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  • Couple Has An Affair, Leaves Their Spouses To Be Together, and Discovers Reality Bites

    Relationship expert Esther Perel gives a bit of couple advice we didn't expect.
    by Dahl D. Bennett .
Couple Has An Affair, Leaves Their Spouses To Be Together, and Discovers Reality Bites
PHOTO BY Pixabay
  • There is some kind of guilty pleasure that comes from listening in on a couples therapy session, especially when it involves Esther Perel, a celebrated New York-based relationship therapist, best-selling author, and podcaster. She is known for her intuitive, intelligent, out-of-the-box, and at times radical, advice about modern relationships — the kind that makes you say, “Wow, I’ve never seen it from that perspective!”

    On Perel’s popular podcast called Where Should We Begin (available on Apple Podcast and Spotify), we landed on a topic titled, “A Small Town Affair.”

    The story: After years of having an affair, a man and a woman from a small town leave their previous ‘dead’ marriages to settle down together. They defy friends and family because they think what they have is ‘different’ and even unique. A few months into the relationship, however, issues of trust begin to surface. That’s when the couple turns to Perel to help them flesh out the root of the problem and see what they need to work out.

    In the course of listening in, it is clear that Perel’s place is not to moralize but study the relationship presented before her and hopefully answer the question presented to her.

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    Can this relationship be saved?

    Perel digs into the couple’s personal histories and discovers the woman’s father was a philanderer and has a mother who suffered through it all. The man, for his part, had grown up looking up to a grandfather who womanizes and lies continuously, using the same approach to mask his low self-esteem and make himself feel ‘big.’


    He claims he continues to do it because no one has really called him out on his behavior. It is only his partner now, whom he called a “human polygraph,” who can tell when he is lying. He adds that when she catches him lying, he sees some sort of satisfaction in her (Perel laters calls it “vindication,” not satisfaction).

    Perel guides the couple in understanding themselves based on their histories, and with adept language weaves this with the problem in their relationship. In her final analysis, Perel comes up with honest and lucid advice that the couple and, perhaps, even the audience never saw coming. Here are some takeaways.

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    1. Weakness may be defiance.

    Perel says it may appear the woman is “weak and unsure’ for allowing the relationship to go on despite the lying. But there is also real defiance in it that says, “I know better than all of you [about] what I’m doing because I am on a mission that none of you know about.”

    Says Perel, “That mission had something deep to do with her own father, the story that she grew up in, and the promise that she had made herself a long time ago that was now being played out with this man of which he may not even know.”

    2. One knows the answer to “can I trust him?”

    When the woman finally addresses the elephant in the room, Perel was only too honest to tell the woman, “[That] is a fake question,” which meant the woman knew the answer to that question.

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    Perel tells her that her doubts are valid. “It’s realistic that you don’t trust him. On what basis would you trust him? It makes sense what you’re doing.”

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    Perel goes on to say the man himself admitted that he was not to be trusted, so why should she? If she wants to believe him, “she may have to take the risk and over time, and he may prove that it’s a risk worth taking.”

    However, Perrel was quick to tell the woman that trusting him might be a ‘fantasy thinking” and she knows it.

    3. Sometimes, as painful as it can be, moving on is best.

    So, can this relationship be saved? Perel tells them something the couple did not likely expect: “You would be tremendous friends for each other. I’m not sure you are meant as a couple. Sorry, not that I know the truth on any of this, but now what you can offer each other, you have a better chance to make good use of as friends than if you try to become a blended family.”

    To sum up the whole session, Perel gives this advice: “If they want to preserve the good stuff they have between them, they better be friends. That doesn’t mean I’m right, but since they came asking me, ‘Do we have a chance? Can we be a couple?  Do we have a future?’ and so forth, I felt that I needed to share my information with them at the end, which is ‘You have some wonderful things with each other, cultivate [them] as friends. [There’s a] better chance to stay in each other’s lives if you are friends than go for the next divorce.’”

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