In this episode of the School of Greatness, Lewis talks to author and psychotherapist Esther Perel about how to maintain healthy relationships despite our different expectations and personalities. She says that we can build lasting relationships if we know how to adjust our expectations, meet different people, and explore new experiences.
Read this if…
- You want to build intimate relationships
- You want to expand your business network
- You want to know how to handle conflicts with your partner
Esther Perel is an award-winning author and psychotherapist. She is known for promoting the concept of “erotic intelligence” in her book Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. She is the host of the podcast Where Should We Begin?where she hosts anonymous couples in search of relationship advice.
the distilld lessons (extended)
When we manage our expectations, understand each other’s differences, and work through conflicts with compassion and accountability, we can keep our relationships healthy.
In this episode of the School of Greatness, Lewis talks to author and psychotherapist Esther Perel about forming strong relationships amidst distinct expectations and personalities. Esther explains that we can build enduring relationships if we calibrate expectations, diversify our sources of positive emotions, and explore new experiences.
Here are the distilld lessons inspired by “The Quality of Your Relationship Determines the Quality of Your Life” episode of the School of Greatness podcast:
1. Our partners deserve reasonable expectations.
Expectations are shifting in relationships. They’re no longer gender-based. The roles of people in relationships are no longer dictated by society.
In an appearance in 2018, Esther discussed that we’ve gained personal freedom and choice in our relationship. Earning a living can now be the woman’s role, and the husband can choose to stay at home and take care of the family.
To keep the relationship healthy, we need to set reasonable expectations. According to a study, having high expectations can lead to an unsatisfying relationship. It’s important that we hold realistic expectations to avoid feeling discontented and unhappy in the relationship.
In a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, for married partners to keep their relationship satisfying, they have to level their expectations with each other’s capacity to provide time, effort, and social skills to the relationship.
We can’t put all our different expectations on one person. It’s unfair to expect them from one relationship alone. As much as our partner can make us feel fulfilled, can’t do that all the time. When we accept that they have limitations, they will understand that we have our own.
Relationships are also a never-ending process. We can always try to make them stronger by giving as much support to our partner as we can. But when we come up short, we don’t have to dwell on the missed opportunity. Instead, we can focus on the effort made. The intention alone is a reflection that we want to keep and make the relationship work.
2. We hold our partners to different standards from ourselves.
When our expectations are not met, we tend to channel what Esther calls ‘negative attribution error’. We attribute our bad behavior to our situation. Meanwhile, we attribute our partner’s bad behavior to their attitude. We justify the wrong we did, but we don’t afford our partner the same courtesy.
We think our partners make mistakes because that’s just who they are. This is unfair to the other person because we set on them a standard different from what we have for ourselves. This imbalance prevents the relationship to grow.
To strengthen relationships, we need to acknowledge that we have flaws, and we make mistakes. In her blog, Esther shares that we have to free ourselves from the notion of a perfect partner. Doing this will make it easier for us to apologize and accept apologies.
When we don’t meet the expectations of our partner, we should take accountability. We should apologize, though in a way that won’t resort to self-shame. We should acknowledge our mistake for what it is. Say “I messed up,” not “I’m messed up.” When we apologize this way, we acknowledge that we did something wrong, and we intend to correct it. We also show that we know we are not the problem. Acknowledging and accepting our flaws and that of our partner’s allow us to have healthier and longer relationships.
3. Relationships can’t always be about one person.
Esther thinks that most people today are participants of the identity economy. She suggests that most of us base decisions on protecting our identity. It’s all about the “self”: self-help, self-care, selfies.
There’s nothing wrong with putting ourselves first. For us to have stable relationships, we need to be aware of who we are, what we want, and what we can offer. This way, we can clearly communicate with our partner. Communication is essential to any relationship.
But it can’t be “I” all the time. Too much “I” reflects a self-centered perspective and this upsets the balance of the relationship. This tendency is called ‘excessive entitlement’ according to a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology in 2014. When we only think about ourselves all the time, we tend to focus on what we can get out of the relationship. As a result, we might forget how equally important our partner is.
Instead of asking, “What can you do for me?”, it’s more inclusive to say, “What can we do to strengthen what we have?” Besides, relationships are about mutual cooperation. In an interview, Esther expressed that partners have to think about the “third entity” which is the relationship. Partners have to think of ways to figure out what the relationship itself needs.
Knowing that the relationship is not only about us, we can be considerate of our partner by asking ourselves, "Am I being too demanding or difficult?" Once we become considerate, we start becoming aware of our partner’s needs, and we can try to meet them. Through this, we contribute to making the relationship stronger.
4. Feelings may change, but values endure.
Esther believes that lasting relationships don’t only focus on feelings. How we feel about our partner and how they feel about us is an important part of the relationship, but it’s our shared values with them that makes the relationship last. Feelings can be fleeting, but values endure. We don’t need to have the same exact values as our partner, though. What matters is we agree with them on what we consider most important.
A 2016 study conducted on married couples found that sharing common parental and marital values increases relationship stability and individual well-being. Of course, we can always compromise. But as much as possible, we want to avoid always having to compromise.
According to Marvin Snider, author of Compatibility Breeds Success: How to Manage Your Relationship with Your Business Partner, two individuals who share compatible values build a partnership that will likely succeed. Simply being on the same page can ensure an effective and lasting relationship both in business and in private.
5. Adventure in moderation keeps relationships fresh.
Relationships are never static. If we refuse to change and grow, we may lose our partners. In order to find and maintain good relationships, we need to stay open-minded. We need to explore new things to allow growth for us and the relationship. A 2000 study found that doing exciting and novel activities can improve satisfaction in the relationship.
Esther cautions us, though. We should reasonably limit our adventures to avoid unnecessary clashes in the relationship. In the 2018 talk, she shared that the best relationships keep the balance between security and adventure. Although new experiences are ways to improve relationships, we can’t neglect our responsibilities and ignore what’s practical.
It’s okay to try a new recipe now and then or try different movie genres. But instantly quitting jobs or moving into a new house without reasonable backups bring little to no good. This might cause frequent arguments and permanent disagreements that can put the relationship at risk. It’s best to be careful while we explore. When we try new things while staying responsible, our relationships can flourish.
For a shorter conversation, the distilld lessons summary are here.