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“Mating in Captivity – Have you read it?”

A reader asks Have you read Esther Perel’s book Mating in Captivity?

Dear Justice,

I really like the articles you share on your facebook page and on your website. I’m wondering if you have read the book Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel and if so, what do you think of it?

Mating-In-CaptivityMy response –

Esther Perel’s book Mating in Captivity has been recommended to me often enough that I picked up a copy recently and gave it a speed read. Here are my initial thoughts –

Perel’s observations and experiences mostly match my own, professionally and personally. Early in the book Perel gives nods to both David Schnarch’s Passionate Marriage and Mark Epstein’s lesser known and wonderful book Open To Desire. Her influences are my influences, and so I quickly felt resonance.

I appreciate how she respects the tension between the two poles of desire that commonly define relationships – the desire for security/safety and the desire for excitement/freedom. Rather than offer some easy solution to this dilemma, she invites the reader to sit in the uncomfortable paradox of wanting two seemingly contradictory experiences. This feels like a wise and respectful approach, and one that I employ in my own practice.

Her legitimization of the underlying impulses that drive extra-marital affairs, namely the desire for “aliveness”, will certainly be mistaken for advocacy by those who can’t discern between descriptive and prescriptive voices. Likewise, her willingness to explore kink/bdsm without pathologizing it, and to explore eroticism outside the marriage unit, including consensual non-monogamy, will likely confuse or offend those with fundamentalist ideologies.

Perel gives voice to the elephants in the room. Her truths suddenly seem obvious upon reading, and one wonders how they escaped recognition until now. (The answer likely has to do with the power of taboo and with our unexamined assumptions about sex and love.)

Mating in Captivity acknowledges traditional gender roles and the ways they have shaped our beliefs about marriage and relationship, while offering thoroughly realistic current assessments of how these roles are becoming fluid matters of choice rather than matters of inherited social convention.

Perel’s cross-cultural (and sub-cultural) points of view challenge core American beliefs about the nature of romance, marriage, and intimacy; beliefs that couples therapy as an institution has, itself, largely internalized. For example, you’ll find nothing about “emotional cheating” in this book. In fact, acknowledging and working with the presence of “the third” (whether real, metaphorical or fantasy) is presented as a valuable erotic tool for couples.

In a cultural environment where marriage is expected to become an increasingly serious, responsible, secure and, frankly, non-erotic venture, intentionally nurturing eroticism in the home becomes, as Perel puts it, “an open act of defiance.” Accordingly, Mating in Captivity speaks to those who have a defiant streak.

I’m grateful for the author’s contribution, and the book has earned a place on my shelf alongside Sex at Dawn and the aforementioned Passionate Marriage. For readers struggling with affairs, the loss of eroticism, waning desire, sexual shame, disconnection or other common relationship issues, Mating In Captivity will be a beacon of illumination and hope, while also posing significant challenges to the ways we are accustomed to thinking about fidelity, love, sex and marriage.

All My Best,
Justice

PS – My partner liked the book a lot!

Have you read Mating in Captivity? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

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“Why would my wife have a one night stand, although she swears up and down she loves me and is crazy about me?”

Why would my wife have a one night stand 2A reader asks about cheating, love and betrayal –

Tell me this – why would my wife have a one night stand, although she swears up and down she loves me and is crazy about me? She was out of town on business, she said she had no control over it, she is deeply regretful and ashamed. God, what do I do now, just the thought of this breaks me everyday. If she truly loved me, where was I in her mind when this happened? Does she truly love me, can something like this really just happen on accident? Its been months since this happened but it still feels to me like it was yesterday. She tries everyday to make me feel better but I just don’t, she lays by me at night but I feel like she is so far away, this has changed everything between us. I love her and always have, I’m devastated over this and need help.

Cheating is a breach of trust and sexual betrayal hurts like hell. That said, there are plenty of voices ready to condemn a cheating spouse, so presumably that niche is well filled and I’ll take a different angle. I assume you’ve asked your wife the “why” question you’re asking me now, and that her answer was unsatisfying. She may not know the answer to your question, or she may be too confused and ashamed to admit it – to you and to herself.

Sex is powerful. It’s sometimes more powerful than we want to believe. Sex held power over your wife that night, and it’s held power over you ever since. Sex is paradoxically simple and complicated. Simple in its basic innocence and instinctual roots. Complicated in that we attach worlds of meaning and expectation to it. Have you examined the meaning you attach to sex? I suggest you do. Much of the meaning we attach FEELS like common sense – natural, inherent, universal. But upon inquiry we may discover that the meaning we attach to sex is largely socially conditioned, unconscious, unexamined, and, ultimately… optional.

In simple terms – Yes, a person can conceivably love you AND have sex with someone else. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive things. In fact, couples negotiate all sorts of sexual arrangements to accommodate their values and desires. However, there’s a big difference between consensual agreements and betrayal. I know you’re hurt, and I feel for you. There will likely be a strong impulse for your wife to now pledge undying fidelity and demonstrate deep regret, for you to withdraw into your woundedness for a time, and for both of you to try and get back to “normal” as soon as possible. These are understandable and valid impulses, but see if you can muster the courage to use this window of opportunity for you and your wife to honestly examine, and possibly update your assumptions, beliefs and  agreements around sex.

All My Best,
Justice

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Why women leave men they love PART 2 – Deepening the conversation

Marriage - why women leave, cheat 2On Friday I wrote a short piece called Why women leave men they love – What every man needs to know. Three days later 500,000 people had read it. Something struck a chord. People are reading the article and seeing themselves. Many, many women have shared their relief at knowing they are not alone in their desire for deeper connection.

Men are responding too. “Presence is so damned hot!” says one. Another laments “If only I’d read this two years ago.” A few have pointed out that the roles are reversible, that men want the same things and suffer in similar ways. I agree. Which begs the question – Why are women so much more likely to show up in my office BEFORE they drop the hammer, while men tend to wait until AFTER the hammer is dropped?

We’re ALL subject to social patterns and structures, and gender figures heavily. Assigning blame is a dead-end that always gets us less of what we truly want. Trying to understand what drives our behaviour – collectively, individually and in marriages is potentially enlightening. And so I take the approach of inquiry.

Let’s start with Why are women staying in marriages for years when their husband is emotionally absent? I’ve had numerous women confide that their relationship strategy is basically this: Somehow hold out until the kids are grown, then bye-bye. Which leads us to… Men – how did you not see this coming? Why did you do nothing? (Again, you can flip the gender assignments to suit you.)

Frustrating as the questions are, honest answers exist. I hear them all the time, but never through smiling lips.

I didn’t know any other way.
I hoped it would get better.
I was busy with work.
That’s just the way it is.
I didn’t want to screw up the kids.

These sorts of answers can make us want to confront our partner with “ARGHHH… but, but, but… you, you, you…”
But it’s confronting ourselves that will reap benefits:

I wanted to avoid conflict so I abdicated my responsibility to myself.
I always got away with it, so I kept doing it.
I feel lost and disconnected from my own life.
I didn’t know I even deserved attention.

Forgive me if I make self-awareness sound easy. The insights above can be extremely hard-won. Of course it takes time, and tears, to get to this place of acknowledging our own part in a painful relationship. We avoid it because it offends our ego. But truth wants to find you.

Therapist David Schnarch says something like “Only marriage can prepare you for marriage.” What he means is that the problems we encounter in relationship are the right ones, at the right time. They reflect our current level of maturity or development. No one expects someone in eighth grade to ace grade twelve exams. But that doesn’t mean exam time isn’t stressful for everyone.

Once we begin coming to terms with the reality of a relationship in crisis, we may turn our attention to how we respond in the face of change. Change happens. It’s not negotiable. Yesterday’s experiences changed us, and we are different today. Our choice lies in how we align ourselves with the change process.

Whether or not a couple chooses to stay together when they hit their crisis point, some kind of change will be required. Often one partner makes a decision that changes everything. That’s reality. Avoiding reality has big costs. As Byron Katie observes “When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.” So do we actively participate in the reality of change, accepting the discomfort and uncertainty along with the exhilaration of growth?  Or do we resist because change is scary and painful? (Hint – the first one gives us more and better options.)

Also read –
The surprising role of conflict in relationships – How the arguments that tear us apart also hold us together
Marriage counselling made it worse – A tale of caution and hope
When the love of your life leaves – 5 steps to ease suffering and help you heal

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Why women leave men they love – What every man needs to know

Marriage - why women leave, cheatAs a marriage counsellor working with men and women in relationship crisis, I help clients navigate numerous marriage counselling issues. While many situations are complex, there’s one profoundly simple truth that men need to know. It’s this – Women leave men they love.

They feel terrible about it. It tears the heart out of them. But they do it. They rally their courage and their resources and they leave. Women leave men with whom they have children, homes and lives. Women leave for many reasons, but there’s one reason in particular that haunts me, one that I want men to understand:

Women leave because their man is not present. He’s working, golfing, gaming, watching TV, fishing… the list is long. These aren’t bad men. They’re good men. They’re good fathers. They support their family. They’re nice, likeable. But they take their wife for granted. They’re not present.

Women in my office tell me “Someone could come and sweep me off my feet, right out from under my husband.” Sometimes the realization scares them. Sometimes they cry.

Men – I’m not saying this is right or wrong. I’m telling you what I see. You can get as angry or hurt or indignant as you want. Your wife is not your property. She does not owe you her soul. You earn it. Day by day, moment to moment. You earn her first and foremost with your presence, your aliveness. She needs to feel it. She wants to talk to you about what matters to her and to feel you hearing her. Not nodding politely. Not placating. Definitely not playing devil’s advocate.

She wants you to feel her. She doesn’t want absent-minded groping or quick release sex. She wants to feel your passion. Can you feel your passion? Can you show her? Not just your passion for her or for sex; your passion for being alive. Do you have it? It’s the most attractive thing you possess. If you’ve lost it, why? Where did it go? Find out. Find it. If you never discovered it you are living on borrowed time.

If you think you’re present with your wife, try listening to her. Does your mind wander? Notice. When you look at her, how deeply do you see her? Look again, look deeper. Meet her gaze and keep it for longer than usual, longer than comfortable. If she asks what you’re doing, tell her. “I’m looking into you. I want to see you deeply. I’m curious about who you are. After all these years I still want to know who you are every day.” But only say it if you mean it, if you know it’s true.

Touch her with your full attention. Before you lay your hand on her, notice the sensation in your hand. Notice what happens the moment you make contact. What happens in your body? What do you feel? Notice the most subtle sensations and emotions. (This is sometimes called mindfulness.) Tell her about what you’re noticing, moment to moment.

But you’re busy. You don’t have time for this. How about five minutes? Five minutes each day. Will you commit to that? I’m not talking about extravagant dinners or nights out (although those are fine too). I’m talking about five minutes every day to be completely present to the woman you share your life with. To be completely open – hearing and seeing without judgement. Will you do that? I bet once you start, once you get a taste, you won’t want to stop.

<Note – The gender dynamic outlined above is reversible. It can go both ways.>

UPDATE – Read this response > Why men leave women they love (click here)

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