To say that I am impressed with the work of the acclaimed "sex therapist"--Dr. Esther Perel-- would be an understatement. And seeing that she's a New York Times bestseller and viral Ted Talk presenter, I clearly am not alone in my esteem. She is known for her research and work around sex, infidelity, marriage, and the difference between desire and love.
While I am constantly reminding all of us that we need to expand our understanding of the word intimacy to be about more than sex (we all need far more intimacy in our lives than any romantic relationship--or act within that relationship--can provide!), that's not to say that the principles of healthy romance can't inform healthy friendships! Intimacy-- the act of being close and feeling bonded-- might look different in specifics with a romantic partner, but the general values are similar in any relationship.
Esther Perel's 7 Verbs for Better Relationships
Sitting in the audience of one of Esther Perel's talks this last Sunday night inspired me in many ways, but one idea I knew I had to share this week with all of you was her 7 verbs to healthier relationships. Similar to how we might learn the same core verbs when learning a new language (e.g. to have, to want, to be), she offers up 7 verbs that she feels are core to sustained love.
Obviously in a sexual relationship, the verbs might be more specific to how you behave in the bedroom, but those same verbs can be incredibly powerful and convicting when we think about how we practice them in any realm of life, including our friendships.
When looking at these seven verbs, ask yourself: How comfortable am I at practicing this verb? How hard or easy are each of these actions for me?
- To Ask: What do we need? Do we ask for it? Instead of telling people what we don't want or being hurt when they don't meet our needs-- are we becoming more practiced with requesting what we want and need? This is so crucial-- I talk about it a lot in Frientimacy because so many friendships experience misunderstandings simply because we didn't ask for what would have felt good.What do you need to ask for from your friends?
- To Give: Are we generous? Do we enjoy bringing pleasure and joy to others? Can we give without strings attached? Do we notice opportunities for giving and then take them? My guess is that most of us do this one pretty well-- at least most of us report that we feel like we're the "givers" in our friendships, but maybe an inquiry is whether we are doing it with joy and generosity? What do you need to give to yourself and/or your friendships?
- To Receive: Are we quick to receive what is given-- be it offers to help or compliments? Do we say thank you, instead of brushing the gifts away? Do we let others give to us without fear, score-keeping, or feelings of inferiority? Can we sit back and take in the generosity of others? Again, in Frientimacy I have a whole chapter talking about this because for those of us who feel like we give so much, the answer may not be that we need to give less, but that we need to receive more? Women, especially, find this one hard because we like how it feels to be the giver and we're afraid of having needs or being seen as narcissistic or arrogant. What do you need to receive from yourself and your friends?
- To Take: Can we take what we need without needing to wait for others to grant us permission or offer it up? Are we empowered to identify what feels good and pursue it? I LOVE that this is a different verb than to "receive." For many of us, we need to say "yes" to help or "thank you" to an affirmation, but there are so many things we need to "take" that we can't wait for someone to offer. Some of us need to take more days off, some of us need to take control of our work, some of us need to take the time to have a courageous conversation, and some of us need to take the initiative. What do you need to take that would matter to you and/or your friendships?
- To Imagine: We don't talk about this one much, but what do you need to imagine in your relationships? How comfortable are you at thinking outside the box? How willing are you to fantasize about what you could experience? How willing are you share your dreams and hopes with others? Obviously in a sexual situation, to be able to share one's fantasies with a partner looks different from sharing our dreams, ideas, and hopes with a friend-- but they both take vulnerability as we risk sharing "bigger" and "more" with another. Where do you need to imagine? What imaginations might want to be shared with another?
- To Share: hmmmm.... this is a powerful word, different still from giving and receiving, huh? Whether it's the picture of a child who is sharing a toy (not giving it away) or the idea of sitting on a couch and sharing stories with a friend, the idea of sharing is that we are doing something together, not just doing it beside each other as we each do our own thing. The dictionary defines it as "having portion of something with another." How well do you share with your friends? How does sharing look different from giving to you? What could you share that would feel bonding?
- To Refuse: Esther made the statement: "If you've never had the freedom to say no, then you've never had the permission to say yes." Wow, let that one soak in. Are you comfortable saying no to your friends? Are you willing to refuse what doesn't feel good? We often feel like we have to always say yes "because they're my friend" but I actually teach the opposite: It should be with our friends that we can practice this verb most safely! We need to practice saying no and trust that our friends will trust us more when we say yes because we've proven we can say no. What do you need to practice refusing? Where do you need to say no?
Aren't those powerful? Which one is the one that is most difficult for you or the one you do the least often? Which one do you need to practice more within your friendships? Which one is calling out to you say "Pay attention to opportunities to act on this verb!"
Improving our friendships, and feeling greater intimacy, might not be doing "more" of what comes easiest to us, but it might be doing "more" of that which feels the most difficult?
As your muscles get more practiced at all seven of these verbs-- I hope primarily for more meaningful platonic friendships, but I would also be thrilled if it led to better sex, too. May you develop greater intimacy in all the relationships you crave! xoxo