“We are in a raw moment.”
These are the words, Tim Ferris uses in his introduction to his wonderful interview with
world-renowned couple’s psychotherapist, Esther Perel.
And in this raw moment, these two get vulnerable and share so much of value - value for
you in all your varying moods and roles whether that is as an employee, as a CEO, as a
partner, a friend, a child, a neighbour, as a co-parent.
I just finished listening to Esther on the Tim Ferris Show (episode 418). The interview is
about the length of a movie but what a wonderful way to spend some time. In Tim’s own
words, it felt like “a decompress” talking about the ways Covid-19 is impacting day-to-day
routines but the conversation goes well beyond that to relationships, boundaries, coping
styles, transforming loneliness, parenting and the big existential questions!
Ester believes in the power of words and has always had a delightful and insightful turn of
phrase. (I mean what better title could there be for a book that examines the relationship
between sexual desire and domesticity than “Mating in Captivity”?) So, it’s no surprise that
Esther doesn’t like the phrase “social distancing”. Instead, she prefers “physical distancing”
and “social leaning” because more than ever connection and the quality of our relationships
In terms of my work in separation and divorce, the 4 most valuable takeaways were:
- Her suggestion for how to have a conversation with your co-parent about taking Covid-19 precautions – especially one who doesn’t seem as concerned as you about the risks. Her role-play with Tim Ferriss went something like this:
“John, you live the life you live and in normal time when Jimmy comes to you I trust you or I don’t always trust you but this doesn’t impede the fact our kid stays with you, that he eats with you, goes to school with you, drives with you, a lot of things that I would typically probably do differently. But you are who you are, and this is not me coming to ask you to change or to criticise you. This is me sharing with you that I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility and fear at this moment for the many people that are living in my house and that’s why I would like to ask you to please collaborate with me. Would you be willing to help me in this?
Not because you are scared, not because you think that washing your hands or doing all the things that we are supposed to do is important. I’m not here to convince you of any of that I’m just asking you if you would be willing for my parents who once were your in-laws and who hopefully who you fancy or liked as people all those years etc..
I need your help, I need us to put a few ground rules down for the time-being, because I can’t do it without you.... and this special circumstance forces us ...to be more interdependent than we usually have been or want to be. I don’t necessarily want it and I doubt you want it either but if Jimmy is going to come back and forth, I need all his clothes washed, I need him to have one pair of shoes that goes outside, I need to know you are really careful, no playgrounds no gyms... whatever the things people have decided is their way of staying really protected.”
- Esther explains why it can be so hard to ask our co-parent for help
“Part of the divorce is that I don’t need you, but here you are coming to say I can’t do this without you.”
- Her explanation of why there will be more divorces (as well as more marriages and more babies!)
“What disruption and impending disaster does is it accelerates everything. It functions like an amazing accelerator. We all know that in the aftermath of disasters there will be more babies, more marriages or more divorces. It’s either “Life is short, what are we waiting for, let’s make a baby” or “Life is short, I’ve waited long enough, let’s leave”. You are meeting a place where suddenly your priorities get reorganised and the superfluous gets thrown overboard and you feel like you are touching the essence. You don’t know what is going to be so, so you really want to hone-in on the few things that matter to you a lot.”
- In this moment, Esther talks about people feeling nostalgic for a partner – in a way that these romantic relationships are supreme. But what she says we should do instead is to broaden the idea of who is there for you, who can be there for you. And the same is true for when you are adjusting to separation and divorce. Seek out connections.
If you want to learn more about Esther and her resources including her online workshop for
couples, “Rekindling Desire”, go to www.estherperel.com or if you want something for this
“raw moment” and “our new normal”, watch or listen to her new mini-series on YouTube
called “The Art of Us: Love, Loss and Loneliness Under Lockdown”.
I don’t know how this amazing psychotherapist sustains such high-quality output while
balancing such an array of professional (and personal!) commitments but listen and learn
while you can – wherever you are on your relationship journey.