How can you keep long-term desire alive in a relationship? In this TED Talk, relationship expert Esther Perel shares what she knows about desire and how we can apply her research to our own love lives.
We have two conflicting sets of fundamental needs, which are difficult to balance in a relationship.
Esther explains that it’s about coming to an agreement on true fundamental human needs. The first set being security, safety, reliability, and permanence. These are anchoring and grounding feelings that we call home. The second being adventure, risk, and the unexpected. Uniting these two very contrasting and often conflicting sets of human needs in one marriage can be tricky!
A big challenge in modern relationships is that we expect our partner to be everything: our best friend, our confidante, our lover, and so on. Esther remarks, “We ask what once, an entire village used to provide. Belonging, identity, transcendence and mystery all in one. Give me predictability, yet give me surprise.”
In her research, Esther asked people when they found themselves most drawn to their partner. Across most cultures, genders, and religions, some of the most common answers were when they’re apart and when they reunite.
The next set of common answers were when they saw their partner doing something they’re passionate about, completely enveloped in, and when they’re radiant and confident. These answers show that people are interested in experiencing a sense of mystery and elusiveness about their partner, yet also keeping them within reach.
For the third set of answers, a majority of people said they were most drawn to their partner when they experienced laughter, surprise, and novelty.
There's no neediness in desire.
So what does desire mean? According to Esther, “What is most interesting is that there’s no neediness in desire. There is no care-taking. Care-taking is an anti-aphrodisiac. Needing someone is a shutdown. Anything that brings up parenthood decreases erotic charge.”
She explains that, “In the paradox between love and desire, the most puzzling thing is, that the very ingredients that nurture love - reciprocity, protection are sometimes the very ingredients that stifle desire.”
To sustain desire, there needs to be a balance of needs.
Esther concludes the talk by sharing that if we want to sustain desire, there needs to be a balance and a reconciliation of needs. This includes space for sexual privacy, foreplay, creating an erotic space, and an awareness that passion is intermittent. Couples who understand long-term desire know how to bring it back with the element of surprise and spontaneity.