My Favorite Esther Perel Quotes on Just About Everything

I love Esther Perel’s work, the fresh perspective and deep insights she brought into the world of relationship therapy, and the her often succinct but profound statements.

Here are some of my favorite quotes. I’ll update this list—if you have any quotes by Esther Perel you love, share them in the comments and I will include them here if they’re a good fit.

Esther Perel Quotes on Love

  1. Love is a verb. Not a permanent state of enthusiasm.
  2. Beginnings are always ripe with possibilities, for they hold the promise of completion. Through love we imagine a new way of being. You see me as I’ve never seen myself. You airbrush my imperfections, and I like what you see. With you, and through you, I will become that which I long to be. I will become whole. Being chosen by the one you chose is one of the glories of falling in love.
  3. Love is at once an affirmation and a transcendence of who we are.
  4. Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness.
  5. Perhaps the highest form of love isn’t unconditional. Maybe it’s closer to Terry Real’s description of self-esteem: our ability to see ourselves as flawed and still hold ourselves in high regard. Can we do that for our relationships, too?
  6. It is always astonishing how love can strike. No context is love-proof, no convention or commitment impervious. Even a lifestyle which is perfectly insulated, where the personality is controlled, all the days ordered and all actions in sequence, can to its own dismay find that an unexpected spark has landed; it begins to smolder until it is finally unquenchable. The force of Eros always brings disturbance; in the concealed terrain of the human heart Eros remains a light sleeper.

Esther Perel Quotes on Marriage

  1. Eroticism in the home requires active engagement and willful intent. It is an ongoing resistance to the message that marriage is serious, more work than play; and that passion is for teenagers and the immature.
  2. Marriage is imperfect. We start with a desire for oneness, and then we discover our differences. Our fears are aroused by the prospect of all the things we’re never going to have.
  3. When people live in acute stress, either the cracks in their relationship will be amplified or the light that shines through the cracks will be amplified. You get an amplification of the best and of the worst.
  4. For [erotically intelligent couples], love is a vessel that contains both security and adventure, and commitment offers one of the great luxuries of life: time. Marriage is not the end of romance, it is the beginning. They know that they have years in which to deepen their connection, to experiment, to regress, and even to fail. They see their relationship as something alive and ongoing, not a fait accompli. It’s a story that they are writing together, one with many chapters, and neither partner knows how it will end. There’s always a place they haven’t gone yet, always something about the other still to be discovered.
  5. Despite a 50 percent divorce rate for first marriages and 65 percent the second time around; despite the staggering frequency of affairs; despite the fact that monogamy is a ship sinking faster than anyone can bail it out, we continue to cling to the wreckage with absolute faith in its structural soundness.
  6. Everyday in my office I meet consumers of the modern ideology of marriage. They bought the product, got it home, and found that it was missing a few pieces. So they come to the repair shop to fix it so it looks like what’s on the box. They take their relational aspirations as a given-both what they want and what they deserve to have-and are upset when the romantic ideal doesn’t jibe with the unromantic reality. It’s no surprise that this utopian vision is gathering a growing army of the disenchanted in its wake.
  7. The historian and essayist Pamela Haag has written a whole book about marriages like Danica and Stefan’s, which she calls “melancholy marriages.” Analyzing the plight of these “semi-happy couples,” she explains: A marriage adds things to your life, and it also takes things away. Constancy kills joy; joy kills security; security kills desire; desire kills stability; stability kills lust. Something gives; some part of you recedes. It’s something you can live without, or it’s not. And maybe it’s hard to know before the marriage which part of the self is expendable … and which is part of your spirit.

Esther Perel Quotes on Eroticism & Passion

  1. Erotic intelligence is about creating distance, then bringing that space to life.
  2. Love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery. Love likes to shrink the distance that exists between me and you, while desire is energized by it. If intimacy grows through repetition and familiarity, eroticism is numbed by repetition.
  3. Eroticism resides in the ambiguous space between anxiety and fascination.
  4. It’s hard to feel attracted to someone who has abandoned her sense of autonomy.
  5. We are most intensely excited when we are a little off-balance, uncertain.
  6. Erotic intimacy is an act of generosity and self-centeredness, of giving and taking. We need to be able to enter the body or the erotic space of another, without the terror that we will be swallowed and lose ourselves.

Esther Perel Quotes on Waning Passion

  1. Eventually, if desire withers, monogamy too easily slides downward into celibacy. When this happens, fidelity becomes a weakness rather than a virtue.
  2. If you trade passion for stability, you basically trade one fiction for another. Both are products of our imagination.
  3. We ground ourselves in familiarity, and perhaps achieve a peaceful domestic arrangement, but in the process we orchestrate boredom.
  4. The caring, protective elements that foster love often block the unselfconsciousness that fuels erotic pleasure.
  5. It’s hard to experience desire when you’re weighted down by concern.
  6. Any person or system exposed to ceaseless novelty and change risks falling into chaos; but one that is too rigid or static ceases to grow and eventually dies. This never-ending dance between change and stability is like the anchor and the waves.
  7. We liken the passion of the beginning to adolescent intoxication—both transient and unrealistic. The consolation for giving it up is the security that waits on the other side. Yet when we trade passion for stability, are we not merely swapping one fantasy for another?

Esther Perel Quotes on Infidelity

  1. But one theme comes up repeatedly: affairs as a form of self-discovery, a quest for a new (or a lost) identity. For these seekers, infidelity is less likely to be a symptom of a problem, and is more often described as an expansive experience that involves growth, exploration, and transformation.
  2. In the aftermath of an affair, I often tell a couple: Your first marriage is over. Would you like to create a second one together?
  3. Sometimes, when we seek the gaze of another, it isn’t our partner we are turning away from, but the person we have become. We are not looking for another lover so much as another version of ourselves.
  4. Trouble looms when monogamy is no longer a free expression of loyalty but a form of enforced compliance. Excessive monitoring can set the stage for what Stephen Mitchell calls ‘acts of exuberant defiance.
  5. Adultery is often the revenge of the deserted possibilities.
  6. At their peak, affairs rarely lack imagination. Nor do they lack desire, abundance of attention, romance, and playfulness. Shared dreams, affection, passion and endless curiosityーall these are natural ingredients found in the adulterous plot. They are also ingredients of thriving relationships. It is no accident that many of the most erotic couples lift their marital strategies directly from the infidelity playbook.
  7. To understand trust, you have to understand distrust. To understand fidelity, you have to understand infidelity.
  8. Once we strayed because marriage was not supposed to deliver love and passion. Today we stray because marriage fails to deliver the love, passion, and undivided attention it promised.
  9. It always amazes me how much people are willing to experiment sexually outside their relationships, yet how tame and puritanical they are at home with their partners. Many of my patients have, by their own account, domestic lives devoid of excitement and eroticism, yet they are consumed and aroused by a richly imaginative sexual life beyond domesticity—affairs, pornography, cybersex, feverish daydreams. For them, sexual love becomes compromised in the making of a family, even a family of two. They numb themselves erotically. Then, having denied themselves freedom, and freedom of imagination, in their relationships, they go outside to reimagine themselves liberated from the constraints of commitment. Security inside, adventure and passion outside. So when the media frantically (yet regularly) announce that couples are not having sex, I can’t help thinking that they may be having plenty of sex, but not with each other.

Esther Perel Quotes on Sex

  1. If you’re too busy for sex, you’re too busy.
  2. When two become one—connection can no longer happen. There is no one to connect with. Thus separateness is a precondition for connection: this is the essential paradox of intimacy and sex.
  3. In some way one could say sex isn’t something you do, eh? Sex is a place you go. It’s a space you enter inside yourself and with another, or others.
  4. Foreplay is the energy that runs through an entire relationship. It begins at the end of the previous orgasm and it lives as an ever-present suggestion that a small look, touch, text, or banter might lead to a little more.
  5. Eroticism challenges us to seek a different kind of resolution, to surrender to the unknown and ungraspable, and to breach the confines of the rational world.
  6. The body is our original mother tongue, and for a lot of men it remains the only language of closeness that hasn’t been spoiled. Through sex, men can recapture the pure pleasure of connection without having to compress their hard-to-articulate needs into the prison of words.

Esther Perel Quotes on Dating in our Times

  1. The swiping culture lures us with infinite possibilities, but it also exerts a subtle tyranny. The constant awareness of ready alternatives invites unfavorable comparisons, weakens commitment, and prevents us from enjoying the present moment.
  2. Flirting is about playing with possibility, not going in for the kill.
  3. Modern relationships are cauldrons of contradictory longings: safety and excitement, grounding and transcendence, the comfort of love and the heat of passion We want it all, and we want it with one person.

Esther Perel Quotes on Monogamy

  1. Trouble looms when monogamy is no longer a free expression of loyalty but a form of enforced compliance. Excessive monitoring can set the stage for what Stephen Mitchell calls ‘acts of exuberant defiance.
  2. Monogamy used to mean one person for life. Now monogamy means one person at a time.
  3. Until now monogamy has been the default setting, and it sits on the premise (however unrealistic) that if you truly love, you should no longer be attracted to others.

Esther Perel Quotes on Neediness & Dependence

  1. The smaller we feel in the world, the more we need to shine in the eyes of our partner.
  2. When we channel all our intimate needs into one person, we actually stand to make the relationship more vulnerable.
  3. In fact, dependence is an essential ingredient of connection. But it’s a producer of terrific anxiety, because it implies that the one we love wields power over us. This is the power to love us, but also to abandon us.

Esther Perel Quotes on Possessiveness & Uncertainty

  1. Is jealousy an expression of love or a sign of insecurity?
  2. Our partners do not belong to us; they are only on loan, with an option to renew—or not. Knowing that we can lose them does not have to undermine commitment; rather, it mandates an active engagement that long-term couples often lose. The realization that our loved ones are forever elusive should jolt us out of complacency, in the most positive sense.
  3. Allow yourself to feel more deeply the otherness of your partner. You never really possess each other. You just think you do.
  4. You can look at the unknown as a place of fear and loss. You can look at the unknown as a realm of possibility and progress. The reality is, it’s both.
  5. We don’t like to be intimate alone. Some couples take this one step further, confusing intimacy with control. What passes for care is actually convert surveillance. When the impulse to share becomes obligatory, when personal boundaries are no longer respected, when only the shared space of togetherness is acknowledged and private space is denied, fusion replaces intimacy and possession co-opts love.

Esther Perel Quotes on Choosing The Right Partner

  1. When you pick a partner, you pick a story. So what kind of story are you going to write? You are the editors of your life stories. Write well and edit often. And remember … a life story is not a love story. You can love a lot more people than you can make a life with
  2. Instead of looking for a person who checks all the boxes, focus on a person with whom you can imagine yourself writing a story with that entails edits and revisions.
  3. Each of you chose someone whose proclivities match your vulnerabilities.
Esther Perel quote: Instead of looking for a person who checks all the boxes, focus on a person with whom you can imagine yourself writing a story with that entails edits and revisions.

Esther Perel on Contradictions

  1. Modern relationships are cauldrons of contradictory longings: safety and excitement, grounding and transcendence, the comfort of love and the heat of passion We want it all, and we want it with one person. Reconciling the domestic and the erotic is a delicate balancing act that we achieve intermittently at best. It requires knowing your partner while remaining open to the unknown, cultivating intimacy that respects privacy. Separateness and togetherness alternate, or proceed in counterpoint. Desire resists confinement, and commitment mustn’t swallow freedom whole.

Esther Perel Quotes on Everthing Else:

  1. Expectations are resentments in the making. The more expectations you have, the more things you can be disappointed of afterwards. Especially when they’re not articulated. (source)
  2. It takes two people to create a pattern, but only one to change it.
  3. Behind every criticism is a veiled wish.
  4. Instead of putting all the effort in fitting in, fitting in as a wife, fitting in as an employee, cultivate the experience of belonging, which entails embracing your authentic self.
  5. Humans have a tendency to look for things in the places where it is easiest to search for them rather than in the places where the truth is more likely to be found.
  6. The more we trust, the farther we are able to venture.
  7. Where there is nothing left to hide, there is nothing left to seek.
  8. Ambivalence is an uncomfortable feeling. Heavy with contradictions, it makes us doubt our feelings and choices. It can cause us to think we’ve failed or that, no matter what decision we make, we will fail. This discomfort makes us crave a definitive answer. So we force ourselves one way or the other.
    [But we can also] hold the ambivalence. We often think we need to resolve the tension and come to a resolution. In most situations, however, holding the ambivalence is, in itself, a form of radical acceptance. This option asks us to sit with the feeling of ambivalence for a while. Stop trying to justify, stop negotiating, and just patiently sit with it, accepting the uncertainty of the present moment.
  9. We seek connection, predictability, and dependability to root us firmly in place. But we also have a need for change, for the unexpected, for transcendence. The Greeks understood this, which is why they worshiped both Apollo (representative of the rational and self-disciplined) and Dionysus (representative of the spontaneous, sensuous, and emotional).
  10. The body often contains emotional truths that words can too easily gloss over.
  11. We bitch about our difficulties along the rough surface of our path, we curse every sharp stone underneath, until at some point in our maturation, we finally look down to see that they are diamonds.
  12. The ability to go anywhere in our imagination is a pure expression of individual freedom. It is a creative force that can help us transcend reality.

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