Esther Perel’s Couples Therapy Just Solved Organizational Relationships

March 4, 2023

I love Esther Perel. Her podcast Where Should We Begin gives an inside look as real couples navigate their relationship issues that seem largely centered around sex. When I heard she was speaking at SXSW about workplace relationships my curiosity as a positive psychology practitioner was piqued. How would sex therapy translate to organizational wellbeing? An organization's wellbeing depends on the same domains as individual wellbeing:

  • purpose
  • relationship
  • accomplishment
  • engagement
  • emotions
  • health

Her talk titled What Business Leaders Can Learn About Workplace Dynamics from Couples Therapy is all about navigating relationships and cultivating relational fluency which, according to Perel,  is equally important at home and at work. Here's a brief summary of Esther's key points. I highly recommend watching the entire talk.

Each of us carries specific narratives which guide our needs and expectations - how we connect to others, how we define trust, and how we engage or avoid conflict. Most importantly, these inner stories determine how we communicate and elicit curiosity and collaboration. We don't magically become different people when we walk into our office. Once considered a “soft skill” in the workplace, relational intelligence is now one of the top currencies of business success. Her question to us:

How much are we investing in our relationships at work

Esther points out that

  • 65% of start ups fail due to relationship issue between founders
  • The quality of our relationships at work determines the actual quality of our work and our overall ability to success.
  • Unlike performance, relationships are hard to measure, sustain, and repair.

Relational intelligence refers to:

  • Our ability to connect with others
  • How we connect and form trust
  • How we engage in or avoid conflict

Some parallels between relationships at home and at work

  • The rise of expectations- never before have we expected so much from our career or our partner. We want flexibility, we want our workplace to be attentive to our wellbeing and we want our jobs to help us find a sense of meaning and purpose (pretty tall order!)
  • We now bring emotional capital into the workplace. We are encouraging emotions at the workplace. Authenticity, trust, belonging, transparency and psychological safety are common workplace discussions
  • We have shifted from a production economy to a service economy. We no longer go to work to put bread on the table, we work to fulfill ourselves.


Every relationship deals with

  • Autonomy and interdependence
  • Conflict management and communication
  • Self- awareness and accountability

We all grow up with a relational culture. Our beliefs about what we can expect from people form the lens through which we view our relationships at work.

  • Were relationships central to life?
  • Do you believe that you are the only one you can rely on in this world?

Every system from living ecosystems to families to organizational systems is balancing:

  • Commitment and freedom
  • Stability & change
  • Togetherness & individuality

Often in a relationship there is one person who is more in touch with a fear of losing the other and one more afraid of losing themselves. The one afraid of abandonment will be eager to please and quick to give in, The other will be stubborn and afraid of giving in.

Every relationship involves both explicit and implicit communication.

  • Power and control
  • Closeness
  • Care and Recognition

Under relational impasses it is often not what is being talked about bit the power struggles for power, recognition

THE GOLDEN RULE- If you want to change the other, start by changing yourself.

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