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Why Happy Couples Cheat, TED Talk by Esther Perel

Source: YouTube Video

Published on May 21, 2015

Infidelity is the ultimate betrayal. But does it have to be? Relationship therapist Esther Perel examines why people cheat, and unpacks why affairs are so traumatic: because they threaten our emotional security. In infidelity, she sees something unexpected — an expression of longing and loss. A must-watch for anyone who has ever cheated or been cheated on, or who simply wants a new framework for understanding relationships.

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outstanding TED talk. 

What's the main thing you learned from it?

4:30 Now, I like this definition of an affair -- it brings together the three key elements: a secretive relationship, which is the core structure of an affair; an emotional connection to one degree or another; and a sexual alchemy. And alchemy is the key word here, because the erotic frisson is such that the kiss that you only imagine giving, can be as powerful and as enchanting as hours of actual lovemaking. As Marcel Proust said, it's our imagination that is responsible for love, not the other person.

13:32 And contrary to what you may think, affairs are way less about sex, and a lot more about desire: desire for attention, desire to feel special, desire to feel important. And the very structure of an affair, the fact that you can never have your lover, keeps you wanting. That in itself is a desire machine, because the incompleteness, the ambiguity, keeps you wanting that which you can't have.

I look at affairs from a dual perspective: hurt and betrayal on one side, growth and self-discovery on the other -- what it did to you, and what it meant for me. And so when a couple comes to me in the aftermath of an affair that has been revealed, I will often tell them this: Today in the West, most of us are going to have two or three relationships or marriages, and some of us are going to do it with the same person.Your first marriage is over. Would you like to create a second one together?

I read this to mean that the person having the affair wants more than s/he had before the affair. 

Life is about tradeoffs and the person having the affair is willing to give up some of what s/he has for something s/he wants. 

8:26But then we have another paradox that we're dealing with these days. Because of this romantic ideal, we are relying on our partner's fidelity with a unique fervor. But we also have never been more inclined to stray, and not because we have new desires today, but because we live in an era where we feel that we are entitled to pursue our desires, because this is the culture where I deserve to be happy. And if we used to divorce because we were unhappy, today we divorce because we could be happier. And if divorce carried all the shame, today, choosing to stay when you can leave is the new shame. So Heather, she can't talk to her friends because she's afraid that they will judge her for still loving Nick, and everywhere she turns, she gets the same advice: Leave him. Throw the dog on the curb. And if the situation were reversed, Nick would be in the same situation. Staying is the new shame.

9:34So if we can divorce, why do we still have affairs? Now, the typical assumption is that if someone cheats,either there's something wrong in your relationship or wrong with you. But millions of people can't all be pathological. The logic goes like this: If you have everything you need at home, then there is no need to go looking elsewhere, assuming that there is such a thing as a perfect marriage that will inoculate us against wanderlust. But what if passion has a finite shelf life? What if there are things that even a good relationship can never provide? If even happy people cheat, what is it about?

I would think a happy person cheats because s/he doesn't want to live with either/or.

S/he wants to have cake and eat it too.

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