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“This Is What Happens to Couples Under Stress”: An Interview with Esther Perel

The one thing to improve relationships

While couples are stuck together during this crisis, it's important to know that they'll turn on each other and take things out on each other. This is normal.

Instead of fighting, admit it together, and go from "I and you" to the "we." "What is this doing to us? What does 'us' need at this moment?"

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“This Is What Happens to Couples Under Stress”: An Interview with Esther Perel

“This Is What Happens to Couples Under Stress”: An Interview with Esther Perel

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-new-yorker-interview/this-is-what-happens-to-couples-under-stress-an-interview-with-esther-perel

newyorker.com

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Key Ideas

Creating routines

Too much is expected of modern relationships: your partner is supposed to fulfil roles that historically used to be spread out within communal structures. Your partner is supposed to be your best friend, lover, psychotherapist, child-care co-worker, and dishwasher.

What is essential during a crisis is to create boundaries, routines, and rituals. As best as possible, separate daytime and evening, week time and weekend, working time and idle time, family time and individual time. Routine creates a structure and brings a certain sense of order.

How to respond to the "invisible work"

During the pandemic, being at home with a partner reveals the "invisible work" they're doing, which may be taken for granted. This expanded view of ourselves and our partners can go in two directions.

  • In one direction, you are curious and say, "I never knew. I really appreciate it. I realize how I let you do everything." It becomes a source of connection.
  • It the other direction, it becomes a source of blame where you want to complain and tell your partner just how much you are doing. This way, you're not going to get help.

How people should fight

Couples go through harmony, disharmony, and repair. So they will inevitably get into arguments. However, what matters is how you fight. Don't highlight everything negative while taking the positive for granted.

  • Start by saying to yourself, "What are the one or two things that they have done that I can appreciate?" If you start with that, you will fight differently.

  • Stay focussed on the one thing that you're upset about at this moment. Don't end up talking about other things.

The positive side of a crisis

During disasters, our priorities get reorganised. The extra often gets thrown out. Changes get made. "We will move. We will change jobs. We will live closer to our parents." There are so many new openings.

The cracks in relationships may be amplified, but the cracks can also let the light shine through.

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Manipulation by passive and covert aggression
  • Passive-aggression is an indirect way to go on the offensive. An example is when someone tries to "get you back" by resisting cooperation and giving you the "...
What a covert aggressive looks like
  • They pretend to be innocent, ignorant, or confused when they did something awful. This tactic is to make you question your judgment.
  • They don't give a straight answer to a straight question, but evade the question or change the subject when cornered.
  • They lie by omission or distortion by deliberately being vague.
  • They may either respond with charm and flattery, of will suddenly be angry.
  • They'll play the victim and make themselves out to be the one in distress.
  • They rationalize by giving a plausible excuse for engaging in inappropriate behavior, or they will downplay their behavior.
  • Covert aggressives don't feel bad, but they know you do. They will send you on a guilt trip so you will lighten your accusations.
How to deal with a covert-aggressive person
  • Let go of the pretense that if you play nice, they will play nice.
  • Know your vulnerabilities and focus on the one thing that really needs to change: yourself. You can only control what you do.
  • Set some boundaries for yourself. Be prepared for the consequences and set a support system.
  • Memorize the list of tactics used by an aggressive person. Then it is easier to recognize the attack.
  • If you're willing to accept an excuse, know that they will fling excuses at you until one stick.
  • Stay calm and polite, and avoid sarcasm, hostility, or threats.
  • Without being rude, be specific about what you expect or want from the other person. Aggressives will only participate if they can get something out of it. If they have to lose, they'll make sure you go down too. Ensure you propose win-win solutions
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Keeping the peace

Ignoring problems in a relationship in order to avoid conflict will only mean that the problems pile up until they can no longer be ignored – and by then, it might be too hard to fix.

Keeping score

Keeping track of the things that you do, versus the things that they do is a way to create pressure and conflict where there should only be teamwork. 

Sit down together and work out a plan on things like chores or bills, and who does or pays what.

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Essential Things To Look For In a Partner

Instead of making relationships complicated and overambitious, we can just take care of these three essential but overlooked aspects:

  1. Kindness: A person who is humane and kind, gentle and not too serious.
  2. Shared Vulnerability: A person who is a good, empathetic listener, and makes us open comfortably about our anxieties, problems and worries.
  3. Understanding: Someone who has a deep understanding of our traits, quirks, features, obsessions, and the way we see the world. Someone who is interesting enough for us to want to understand.
A Simpler Life

Paradoxically, by limiting our expectations about our relationship, we can concentrate on the three critical ingredients of kindness, understanding and vulnerability, and have a simple yet loving connection.

By simplifying and clarifying, we can release ourselves from our complicated conflicts and pursue a deep and profound bond.