Esther Perel’s view on bickering will make you change the way you talk to your partner forever


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One of the most common tropes Hollywood uses to show a relationship that has gone the distance—as in, multiple decades—is constant bickering. Think of all the elderly couples in movies, the neighbors down the hall who have been married for 50 years and shuffle down the sidewalk murmuring insults at each other (or: shouting, a la the Costanzas on Seinfeld). Then, inevitably, the leads of the movie offer up a “y’all so crazy” laugh in a way that tells you that they know this couple really loves each other deep down.

But psychotherapist Esther Perel—whose insights on desire (hint: being a conscientious, “best friend” partner isn’t always a turn-on) and cult fave couples therapy podcast Where Should We Begin? has made her a star—believes that bickering is no laughing matter.

Psychotherapist Esther Perel believes that bickering is no laughing matter. In fact, she calls it “low-intensity chronic warfare.”

In fact, she calls it “low-intensity chronic warfare,” according to a recent Instagram video post. “Ongoing bickering and criticism can lead to the demise of a relationship.”

What’s so damaging about it? “Generally when you’re in critical mode, your assumptions are negative. You do not assume that the other person had good intentions. You always are on the assumption that it was meant to be hurtful, meant to be dissing you, etc.,” she says.

“I think what’s very important to understand about criticism is that it actually sits on top of a mountain of disappointments, of unmet needs, of unfulfilled longings. Behind a criticism, there often is a wish,” Perel says.

In other words, when you tell your partner “You never…” what you’re actually saying is, “I wish you would…,” she says. But by framing it as a criticism, you’re expressing anger—instead of the vulnerability of admitting a need—and that anger is what can be toxic when it goes back and forth in what Perel calls “a cycle of negative escalations.” You can break the cycle, and turn a criticism into a relationship-building moment, though.

“I recommend that you actually state your wish. Just say the thing you would want…The more you go for the anger, the more you’re going to get anger back,” she says. “Stay with the request.” Hollywood, take note.

Another way to improve your relationship: Improve your sleeping game (as in, snoozing together). And if you’re feeling adventurous…here’s how to talk a good game in the bedroom as well.

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