Tuesday October 10, 2017

What infidelity can teach us about ourselves and relationships: therapist Esther Perel

'Affairs can break a relationship or remake a relationship,' says renowned couples' therapist Esther Perel who suggests rethinking infidelity can be powerful.

'Affairs can break a relationship or remake a relationship,' says renowned couples' therapist Esther Perel who suggests rethinking infidelity can be powerful. (Shutterstock)

Listen 22:56

Read story transcript

They may be agonizing, but affairs are here to stay, according to Esther Perel.

In her new book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, the renowned couples' therapist argues affairs may have something to teach us about ourselves, our relationships and the state of modern marriage. 

"Affairs can break a relationship or remake a relationship," she tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"You can't predict the future, but you generally feel that you can remember the past. But when your past is put into question, your entire sense of reality is altered."

State of Affairs Book Cover

Author Esther Perel says affairs happen in good relationships and bad relationships. (Harper Collins)

Perel describes affairs as "erotic plots" that invigorate a person to feel exuberant.

"It's very little about the actual sexual relationships that take place," she explains.

Perel says most of the people she sees in her practice are not perennial cheaters, but something has motivated them to cross the line. 

Sometimes there are existential reasons why people — even in happy relationships — stray.  That's because affairs can be about "reconnecting with lost parts of ourselves," says Perel.

"And so we look outside, not in order to leave the person that we are with, but in order to leave the person that we have ourselves become. And there is no better other than another version of ourselves."

Perel argues that affairs are often an antidote to death — they make the person feel alive again.

"The person who crosses the line is often experiencing parts of themselves that they have never experienced, that they have been curious about, that they longed for, that they once may have known, but have not lived for decades," Perel tells Tremonti.

It's not an easy thing to talk about, but Perel says that although affairs are agonizing for the person who is cheated on, the affair can be transformative for the person who strays. 

However, Perel says she's in no way "pro-affair."

"I would no more recommend anybody to have an affair than I would recommend someone to have cancer, but I do understand that crisis can sometimes help couples rethink their relationship and reinvest in it and come stronger out of it," she explains.

Infidelity doesn't have to mean the end of a marriage, Perel says. 

"People do come out of this and sometimes they come out of it even better."

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson.