Relationship therapist and best-selling author Esther Perel has done what few psychotherapists are willing to do – allow couples in crisis to listen in on others who turn to her for therapy sessions.
Call it the modern era of eavesdropping. But it's less about gossip and more about learning how to navigate your own relationship woes as Perel shares (with consent) taped sessions with couples she has worked with via her successful podcast Where Should We Begin?
This platform has cemented Perel as a relationship guru, tapping into the psyche of what it means to have a modern partnership.
Behind the veil
She has a knack for getting couples to open up about infidelity, intimacy, sexual desire, and their deepest fears in a way that doesn't feel like you're prying – instead its goal is helping out the next couple stuck in the same dead end street.
"The goal of the podcast is to help others find ways to make their relationship work," says Perel who is in Sydney as a guest speaker at Vivid.
"When they listen to the conversation with couples, they are exposed to their intimate details and it's coming from a level of truth that you can't find in the world of fake news," says Perel.
"As a result, couples tend to feel isolated because nobody knows what is going on behind closed doors with any other couple and they need some sort of direction."
Perel encourages those seeking relationship salvation to think before they speak. She's a keen advocate for self-actualisation firmament (understanding your own hierarchy of needs).
"I really want people to learn through listening deeply to others to gain the vocabulary for conversations they want to have in their own home," says Perel.
"And realise when you are listening to others you are actually standing in front of your own mirror."
Perel's tips for saving your relationship come down to taking the time to look inward, not dumping your past failures on a new partner; bringing love to sex and not the other way around and teaching Generation Z how swiping on an app is not a one-click fix to finding your soul mate.
"Modern love is complex as a result of all these things," says Perel.
"I tell men and women, you can't have one person for everything. The sooner you realise that the better off you will be.
"One person can't give you what an entire village can provide," she says.
Opening new doors
Over the three decades of speaking with couples, Perel has noticed a huge shift in what people are willing to open up about. Once taboo topics like divorce are now commonplace, while men are stepping up to speak their mind about sexual desire or dysfunction and couples are no longer afraid to address the urge to roam within a monogamous relationship.
"There has never been a bigger expectation from what we want from this unit we call the couple than I am seeing today," says Perel.
"Most people never get to the truth of what they really want. I don't hand out advice on five things to solve your conundrum, the reality is some people won't be together, but it's about giving people a framework and meaning for the complexities of their relationships to help them navigate them soundly," she says.
During her talk at Vivid, Perel address what it means to strive for a modern relationship but warns guests to come prepared.
"When I describe what is a modern relationship you either start to laugh or cry because the list is long and complicated," she says.
"And then I will joke about that and tell people to lighten up."