Laughter is the Best Medicine

Rethinking infidelity … a talk for anyone who has ever loved | Esther Perel

Why do we cheat? And why do happy people cheat? And when we say “infidelity,”
what exactly do we mean? Is it a hookup, a love story,
paid sex, a chat room, a massage with a happy ending? Why do we think that men cheat
out of boredom and fear of intimacy, but women cheat out of loneliness
and hunger for intimacy? And is an affair always
the end of a relationship? For the past 10 years,
I have traveled the globe and worked extensively
with hundreds of couples who have been shattered by infidelity. There is one simple act of transgression that can rob a couple
of their relationship, their happiness and their
very identity: an affair. And yet, this extremely common
act is so poorly understood. So this talk is for anyone
who has ever loved. Adultery has existed
since marriage was invented, and so, too, the taboo against it. In fact, infidelity has a tenacity
that marriage can only envy, so much so, that this is
the only commandment that is repeated twice in the Bible: once for doing it, and once
just for thinking about it. (Laughter) So how do we reconcile
what is universally forbidden, yet universally practiced? Now, throughout history, men
practically had a license to cheat with little consequence, and supported by a host
of biological and evolutionary theories that justified their need to roam, so the double standard
is as old as adultery itself. But who knows what’s really going on
under the sheets there, right? Because when it comes to sex, the pressure for men
is to boast and to exaggerate, but the pressure for women
is to hide, minimize and deny, which isn’t surprising when you consider
that there are still nine countries where women can be killed for straying. Now, monogamy used to be
one person for life. Today, monogamy is one person at a time. (Laughter) (Applause) I mean, many of you probably have said, “I am monogamous in all my relationships.” (Laughter) We used to marry, and had sex for the first time. But now we marry, and we stop having sex with others. The fact is that monogamy
had nothing to do with love. Men relied on women’s fidelity in order to know whose children these are, and who gets the cows when I die. Now, everyone wants to know what percentage of people cheat. I’ve been asked that question
since I arrived at this conference. (Laughter) It applies to you. But the definition of infidelity
keeps on expanding: sexting, watching porn, staying
secretly active on dating apps. So because there is no
universally agreed-upon definition of what even constitutes an infidelity, estimates vary widely,
from 26 percent to 75 percent. But on top of it, we are
walking contradictions. So 95 percent of us will say
that it is terribly wrong for our partner to lie
about having an affair, but just about the same
amount of us will say that that’s exactly what we
would do if we were having one. (Laughter) 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. So it’s never been easier to cheat, and it’s never been more
difficult to keep a secret. And never has infidelity exacted
such a psychological toll. When marriage was an economic enterprise, infidelity threatened
our economic security. But now that marriage
is a romantic arrangement, infidelity threatens
our emotional security. Ironically, we used to turn to adultery — that was the space where
we sought pure love. But now that we seek love in marriage, adultery destroys it. Now, there are three ways that I think
infidelity hurts differently today. We have a romantic ideal
in which we turn to one person to fulfill an endless list of needs: to be my greatest lover, my best friend, the best parent, my trusted confidant, my emotional companion,
my intellectual equal. And I am it: I’m chosen, I’m unique, I’m indispensable, I’m irreplaceable, I’m the one. And infidelity tells me I’m not. It is the ultimate betrayal. Infidelity shatters
the grand ambition of love. But if throughout history,
infidelity has always been painful, today it is often traumatic, because it threatens our sense of self. So my patient Fernando, he’s plagued. He goes on: “I thought I knew my life. I thought I knew who you were,
who we were as a couple, who I was. Now, I question everything.” Infidelity — a violation of trust,
a crisis of identity. “Can I ever trust you again?” he asks. “Can I ever trust anyone again?” And this is also what my patient
Heather is telling me, when she’s talking to me
about her story with Nick. Married, two kids. Nick just left on a business trip, and Heather is playing
on his iPad with the boys, when she sees a message
appear on the screen: “Can’t wait to see you.” Strange, she thinks,
we just saw each other. And then another message: “Can’t wait to hold you in my arms.” And Heather realizes these are not for her. She also tells me
that her father had affairs, but her mother, she found
one little receipt in the pocket, and a little bit of lipstick
on the collar. Heather, she goes digging, and she finds hundreds of messages, and photos exchanged
and desires expressed. The vivid details
of Nick’s two-year affair unfold in front of her in real time, And it made me think: Affairs in the digital age
are death by a thousand cuts. But 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. So 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? The vast majority of people
that I actually work with are not at all chronic philanderers. They are often people who are
deeply monogamous in their beliefs, and at least for their partner. But they find themselves in a conflict between their values and their behavior. They often are people who have
actually been faithful for decades, but one day they cross a line that they never thought they would cross, and at the risk of losing everything. But for a glimmer of what? Affairs are an act of betrayal, and they are also an expression
of longing and loss. At the heart of an affair,
you will often find a longing and a yearning
for an emotional connection, for novelty, for freedom,
for autonomy, for sexual intensity, a wish to recapture
lost parts of ourselves or an attempt to bring back
vitality in the face of loss and tragedy. I’m thinking about
another patient of mine, Priya, who is blissfully married, loves her husband, and would never want to hurt the man. But she also tells me that she’s always done
what was expected of her: good girl, good wife, good mother, taking care of her immigrant parents. Priya, she fell for the arborist
who removed the tree from her yard after Hurricane Sandy. And with his truck and his tattoos,
he’s quite the opposite of her. But at 47, Priya’s affair is about
the adolescence that she never had. And her story highlights for me
that when we seek the gaze of another, it isn’t always our partner
that we are turning away from, but the person that
we have ourselves become. And it isn’t so much that we’re
looking for another person, as much as we are
looking for another self. Now, all over the world, there is one word that people
who have affairs always tell me. They feel alive. And they often will tell me
stories of recent losses — of a parent who died, and a friend that went too soon, and bad news at the doctor. Death and mortality often live
in the shadow of an affair, because they raise these questions. Is this it? Is there more? Am I going on for another
25 years like this? Will I ever feel that thing again? And it has led me to think
that perhaps these questions are the ones that propel
people to cross the line, and that some affairs are
an attempt to beat back deadness, in an antidote to death. 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. Now some of you probably think that affairs don’t happen
in open relationships, but they do. First of all, the conversation
about monogamy is not the same as the conversation about infidelity. But the fact is that it seems
that even when we have the freedom to have other sexual partners, we still seem to be lured
by the power of the forbidden, that if we do that which
we are not supposed to do, then we feel like we are really
doing what we want to. And I’ve also told
quite a few of my patients that if they could bring
into their relationships one tenth of the boldness,
the imagination and the verve that they put into their affairs, they probably would never need to see me. (Laughter) So how do we heal from an affair? Desire runs deep. Betrayal runs deep. But it can be healed. And some affairs are death knells for relationships that were
already dying on the vine. But others will jolt us
into new possibilities. The fact is, the majority of couples who have experienced
affairs stay together. But some of them will merely survive, and others will actually be able
to turn a crisis into an opportunity. They’ll be able to turn this
into a generative experience. And I’m actually thinking even
more so for the deceived partner, who will often say, “You think I didn’t want more? But I’m not the one who did it.” But now that the affair is exposed, they, too, get to claim more, and they no longer have
to uphold the status quo that may not have been working
for them that well, either. I’ve noticed that a lot of couples, in the immediate aftermath of an affair, because of this new disorder
that may actually lead to a new order, will have depths of conversations
with honesty and openness that they haven’t had in decades. And, partners who were
sexually indifferent find themselves suddenly
so lustfully voracious, they don’t know where it’s coming from. Something about the fear
of loss will rekindle desire, and make way for an entirely
new kind of truth. So when an affair is exposed, what are some of the specific things
that couples can do? We know from trauma that healing begins when the perpetrator
acknowledges their wrongdoing. So for the partner who had the affair, for Nick, one thing is to end the affair, but the other is the essential,
important act of expressing guilt and remorse for hurting his wife. But the truth is that I have noticed that quite a lot
of people who have affairs may feel terribly guilty
for hurting their partner, but they don’t feel guilty
for the experience of the affair itself. And that distinction is important. And Nick, he needs to hold
vigil for the relationship. He needs to become, for a while,
the protector of the boundaries. It’s his responsibility to bring it up, because if he thinks about it, he can relieve Heather from the obsession, and from having to make sure
that the affair isn’t forgotten, and that in itself
begins to restore trust. But for Heather, or deceived partners, it is essential to do things
that bring back a sense of self-worth, to surround oneself with love
and with friends and activities that give back joy
and meaning and identity. But even more important, is to curb the curiosity
to mine for the sordid details — Where were you? Where did you do it? How often? Is she better
than me in bed? — questions that only inflict more pain, and keep you awake at night. And instead, switch to what I call
the investigative questions, the ones that mine
the meaning and the motives — What did this affair mean for you? What were you able to express
or experience there that you could no longer do with me? What was it like for you
when you came home? What is it about us that you value? Are you pleased this is over? Every affair will redefine a relationship, and every couple will determine what the legacy of the affair will be. But affairs are here to stay,
and they’re not going away. And the dilemmas of love and desire, they don’t yield just simple answers
of black and white and good and bad, and victim and perpetrator. Betrayal in a relationship
comes in many forms. There are many ways
that we betray our partner: with contempt, with neglect, with indifference, with violence. Sexual betrayal is only
one way to hurt a partner. In other words, the victim of an affair is not always the victim of the marriage. Now, you’ve listened to me, and I know what you’re thinking: She has a French accent,
she must be pro-affair. (Laughter) So, you’re wrong. I am not French. (Laughter) (Applause) And I’m not pro-affair. But because I think that good
can come out of an affair, I have often been asked
this very strange question: Would I ever recommend it? Now, I would no more
recommend you have an affair than I would recommend you have cancer, and yet we know that people
who have been ill often talk about how their illness
has yielded them a new perspective. The main question that I’ve been asked
since I arrived at this conference when I said I would talk
about infidelity is, for or against? I said, “Yes.” (Laughter) 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? Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Rethinking infidelity … a talk for anyone who has ever loved | Esther Perel

  1. But not to worry, it is inevitable that you will be replaced with technology. Heck, you aren’t even a bottleneck anymore. Inferior and more expensive in nearly every way. It’s only a matter of time.

  2. "Universally forbidden, yet universally practiced." Same with lying, killing, stealing, etc. She's speaking only of SOME people.

  3. Love is a commitment, not a feeling. Your feelings change all day long, when you commit to your spouse you don't betray them. If you are not happy about your relationship, you talk, and you try your best to work things out. If you have tried everything "together of course" to work things out, and nothing has helped; you talk as civilized human beings and have the courage to tell that person in her/his face you can no longer stay with them. But you do not betray them like a f#$#&*π∆✓® COWARD!!!

  4. There are MILLIONS of people who don't cheat. There is one simple act of transgression: Cheating. It is not misunderstood. Move on, find someone else who will value you! And if you value yourself, you wont' cheat and you won't allow your mate to cheat either. These Ted talks let ANYONE fill out an application to speak, some with absolutely no real credentials have a go at a session and post it online for all to think everything these bozos say must be true. Sheer crap! Yes, infidelity IS the ultimate betrayal. However, it's not that you weren't good enough for them, it's that they weren't good enough for you. You are welcome!

  5. It's easier to be celibate than to be celibate or unloved in a marriage by someone you used to love. I think if the infidelity hurts, there is still a marriage to be saved . Forgiveness gets you paradise.

  6. Having the internet at your finger tips if your spouse makes a wrong move is like being under the gun.
    God has a process which saves most marriages from divorce before and after the marriage .

  7. If you marry a man with female "friends" or have a relationship with him before marriage, why would anything changes after marriage .
    Conservative Muslims don't have these problems AND they're going to live forever in paradise. Forever, forever. That's worth it.

  8. Weigh your loneliness and wanting an affair with the sanity that comes from not doing it – the happiness . And then either accept your marriage, improve it , voice your greivances or leave . You can go back later.

  9. Most people in the community
    are not kind and won't forgive you . It's the same human nature that made you take the step to cheat. You must forgive yourself . It's your divine right . And pray for others and the woman you used out of loneliness because it's really her reputation that suffers, not yours .
    That wanting to feel important and wanted …she's right . You may never get it so give it to others and please God.

  10. Everything she says is helpful. Many people come from toxic families. Loneliness has been their life even in the midst of many "friends". Be merciful.

  11. Here’s a parameter for infidelity, if you can’t do it in front of your spouse, then you can’t do it at all.

  12. My ex husband also exhibited characters that seemed almost clear that he was cheating. Thanks to my friend who introduced me to a private investigator who help me hack my husband Samsung s10. He had a love affair outside our relationship. That broke our marriage. I don't know why men cheat. My advise to you is that if you are experiencing something like this, you should get a private investigator too. You can email [email protected] or check

  13. It's just hard to trust anyone nowadays. You see and hear a lot of negative things about in a relationship such as infidelity, affair, cheating, being side chicks, or infatuation, which makes them feel insecure about themselves and drama starts from their. It's not easy to have a healthy relationship. You need to work on it…. It can last forever, hey you never know…

  14. The official relationships are incomplete that's the main reason. People do not know themselves fully before they go all out and marry. People are in such a hurry. First of all know yourself.

  15. Infidelity starts before the act — it's phycological. the act only wraps up, what is a spiritual marriage, in order to procreate.

  16. BS.
    People cheat because of ego, selfishness, being self-absorbed, etc. If they cared about and had the slightest consideration for their partner (and/or children), affairs wouldn't happen.
    And, essentially, this "therapist" advocates for the victim to reconsider and trounce their values and their valid emotional and intellectual response, whilst the guilty party is let off the hook. Classic blaming the victim…

  17. Anyone who is watching this if you are having an affair with a married person realize you are destroying a family a home another person who is at home waiting for the person who you are with and I promise if they cheat with you they will cheat on you. I was faithful and I was cheated on for over a quarter of a century and I promise you I know they never stop they only get better at hiding it.your health and life are not worth risking for someone who doesn't care enough to be faithful.

  18. forgiveness is personal. it can never be imposed. it is to be felt genuinely by the forgiver otherwise it has no meaning. both must move on separately and should never look back.

  19. Being married 3 times and NO MORE…. this lady hits the nail dead on the head I love listening her. But guess I’m just someone who cannot be married. I think there is a name for it according to saintly mother Whoremonger

  20. What about if the husband cheats many, many times because his mother sabotaged the relationship on purpose

  21. Whats happens when you already left your lover and your partner never knew about it. And you still in this relationship with your husband where you still feel empty and loveless

  22. I feel no one deserves to be in a relationship with a narcissist they are terrible people that feel entitled thank God for my friend who referred me to an hacker and i was able to hack my narcissist partner's phone and see all the proofs i needed for a divorce and even terrible things they had planned contact Mike to help he is a genius, you can text/call +1 (415) 323-6758 or reach him on WhatsApp +1 (724) 330-3252 and also write to Via Gmail (geniustracker701)

  23. I think everyone is overthinking an affair yes it's absolutely horrible and destroys self esteem and trust but the situation is never as it seems even if they don't deserve it hear them out they may have their own issues and don't know how to deal with them.

  24. Have you been looking for a way to discover your cheating spouse?this message is

    s for you because I'm once in your shoe when my husband was cheating on me,but thank God to a friend who introduced me to a "trusted Private Investigator " with a track records called christophercyberhacker @ gmail. com OR you can text him on +19142466617 Who helped me out.He did a great job for me within few days with proof of evidence which i actually used to confront him.He reveals all my husband activities on his phone ,including Call Records, Deleted WhatsApp Messages,Deleted Text Messages, Facebook chats,Instagram chats,Twitter and including his Details of bank Account,How he has been transferring money to other people.e.t.c.That's how I saved my marriage….I katerina can confidently recommend him to anyone facing infidelity in his/her marriage and you will definitely thank me later.Good Luck.

  25. We are just animals with primal instincts who happen to have slightly bigger intelligence than the other animals. We think that just because we are intelligent we can defeat our instincts, but we are far, far away from that.

  26. In my opinion this is a video that everyone no matter the generation, age, race, gender identity, political ideology; everyone…. Should watch.

  27. For me it was always simple question "am I want to see that person now?" and if answer is "yes" than I don't care what happened before and possibly would happens after. If answer is "no" than I don't care either. This makes relationships quite enjouable sequence of events whithout any need of being suspicious and tests for trust. I just trust, thats it. And if I want it to end it is not because I caught partner on cheating, may be it wasn't ever happened, who knows, I don't even checking, why should I? But I don't enjoying company anymore, and it is the only true reason which is enough by itself.

  28. It's not the just the act of cheating itself that ruins a relationship, but why they did it in the first place, and what they are willing to do to do to start again. That's why I'm giving my partner another chance. They made no excuses, they just promised change with transparency.

  29. That lady is incredibly smart in how she expresses herself, she really brought such an interesting view on the topic of infidelity, really an amazing talk

  30. I married my first and only love 13 years ago and I have never cheated nor I would ever cheat. If that thought would ever cross my mind, I would first end it with the man I'm with, I would never hurt him like that.

  31. My 2nd husband’s affaire ruined our relationship. My first husband’s serial cheating made me vow not to marrow for love again. Didn’t work ….

  32. Hello everyone! If you require the service of a professional hacker to help track your partner's cell phone remotely, contact cyberhackanswers @ gmail com, he was excellent in helping me hack my wife’s phone without physical contact. you can also reach him on WhatsApp on  +1 626-578-5544 , tell him James referred you he would give you a discount.

  33. Excellent talk. She is right to look at both sides of an affair…2 sides to a story…telling the perspective for both sides to understand/heal the relationship

  34. Sorry but I cannot agree with this title. I'll listen but I know I cannot simply just allow it. You forgive them for this, most times than naught they will do it again. It is a deal breaker.

  35. Infedelity is any interaction with anyone your partner does notvlike and wants to make you miserable aboutveven knowing……

  36. Someone who cheats on you is disrespecting your entire existence, never give them a second chance even if you have kids together. It is toxic to your soul to try and make things work, don’t do it. Once a cheater always a cheater.


  38. Man, meaning people are made for serial monogamy.It's the law, the church and other outside influences that make that impossible.

  39. Some of this only relates to young people, and some of this only relates to old people.
    Regardless, it all boils down to stagnation and fantasy.

  40. Normalization then novelty seeking. Our brains our designed this way. It's both the best and worst trait that we have.

  41. She's looking at the problem from a very limited perspective. Obviously most people don't have the balls to confront themselves about how they misrule and abuse their own life. That's where one should start from. If a person can't take care of themselves they can't take care of a relationship. And if they can't do that, nor work from within the relationship instead of searching for what's missing outside of it, then they are better refraining from one and starting to work on themselves. Of course, this topic relates as well to how most people don't know how to choose a good and right partner too. My point is all of those problems are more fundamental and fixing them would fix to a great part the loose lifestyle we have descended into….

  42. women cost to much over time .

    I concentrate on me my money I make is mine .

    I’m happy on my own
    I get to do what I want when I want
    Sexual relationship with women never appealed to me.

    Women will go digging even when your not cheating .

    Women are a waste of time an resource and more and more young men are realizing this.

    Thank God for MGTOW

  43. I'm openly polyamorus and I can honestly tell you very little really ignites passion for my partner than other women. When I get bored the NRE is often excilerating but it can very easily turn into a situation where I remember why I fell in love with her in the first place…. it reinforces the two of us… People's ego is whack, we basically think we can provide an endless list of needs/desires for exactly one person and the moment they stray our identity is shattered…

    it wasn't like this for me, I guess I've always been somewhat detached from my relationships in that I never exactly derived identity from them, I guess because I view that as a dangerous situation that gives too much power to others.

    I've never thought of myself as the endlesss satisfier of lyssa's heartfelt desires…

    I don't expect her to be either, I think the Ideal around monogamy is unrealistic, we expect one person to fulfill every one of our needs and desires
    but I can't even find a friend to go to all of the same concerts I'd want to go to…

    Yet alone all the television shows, the foreign media… etc I've been into. I've done so much on my own… I don't think ANYONE is going to get all the things I was into at once…. I don't think it's fair to expect them to…

  44. Yes, longing and loss; however, not all affairs are partners simply being wayward. Sometimes it is their way out of the relationship. And if you're a debilitatingly ill partner (mortality) who's working hard to keep your relationship together–intimacy alive–, when you've tried to talk with your partner about the loss they're experiencing as a result of your illness, it's difficult have people tell you that "it takes two to tango." Both people are blamed, which is traumatising to the ill person. I was blamed by my partner for finding out about the affair while my partner took no responsibility and went so far to say, "I thought you'd be happy I found love." Illness can be an opportunity for greater intimacy and deeper love… it can be a growth inducing journey. I might have considered going along with ongoing infidelity if I thought that was something my partner could do, but my partner believed in happy ever after and I'd delivered disability. Not only does the ill person lose the person they love, they're in the position to not have love in their life again. Ask me how I know. That's a joke. I'm not going to respond. My father was not well and my mother stuck buy him until he could be well enough for them to have a better life. He was still ill. I've become better and am still ill. Yes, people think that love, honor, duty means nothing.

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  46. So I should wife up a chick, pay her bills and not mind other dudes hittin it? I think I'll just continue to string girls along till they gives an ultimatum. Then we're done. This strategy is not without it's kinks, but it works.

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