Mating In Captivity Summary by Esther Perel

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TitleMating In Captivity
AuthorEsther Perel
Publication Date2006
PublisherHarper Perennial
GenreSelf-help, Relationships, Psychology
Key ThemesBalancing intimacy and passion in long-term relationships.

Mating In Captivity Key Topics

  • Love and desire in long-term relationships
  • The interplay between intimacy and eroticism
  • Exploring the concept of erotic intelligence
  • Navigating the challenges of monogamy
  • Maintaining passion and excitement
  • Balancing individuality and togetherness
  • Strategies for fostering desire and connection
  • Addressing sexual boredom and routine
  • Cultivating a sense of mystery and novelty
  • Overcoming cultural and societal constraints

Mating In Captivity Summary


Marriage is widely seen as a significant marker of adulthood in society. If you’re married, you’re frequently seen to be a happy, well-adjusted, and “respectable” member of society, but does marriage actually make us happier? Statistics appear to indicate that the answer is no! According to data from a German socioeconomic panel that monitored a group of couples for 20 years, individuals are most happy in the years before and after their marriage. However, this research also reveals that after marriage, half of people are less content, while the remaining half are happier. As a result, satisfaction levels are literally split down the middle & marriage is not a universal prescription for a happy life! In truth, it is entirely dependent on what works best for each unique relationship.

The American Time Use Survey supports this, although its findings have an unusual twist. When they polled couples, they observed that people who are married are not happier than their single or divorced counterparts until their spouse is there. When they are allowed to be honest, their satisfaction levels are no greater than those of divorced persons. So, what does this have to do with marriage? To begin, we can understand that we need to revise our societal standards. If marriage does not always make us better or happier individuals, we should cease using it as a measure of success. And, on the other hand, we must stop presuming that there is something wrong with being single and stop pressing single people to get into partnerships!

However, the author believes that it is also critical to eradicate certain other prevalent misunderstandings that contribute to marital failure. She considers “security” to be one of the most dangerous and ubiquitous myths. In practise, when you engage into a long-term relationship with someone — especially if you marry them! — our natural expectation is that that person would provide us with security. Gone are the lonely days of going on dates with mismatched losers, as well as the tedious search of trying on different individuals to see whether they fit.

You can rest and feel safe now that you’ve found “your person” for life, right? Both yes and no. When you’re in a committed relationship, you should be able to relax and feel comfortable with your spouse. Ideally, you should be able to be assured that your spouse loves you, is faithful to you, and is devoted to maintaining your relationship healthy and vibrant. All of those things are fantastic, and they are necessary for a good partnership. So it’s not the sense of security in our relationships that we need to get rid of.

Rather, the writer is talking to security expectations that might suffocate our passion. These expectations are absurd, yet our culture has totally normalised them! Here’s one example: everyone wants to think that love is eternal. And how wonderful if that were true! However, there are several reasons why a relationship may fail! Although we hope it never happens, a relationship may terminate in death. Unfortunately, relationships sometimes end in adultery or incompatibility when couples grow apart and realise they are no longer compatible. None of these consequences are acceptable or beneficial for our relationships. However, these are common outcomes in many partnerships.

So, the writer remarks that when we live as if nothing bad would ever happen to our relationships, we are simply living in deliberate ignorance. It is naive to believe that our love lies are immune to the common deaths and diseases that plague the regular marriage. It’s especially unwise to pin all of your hopes and goals on one individual. Unfortunately, many individuals do this. In doing so, they push their spouse into a role that was never intended for them! Many people make the mistake of expecting that their spouse should be everything to them because they are so caught up in their relationship. As a result, they forsake their friends, parents, hobbies, and other forms of stability in their lives in order to be with their spouse. As a result, their love partner is cast in a role that they can never hope to fill.

In reality, no one can play this position, regardless of their connection to you! This is true for both friendships and sexual relationships. Everyone requires several friends since no single buddy can be expected to be everything to you. Different companions may connect with different areas of your personality, taking you out of your own mind and assisting you in becoming a better, more balanced being. To be the happiest and greatest version of themselves, everyone should surround themselves with a diverse group of individuals. However, putting all of your eggs in one basket limits your possibilities and forces both of you to be smaller, more closed-off versions of yourselves.

And, as the author points out, this is a death sentence for partnerships! In reality, this is frequently why so many long-term couples lose their desire for one another. Because you’re both functioning as different persons in the early stages of a relationship. You each have your own lives and friends, and neither of you expects the other to be your entire world. Instead, you’re two people who have fallen in love and want to spend more time together. However, the desire to spend more time together may occasionally turn into the conviction that if you spend all of your time with each other forever, you would be happier. And that rapidly becomes a stifling cloud of unreasonable expectations.

As a result, it’s no wonder that many individuals in long-term partnerships are seeing a decline in their sex life. Lost behind the cloud of unfulfilled and unattainable aspirations, along with the unromantic realities of everyday existence, it’s difficult to rediscover the passion you once had. It may be difficult to think of your spouse as a sexual entity. So, how can you rekindle your passion? 

According to the author, the greatest approach to revive your enthusiasm is to let go of your false feeling of security. Accept that your relationship is not — and cannot be — everything to you, and then spend some time falling back in love with them. Make a concerted effort to get to know them for who they truly are, and keep in mind that they are only one person. Your companion is not a notion; they do not provide the security you want. They are not a replacement for all of your other relationships. They’re only one individual that you adore.

So, rediscover your relationship’s secret and attempt to see your mate with new eyes! This will assist you in discovering the passion you seek and letting go of the expectations that are suffocating your relationship.


Being disloyal to your lover is widely seen as a bad thing to do. Indeed, it is seen as so wicked that many religions expressly condemn it. The Ten Commandments, for example, says it twice: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.” In general, modern culture reflects this idea; for example, in the United Kingdom, 70% of women and 63% of men agree that cheating is “always wrong.” Similarly, in the United States, 84% of men and 84% of women agree that extramarital affairs are “morally unacceptable.” Our society, as you’ve certainly seen, expects human partnerships to be rather monogamous.

People may speak negatively about you or act as if you are unethical if you have had several sexual or romantic partners throughout your life. People who marry their high school sweetheart or stay married for 50 years or more are frequently regarded as having reached the zenith of romance. Is monogamy, however, a realistic ideal for humans? According to the author’s study, the solution is fairly complex. Monogamy is not necessarily the rule in the animal kingdom. Many species will have numerous partners and will engage in brief, exclusively sexual relationships. When monogamy does arise, it is largely driven by hormones. As a result, what they experience is desire rather than “love” as we know it. Their hormones have merely tricked their brains that what they are experiencing is a strong and long-lasting commitment.

Scientific evidence suggests that the same is true for people, however the specifics are harder to pinpoint. One thing we do know about humans is that dopamine spikes substantially affect our experience of love and sexual desire. Ilanit Gordon, a Yale researcher, agrees with their notion that significant levels of oxytocin are present in long-term human interactions. Gordon came to the conclusion that oxytocin is a necessary component of healthy partnerships. This discovery, however, has created another scientific puzzle, as researchers are unable to tell if good relationships cause oxytocin surges or whether oxytocin must first be present to build a sense of long-term compatibility.

But how does this relate to infidelity? To begin, we may deduce that many individuals rely on the availability of “feel good hormones” to help them stay pleased and fulfilled in their relationships. When those hormones are no longer there, some people lose their attraction to their spouse. In the absence of those love sensations, many people feel compelled to end partnerships or seek fulfilment through an illegal affair. There is no doubt in my mind that cheating creates misery. And, to be honest, it’s a really dodgy and immoral thing to do.

However, if we look at the animal kingdom — as well as the fundamental truths of human sexuality — we may be compelled to admit that adultery is more normal than we assume. Not only is it statistically and sexually unlikely that we can sustain our attraction to one partner for the rest of our lives, but data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has discovered that Google searches for “sexless marriages” are eight times more common than searches for “loveless marriages.” This shows that loving but sexless marriages are significantly more prevalent, and that the need for more sexual stimulation is more widespread than we realise. In reality, only one species of mammal, the Owl monkey, has monogamy as its default setting; every other animal, including humans, routinely feel (and act on) feelings of attraction to partners who are not their life mate.

And when we combine these facts with data showing that — even though they feel it’s terrible — one in every three women and one in every three men admit to cheating throughout the course of a marriage, we’re left with the conclusion that our attitudes towards infidelity may need to change. So, while we shouldn’t feel it’s OK to cheat on your spouse or betray their trust, we should begin to accept pansexuality and consensually non-monogamous partnerships.

In fact, we should since a University of Michigan poll revealed that partners in consensually open relationships reported better levels of trust, closeness, friendship, and contentment – as well as lower levels of jealousy — than their monogamous counterparts. So, let us think about changing our worldview to reflect the richness of true human experience!


When we consider it in the context of human relationships, the notion of “mating in captivity” is hilarious. Because most of us do not consider our marriages or long-term relationships to be a type of enslavement! However, there are other unpleasant jokes centred on the image of your mate as a “ball and chain…” Which is it, then? Is it normal for humans to be monogamous? According to the writer, the answer is somewhat a bit of both.

Numerous individuals can be quite happy in long-term monogamous partnerships. Their relationships are satisfying and significant to them, and they are overjoyed to be with the love of their lives. Long-term relationships, on the other hand, might seem suffocating for some individuals due to the unrealistic expectations we place on our love partners. These expectations can damage our relationships and lead to adultery. 

That is why, according to the writer, we have to give up these expectations, be realistic about what our spouse can provide us, and restore the mystery in our relationship. It’s also crucial to realise that monogamy isn’t the natural state for everyone; some people are pansexual or content with never settling down with one partner. And infidelity may be more common than we think!

Mating in Captivity Tips

  1. Prioritize desire and novelty – In long-term relationships, desire can diminish over time due to familiarity and routine. Creating novelty and maintaining a sense of mystery and curiosity can reignite desire. Explore new activities together, try new experiences, and surprise each other to keep things fresh.
  2. Balance closeness and autonomy – In a committed relationship, it’s essential to balance intimacy and autonomy. Encourage each other’s independence and personal growth, while also cultivating emotional and physical closeness. Allowing space for individuality can increase desire and attraction.
  3. Cultivate eroticism – Foster an erotic atmosphere within your relationship. This involves creating a sense of anticipation and excitement. Experiment with different forms of intimacy, explore fantasies, and openly communicate about your desires and boundaries. Consider introducing variety and playfulness into your sexual encounters.
  4. Communicate openly – Honest and open communication is crucial for maintaining a satisfying sexual relationship. Discuss your needs, desires, and concerns with your partner in a non-judgmental and supportive manner. Encourage your partner to express their thoughts and emotions as well.
  5. Prioritize self-care – Taking care of yourself individually contributes to a healthy sexual relationship. Focus on your physical and mental well-being, as it can positively impact your desire and overall relationship satisfaction. Engage in activities that make you feel good about yourself and reduce stress.
  6. Create a conducive environment – Pay attention to your physical environment to promote intimacy. Make your bedroom a sanctuary for relaxation and pleasure. Remove distractions, such as electronic devices, and create a space that feels inviting and comfortable.
  7. Embrace vulnerability – Emotional vulnerability can deepen the connection between partners. Share your fears, insecurities, and desires with each other. Allow yourselves to be vulnerable and offer support and understanding to your partner.

Mating in Captivity FAQs

Who should read mating in captivity?

Individuals interested in exploring the complexities of maintaining desire and intimacy within long-term relationships would benefit from reading “Mating in Captivity” by Esther Perel.

What are the discussion questions for mating in captivity?

How does domestication impact the mating behavior of animals?
What are the psychological and physiological effects of captivity on mating patterns?
How can conservation efforts balance captive breeding and natural mating in endangered species?
What ethical considerations arise from promoting mating in captivity?
What strategies can be employed to enhance successful mating outcomes in captive populations?

What is the theory of confluent love?

According to sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s liquid love theory, modern relationships are fluid and fleeting, lacking stability and long-term commitment and defined by a perpetual pursuit for perfection and self-fulfillment.

What is liquid love theory?

The liquid love theory describes modern relationships as fluid and transient, lacking stability and long-term commitment, characterized by a constant search for perfection and self-fulfillment.

What is Fisher’s theory of love?

According to Helen Fisher’s theory of love, love consists of three key components: lust (sexual desire), attraction (romantic sentiments) and attachment (deep emotional relationship).

What is the tripartite theory of love?

According to the tripartite theory of love, love is made up of three components: closeness, passion and commitment. These elements combine to generate various types and intensities of love.

What are the 4 types of relationships?

The four types of relationships are friendship, romantic, familial and professional.

What is the fall in love 3 times theory?

The “fall in love 3 times” theory is a concept that suggests individuals typically experience three different types of love throughout their lives.

Can a man love 2 woman equally?

Yes, it is possible for a man to love two women equally. Love is not limited by gender and individuals can develop deep and meaningful connections with multiple partners.

What is intimacy to a woman?

Intimacy to a woman typically is a deep emotional connection, trust, vulnerability and physical closeness with a partner that fosters a sense of love, security and understanding.

What are the 4 C’s of relationships?

The 4 C’s of relationships are Communication, Compromise, Commitment, and Compatibility. These elements contribute to building healthy and successful partnerships.

About the Author-Esther Perel

Full NameEsther Perel
BirthdateOctober 29, 1958
OccupationPsychotherapist, Author, Speaker
Known ForRelationship and Couples Therapy, TED Talks
Books-Mating in Captivity
-The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity
-The Erotic Intelligence
-The Power of Erotic Intelligence
-Where Should We Begin? Conversations on Love
Awards-Time 100: Most Influential People of 2018
-SmartCEO Brava Award (2016)
-Psychotherapy Networker’s “Therapist’s Choice”
-Women of Distinction Award (2012)

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