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3 pieces of modern relationship wisdom from rock star psychotherapist Esther Perel


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During psychotherapist and relationship guru Esther Perel‘s recent keynote speech at this year’s SXSW, The State of Affairs author spoke about love in today’s world, covering topics such as a new way to look at intimacy and the immense amount of pressure that comes from being in love. Here are some pieces of wisdom for you to think about and bring to your own life—plus, the whole keynote below, for your viewing pleasure.

Check out 3 pearls of modern relationship wisdom from rock star psychotherapist Esther Perel.

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1. Conversations are the heart of relationships

In relationships from yesteryear, so much was dictated by rules and societal norms, whether religious, based on social hierarchy, or something else. While some people totally still adhere to traditional customs, modern romance tends to skew more unclear when it comes to decisions big and small—like who will be the family breadwinner or who will plan the dates. And, as anyone who’s logged on to Asos “just to peruse” knows, the power of choice can sometimes present its own issues. So how do you maintain a healthy relationship with all that freedom? Face it head on, according to Perel.

“All these big decisions that have burdened the selves like never before—we have to figure it all out. And because of that, conversations have become the heart of relationships,” she said. “We have to talk about stuff that we’ve never talked about, that we don’t know how to talk about, that we don’t have the vocabulary to talk about, and most of the time have never said it to ourselves.”

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2. You can’t depend on one person to give what an entire village used to provide

Members of tribal villages had a sense of belonging, continuity, certainty, and identity from a whole group of people, Perel said. But now, with so much freedom, people feel more alone and often search for a partner to provide what they lack. And that puts a whole lot of pressure on your significant other.

“We’re turning to our romantic partners to help us with that aloneness,” Perel said. “We still want all the same things that traditional marriage was about: family, companionship, economic support, and social status. But now I want you to also be my best friend, trusted confidant, and passionate lover to boot—and all for the long haul. What we have created in our romantic ambition is one person to give us what an entire village used to provide.”

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3. “Into-me-see” is the new intimacy

Since marriage used to be, largely, an economic enterprise, Perel said intimacy had to do with sharing a life together: “You milked the cows, watered the land, and raised the children.” Now it’s a very different thing.

“Today when I talk about intimacy, I talk about it as ‘into-me-see,'” Perel said. “What I bring to you isn’t my dowry or commercial assets. I bring to you my inner life. My wishes, my feelings, my aspirations, my anxieties. And when I talk to you, I want you to look at me. I want contact, I want connection, I want you to make me feel like I matter.”

Want more relationship intel? Kristen Bell’s advice can double as a Relationship 101 class. Or, find out how social media might not hinder millennial relationships IRL after all.

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