If you’ve ever gone down a 2am rabbit hole of watching Ted Talks, chances are you would’ve stumbled on one by Esther Perel. The Belgian psychotherapist is one of the world’s best-known experts on modern relationships, with her Ted Talk The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship racking up over six million views on YouTube since 2013.
Today, Perel still regularly speaks about relationships, through her website estherperel.com and as a guest on other podcasts — like The School of Greatness, which last month, released the episode Esther Perel: Use This Simple Trick to Heal and Deepen Your Relationships.
In it, Perel talks about how sexuality is only one part of eroticism, and what you can do to keep working on to better your relationships — whether you’re in one or not. The most important takeaway from the podcast, though, is what she identifies as the key ingredient to a successful relationship.
“Play is essential,” she says. “Playfulness is huge. It’s actually the quality of emotions that’s the least talked about.”
When host Lewis Howes asks Perel how often she herself uses play in her relationship, she doesn’t skip a beat.
“All the time,” she says. “Humour is essential.”
Howes explains: “It’s an essential salve and balm in my relationship. I can be in the middle of an argument and then I laugh, and then I get perspective and we can ground ourselves back again. It’s flirting. It’s teasing. It’s that whole realm of ‘we don’t take ourselves that serious’.”
Interestingly, Perel adds that a teacher once told her that if she noticed a couple who came to her for therapy didn’t have any humour in their interactions, that would be extremely telling.
Perel also says that on her own podcasts — Where Should We Begin? and How’s Work? — she makes a point to laugh with her guests, even while talking about trauma and painful events.
“If they can see themselves, if they have a bit of distance, of perspective, if they understand the absurdity the things we get into, the things over which we fight,” she says. “Even if it’s just a glimmer, a smile on the side, I know that they know that I know, and it invites a new possibility.”
Last week, a TikTok featuring Perel went viral, clocking up over 1.5 million likes. In it, she was asked whether fighting from time to time was good or bad for a relationship.
“Oh, it’s a must,” she says. “It’s obligatory. The question is not so much the fighting. The question is really the repair. I think relationships follow a cycle of harmony, disharmony and repair.”
As for what people fight about, she said it came down to past life situations and not the current one at hand.
“They’re about the needs, vulnerabilities and biases that get triggered over and over,” Perel writes on her blog. “Unsurprisingly, when a situation affects us deeply, it’s because it resonates with something else we have experienced before. […] And when these triggers compound over time, it creates a lens through which we view every interaction.”