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Mating in Captivity

In Search of Erotic Intelligence

By Esther Perel
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Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

Mating in Captivity (2006) explores the question that everyone in a committed relationship asks: Is it possible to sustain passion over a long period of time? Author Esther Perel believes it is, but she thinks we can only generate sexual excitement by reassessing modern ideals around commitment and better understanding how our personal histories affect our behavior in the bedroom. If we can do this, we’ll fuel our relationships with the mystery and excitement that keep passion burning.

Key idea 1 of 9

Passion withers when we expect our partner to be our main source of security.

Humans are contradictory creatures, longing for both security and passion. We feel secure when our relationship is stable and consistent. But passion is allergic to these qualities. It wants danger, mystery, and the unexpected.

The key message here is: passion withers when we expect our partner to be our main source of security.

Life is unpredictable and having a supportive infrastructure around us eases our anxiety. But many of us have abandoned the institutions – like marriage and religion – that gave our predecessors a sense of security. Now, we expect our partner to be everything: our rock, best friend, confidant, and lover. But this places a huge amount of pressure on them. And pressure is fatal to passion.

Seven years into her relationship with Alan, 38-year-old Adele found herself in this situation. A successful lawyer and mother to 5-year-old Emilia, she was happy in her marriage, most of the time. But she didn’t feel like a sexual being – only a mother and wife. And she didn’t see Alan as sexual either. Passion in their marriage was killed by the safe routine they’d created to manage their busy life together.

So, how do partners find a balance between security and eroticism?

We must start by letting go of the fantasy of security. Every relationship holds the risk of loss. We like to believe that love will last forever. But death could end even the most loving relationship. In accepting the impermanence of life, we can stop clinging to routines in our relationships that make us feel safe. This guides us into a place where we can rediscover mystery in our partner. And mystery arouses excitement.

One day Adele experienced a breakthrough at a work function. She saw Alan talking to some colleagues and noticed how attractive he was. In that moment, she forgot all the mundane interactions that filled their lives – like their bickering about the mess he left in the bathroom. Instead, she observed his smart, sexy vibe. He was more than just her husband, and it turned her on!

It can be challenging to look at our partner with fresh eyes because seeing them as an individual threatens our sense of security. But by finding the courage to do so, we’ll constantly find new things about our partner to explore, and this can help us reignite our passion. 

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