. Her 2013 TED talk, “The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship,” has attracted more than 5 million views. She’s the consultant on the acclaimed Showtime series The Affair, and her upcoming book, The State of Affairs: Cheating in the Age of Transparency, is a further investigation of some of the paradoxes of modern marriage. In the interview below, Perel shares her…

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