The New Self-Help

What You Don’t Know About Your Partner Might Turn You On

Romantic desire thrives on uncertainty

Esther Perel
Published in
4 min readAug 31, 2020
Book jacket cover for Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic + the Domestic by Esther Perel

This story is part of The New Self-Help: 21 Books for a Better You in the 21st Century.

You meet someone through a potent alchemy of attraction. You’re filled with a sense of possibility, of hope, of being lifted out of the mundane and into a world of emotion and enthrallment. You cherish the rush, and you want to hold on to the feeling.

You’re also scared. The more you become attached, the more you have to lose. So you set out to make love more secure. You create comfort through devices — habit, ritual, pet names — that bring reassurance.

But the initial excitement was bound to a certain measure of insecurity. By seeking to harness it, you wind up draining the vitality out of the relationship. In your attempt to control the risks of passion, you have tamed it out of existence. Marital boredom is born.

There’s a powerful tendency in long-term relationships to favor the predictable over the unpredictable. Yet eroticism thrives on the unpredictable. The motivational expert Anthony Robbins put it succinctly when he once explained that passion in a relationship is commensurate with the amount of uncertainty you can tolerate.

Having new eyes

How do we introduce this uncertainty into our intimate relationships? In truth, it is already there.

Eastern philosophers have long known that impermanence is the only constant. Given the transient nature of life, given its ceaseless flux, there is more than a hint of arrogance in the assumption that we can make our relationships permanent, and that security can actually be fixed. When we love, we always risk the possibility of loss — by criticism, rejection, separation, and ultimately death — regardless of how hard we try to defend against it. As the adage says: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

Introducing uncertainty sometimes requires nothing more than letting go of the illusion of certitude. In this shift of perception, we recognize the inherent mystery of our partner. In the words of Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in…



Esther Perel
Writer for

Psychologist Esther Perel is recognized as one of the world’s most original and insightful voices on couples and sexuality across cultures.