Review: Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel

Rating: 4 out of 5

Ms Perel’s overview of how relationships progress was interesting on many levels, but the book also had some problems that could have been fleshed out a little bit better. Also, some chapters felt fairly dated with the technology of communication (and our incapability to deal with it) being a particular example that doesn’t read as well any more.

The good in this is difficult to characterise. The author’s take on the very complex subject—how exciting and necessary sex is in a long-term monogamous relationship and how to maintain that—is similarly thought-provoking. Clearly, the author’s at the top of her game in this field and her considerable experience in therapy comes through very well, especially where she exemplifies her points with her experience as a therapist.

The negative, though occupying less of the book than the positive, is a bit easier to highlight. The main item for me is how dated this is by today. In the author’s 2006 world, people were complaining about a lack of time spent communicating as opposed to talking by email or phone. Even ignoring the pandemic-induced spike in this, it’s very likely that the vast majority of people spend a lot more time now—when the phone in their hand is actually also pretty much everything else—not talking to each other than previously.

Some more recent books that look into human communications also consider this aspect. It’s only natural that it’s not part of this story, but it does mean that one aspect which should be dissected in more detail for an appropriate answer today doesn’t exist in this book.

The second quibble I had is that very few of the examples are brought to their conclusion. Lots of problems are described, then some fair advice is given, yes, but what happens after?.. In only a few cases does the author actually come back to those people a little bit later to say whether the problems were solved for a long time, for just a short time, or, perhaps, not at all (though this last is acknowledged in some cases).

Overall, this is a complex book looking into a difficult subject. It’s not perfect, but few things are.

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