“These are not normal times,” stresses world-renowned couples therapist Esther Perel in her podcast ‘Where Should We Begin? With Esther Perel’ during a conversation with a couple in Italy, who are married for 10 years. The couple is frank and forthcoming about the struggles in their relationships and take the lockdown as an opportunity to reflect on some of the tensions that have emerged in their relationship. The podcast explores every detail of the challenges couples face, from disruption of routine to understanding the reversal of gender roles.
‘Where Should We Begin? With Esther Perel’ (the podcast has been produced by Spotify owned Gimlet Media, beginning Season 3) has spoken to many couples in Sicily, Italy and Bavaria, Germany, countries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, in the podcast. The podcast comes with a disclaimer that the couples are not her ongoing clients and for the purpose of maintaining their confidentiality names and other identifiable characteristics have been removed.
Prolonged periods of uncertainty
In an email interview, Esther writes about the interesting stories she came across while making the podcast: “Both of my Spotify/Gimlet shows, ‘Where Should We Begin’ and ‘How’s Work’ (which focuses on workplace connections, conflicts and dynamics), focus on the invisible forces that shape our relationships. The conversations are honest and raw. Each story is unique in its own way. But they are also mirrors. Listeners can hear their own stories and learn the vocabulary to grapple with their own relationships by listening to the stories of others. More recently, I’ve been speaking to couples who are on lockdown across the world because of COVID-19. All of them were facing relationship challenges before the spread of the virus, but now they’re finding themselves in prolonged periods of uncertainty. This acts as a relationship accelerator: highlighting both the cracks and the light that shines through. I think there is a lot in that people can relate to, no matter where they live or what they are going through.
There is no one size fits all
To the question of what are some of the issues couples universally face, Esther writes: “There is no one size fits all. What is a challenge for one couple or a recurring argument may not even be on the radar for another. That said, communication is often a struggle and many couples lack the vocabulary to navigate the challenges of modern love. When I sit with a couple or conduct a session virtually (as the case is now), I know going into the conversation that there are two types of stories present in the room: the spoken and the unspoken. Across each session, I do my best to bring all these various narratives to the surface.”
Esther argues that relationships breakdown for a multitude of reasons even in “normal times.” “There is one unique challenge we face now. Usually in a family you play multiple roles, but each is played at different times and in different locations. Sometimes you are the parent, other times you’re the lover or partner, or friend, or professional. Now that we have to perform all of these roles at once and in one space. Many people are struggling to find the right boundaries. We face hardship when all of our roles collapse into one space and it is not an easy problem to solve.”
As to whether she could offer insights into better managing relationships during lockdown, Esther guides: “First, consider that you may be physically distant but you can remain socially connected. Physical isolation doesn’t need to translate to all aspects of life. Stay in touch with the outside world and resist the urge to seek everything your village used to provide from one person. That is a tall order for a party of two. Second, understand that you are not alone. Many couples are facing challenges right now. Reach out to a friend and compare notes. Listen to a podcast. You may find that the stories of others help you modify your own. Third, if you are in a position to take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health, consider if this moment of pause is an opportunity to make concerted changes to your relationship. See if there are new boundaries that you want to create or old ones that you’d like to dissolve because they no longer serve you. There is no one answer, but there is a lot for us to consider. For more tips of how to deal with these new dynamics you can read more on my blog: estherperel.com/blog/letters-from-esther-9”
Listen to the podcast at: https://open.spotify.com/show/3fKOTwtnX5oZLaiNntKWAV .