I Don't Mean To Be Mean But...

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This pair finishes one another’s sentences...but only to blame one another for their marital disillusionments.    


In this episode of Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel, a couple airs scenes from a marriage on the brink. She is without boundaries; he is walled in.

Beat by beat, I Don’t Mean to Be Mean... reverberates with the mutual distrust that locks this couple in a ruinous cycle of attack and defense. Esther’s challenge: to impart basic skills of co-calming, to mute the cacophony of external voices, and to stay above the triggering fray before she’s pulled in herself.


What to listen for in this episode of Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel:

  • Sharing every detail of a marriage with family members destroys boundaries that enable trust and shuffles allegiances. It becomes impossible to discern between the individual’s wishes and the chorus of voices. Identify boundaries to quiet the chorus, create space, and keep the relationship sacred.
  • In couples therapy, change occurs when each can own their part of the conflict. Rather than being an expert on the other’s shortcomings, practice expressing what you are doing and how you are changing. 
  • ​​A shake of the head, an eye roll, a slight cringe, a short sigh—body language matters in a conversation. The topics on the table won’t be heard when the response is dismissive, even if it’s silent.
  • The contagion of dysregulation shakes Esther’s therapeutic stance. ​​Therapy is filled with surprises. Sometimes a beautiful intervention falls flat. Other times, a cringe-worthy tone or reaction lands exactly where it needed to land. It is an unknown that every therapist lives with.
  • “Kitchen-sinking” is a pattern many couples fall into when they argue. When every past grievance is piled on—the dirty dishes—no one will solve a thing. Rather than launching a full critique of your partner’s character, focus on the immediate issue. How does it make you feel? What was the experience like?
  • Intimacy is about creating a space you can enjoy yourself and each other. Start with ambiance. Pick up the clothes on the floor; light a candle or dim the lights; turn on some music. Create an erotic space that is dedicated to you.

Sharpen Your Relational Intelligence

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