SXSW: Esther Perel on the future of love and relationships

“The quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life,” says esteemed couples therapist, Esther Perel. The Belgian psychotherapist made waves at SXSW with a packed keynote session on the future of love, lust and listening. Perel has built somewhat of a cult following with her podcast ‘Where Shall We Begin’ that takes an intimate deepdive inside a couple’s private relationship (The Atlantic referred to her podcast series as “the Rosetta Stone of feelings” which succinctly sums it up).


Perel introduced somewhat simplistic yet profound points including how every conference seems to centre discussions around the future of food, fashion, money and transport but omits conversation about what’s really important (and universal) in all of our lives: relationships!


Esther Perel


According to Perel, the old model of marriage as an economic enterprise has completely changed. Whereas intimacy was once more black and white where partners focused on what commercial assets or what family trade they could secure, it’s now more about bringing (and devoting) our full selves to each other. “Today, intimacy is INTO-ME-SEE,” says Perel as conversations become the heart of relationships. “We have to talk about stuff that we’ve never talked about and that we don’t know how to talk about. Most of the time we’ve never said it to ourselves.”


And that in itself is the problem. We live in a world where airing our dirty laundry isn’t necessarily the way to climb the social media ladder – although vulnerability and transparency are becoming more celebrated social traits, yay. Nobody curates their Instagram to showcase the obstacles, struggles and investment they put into their relationships but maybe it’s time we should.


Perel is on a mission to dispel common relationship myths and bring comfort to those that feel alone in their problems. “More than ever, we need conversation and we need nuanced conversations,” she says. “Often we therapists get to hear these conversations but we don’t get to share them with the world. Fake news isn’t just for politics, it also applies to curated Instagram lives where we craft and filter these perfect fictious stories and no one knows what goes on in the lives of other couples.”


The solution, Perel suggests, is to deal with our imperfection and pains and recognise that they are part of a collective yearning. Don’t privatise your problem because then you make it your own which can lead to isolation and loneliness. It’s a new time of change for relationships and it will be interesting to see how brands connect to these rising shifts in communication.

An easy reference and reminder to keep your nurturing your connections: “Relationships are your stories, write well and edit often.”

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