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Esther Perel’s Couples Therapy Just Solved Organizational Relationships

Esther Perel’s Couples Therapy Just Solved Organizational Relationships

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.

Letting Go Might Be the Best Superpower in Your Happiness Toolkit

Letting Go Might Be the Best Superpower in Your Happiness Toolkit

I use seven science-backed happiness hacks to change mindsets and encourage a resilience tipping toward joy. I’ll let you in on a secret- one of the seven seems to have more power than all the others. It’s forgiveness.

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. Mark Twain

When we hold on we impact our own health at a cellular level. The production of hormones is thrown off and the ability to fight infection drops. People with higher self-esteem find it easier to forgive. And this isn’t just about anger. Many people choose sadness over anger but guess what- sadness is just anger with less intensity.

Have you ever had a relationship where the break up lasted longer than the time you spent together? Do you still have a nemesis from your childhood? Do you stop trusting people easily? If you answer yes to any of these, you may need to strengthen your forgiveness muscle!

Take the forgiveness quiz.


A few things to remember that can help you as you get better at forgiving.

  1. Forgiving does not mean you condone the action
  2. You don’t have to forget when you forgive.
  3. You don’t need to relate to the person you forgive.
  4. When you forgive you give up all hope of a better past.
  5. When you let go of the past you are free to open up to a new future.

Deep healing occurs with time. Or it can happen overnight. There isn’t a way that is better. Whatever works for you works for you!


Why Social Connection is Your Shortcut to Happiness

Why Social Connection is Your Shortcut to Happiness


I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” Brene Brown

Connection lifts you up. When I feel a strong connection with someone they encourage me to expand, they inspire me to grow, and they let me show my weaknesses without judgment. In a world where everyone has 1000 Facebook friends and every Instagram post can get hundreds of likes, some people fear the loss of true social connection.

It is now more important than ever to have true friends.

What is a True Friend?

There are old friends, the ones we share stories with. They may have been there the longest but that isn’t the same as being a real friend. An old friend and a new friend have equal chances of being a true friend.

  • True friends talk about ideas more than people.
  • They discuss the future more than the past.
  • They will tell you if there’s spinach in your teeth.
  • They celebrate with you.
  • They listen.
  • They can do nothing with you
  • They know when to help you and when not to help you
  • They like your spouse
  • They encourage you to eat better and exercise in a balanced way
  • They forgive you when you make a mistake

When you think about your friends remember even though 100 pennies= 4 quarters, it’s better to the quarters where friendship is concerned

Who Are Your Five

You’ve probably heard that you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. Note, the most time not the best time. Think about your five. Are they who you want to be like? If not start editing. You can do this by reducing time with the downers and spending more time with the ones who lift you up. You can also seek out new friends.

I actually had an experience once where someone I met told me “I really like you but I have enough friends.” Perhaps this was their truth or maybe they were doing the friendship equivalent to “It’s not you, it’s me.”

What Science Says

People with true friends

  • live longer
  • have sharper minds and experience less dementia as they age
  • have better immune systems
  • increase your sense of belonging and purpose
  • boost happiness and reduce stress
  • increase self-confidence and self-esteem
  •  have overall better lifestyle habits

There seems to be no downside to social connection.

Try This to Foster Closeness

There is a study showing that answering a specific set of questions actually brings people closer together according to Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findingsPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363-377.

Click here to get a free download of the closeness questions.

Who would you call to share good news with? Why not share this with them to say “thank you for being a friend! You can do the closeness questions together too.

Making Tough Choices


Every day we are faced with choice; what to wear, what to eat, who to lunch with, when to work out. We have practiced making choices our entire lives. Nothing else we do requires such constant effort with such varying results. Sometimes choices are simple, sometimes they aren’t.  What is the difference and how can you make every decision with as much ease as possible?

Tools for making any Decisions

 – Your choice must fit in with your most positive emotions and avoid negative ones.

EGO – Your decision must match who you are as a person.

HEAD – Your decision must accord with your long-term goals.

SURROUNDINGS – Your decision must be compatible with the situation you find yourself in.

When 1 or more of the tools are at odds, then what?

Every gut instinct comes with a physical sensation. Our challenge is correctly interpreting the sensation; knowing whether that butterfly in your stomach is telling you to back off from something truly scary or telling you that something exciting is about to happen.
Good decisions feel expansive and optimistic. They’re not based in fear, anger, or greed.

Successful choicemaking depends much more on who you are than what you do so if your decision is compromising who you are it’s ultimately not going to be the right choice. This can become a challenge is when someone else is involved.
What can you do when your decision involves others whose opinion is different or even opposing?
And when that difference comes down to a core belief belief about love self-worth safety and feeling a whole conflict resolution can become difficult.
If one partner is prioritizing money where another is prioritizing lifestyle or  one person needs adventure where another prefers stability, who gets their way?

Listen, list make, leave it


Have a conversation when you have plenty of time in a place that is free of distractions.

  1. Each partner takes a turn to explain why their choice is best for themselves. (E.g. I want to live in the suburbs because we can have a bigger house for less money and the schools are better.)
  2. Each partner takes a turn to explain why they think their choice is best for their partner.  (E.gOur mortgage would be smaller so you could work less overtime and we would be in the same place financially. You wOuld see the kids more)
  3. Each partner suggests a compromise. (We could live in a townhouse close to your office and get rid of one car or we could move midway between your work and the suburbs)

Make a pro and con list together. Tally up your pluses and minuses.
The rule- things can only make the list that you both agree on.
Example- Choosing between public school and private school.

Private School Pros
small class size
cutting edge facility
strong preparation for college
Private School Cons
not in our neighborhood

Things That Get Left Off The List
feels elitist (only to one partner)
better sports teams (debatable by one partner)
better University Counselling (debatable by one partner)

If you have the luxury of time, let your emotions settle for a few days. Allowing emotions to settle can help you to discuss your options with less of an emotional charge.

Take Turns

If after all the debate, you have to agree to disagree, setting up a system where one partner gets their way this time but that means the other partner automatically gets their way the next time can be an option.
I choose to live in the country over the city but you get to choose our house.

A thought from Brene Brown…

When emotions flare, Brene advises her readers to ask what is the story I am telling myself.
Write down what you imagine will happen if you don’t get your way. Quite often this can help to uncover fear that is lurking below our rational thinking and hijacking our ability to see the other person’s perspective.

If you just can’t choose?

Flip a coin. At the moment right before it lands, you will wish for an outcome- that’s what you truly want- so go for it!
I’d love to hear what choices you find most challenging. Comment below, email me or weigh in on my Facebook page.