Book Review – Mating In Captivity

I don’t know why I struggled figuring out which book on the pile of relationship help books was going to be next while Mating In Captivity was on my nightstand, staring me in the face. It would be a disservice not to talk about Esther Perel’s work after having just reviewed Gottman. Perel and Gottman are in a bit of a discourse at the moment you see. Other books I’ve read on this subject reference their disagreement and Gottman mentions it outright in the book I reviewed earlier this month. So I think it only fair to review Perel next. Full disclosure, I find Gottman’s arguments more convincing. You may not! When I cover these books I don’t spend a whole lot of time on the philosophy and whether I agree with it or not for just that reason. One approach might work for you, the other may not. Remember that these are self help books and you should be finding the right fit for you, anything beyond that is professional time. With those caveats and yah-buts out of the way let’s get to it.

First thing I want to mention out of the gate naturally follows my preface to this review. If you’re going to read either Perel or Gottman, read the other too, even if just once. Mating In Captivity has a bit of a narrower focus than How to Make Love Last. The former focuses on reigniting desire—Perel’s use of the word may be easier to explain as erotic passion—in a relationship and the latter covers the broader subject of saving the relationship itself. Perel’s book is geared towards people who feel the fire has gone out and can’t find a breadcrumb as to why. I was amused in the first few pages where Perel let me know the book wasn’t about me.

“For the lucky few, this is barely a challenge. These couples can easily integrate cleaning the garage with rubbing each other’s back. For them, there is no dissonance between commitment and excitement, responsibility and playfulness. They can buy a home and be naughty in it, too. They can be parents and still be lovers. In short, they’re able to seamlessly meld the ordinary and the uncanny. But for the rest of us, seeking excitement in the same relationship in which we establish permanence is a tall order. Unfortunately, too many love stories develop in such a way that we sacrifice passion so as to achieve stability.”

Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity

I usually don’t quote an entire paragraph but this serves a few essential functions in the review. You get a taste of Perel’s prose and get to make a decision on whether you can read 220 short pages of that—for the record I quite enjoyed it. Additionally you can more appreciate the biases of the reviewer. In this paragraph Esther tells me this book isn’t for me, or at least, it isn’t about me—I did enjoy the content regardless. One of the most important features of a self-help book is that you feel it applies to you. This book is to help the people she’s talking about towards the end of the paragraph. In fact, this notion was quite alien to me. Losing eroticism because you bought a house? The opposite happened to us! So I kept reading, to gain knowledge about an alien world that considers my relationship special. Hell, a good portion of this blog will be about how my wife and I accomplish this.

I will say that from my reading of Mating In Captivity it appears the most applicable to people who spent a significant amount of time in a profoundly sex negative environment. (This space is very sex positive if you haven’t figured that out yet) I realize that could be quite a few of you. If you think that a loss of eroticism in marriage is just a natural phase of it—thoughts such as “of course your sex life goes down the tubes after children” for instance—then you may have grown up in that kind of environment without realizing it. I know many Christian families have been bamboozled into thinking the 1950s marriage is God’s marriage, or even the church’s and have let that inform their sex lives. Mating In Captivity would be a good read for you as well, though there’s a companion book, if that’s you, called Marriage, A History. I’ll be reviewing that later. Point is, I have a hard time relating to the couples described in this book and that makes it difficult to recommend outside of a few obvious cases. The central axiom remains, if you think a diminishing love life is a natural part of a marriage, this book may be for you. I mentioned earlier that I found Gottman’s arguments more convincing, but I’d be remiss not to reinforce now that I don’t think a lot of their ideas are in conflict or their outlooks entirely mutually exclusive. Disagreements however, grab headlines.

So will this book help you? Well that entirely depends on your problem. If you think bedroom woes are effecting your entire relationship, and you also can’t understand why there are issues in the bedroom to begin with then absolutely give this book a chance, at that stage it can’t hurt. I think if your relationship started as a passionate love affair and that structure has gone cold this may also be the book for you. If it feels like your entire relationship is suffering from something a little more pervasive read Gottman first. I say first because as I said in the preface, if you read one read the other, a recommendation for either is a recommendation for both, at least as it relates to these two titles.

To sum up; I found the prose engaging, I found the content credible and useful, I found the length excellent for busy lifestyles and the subject is clearly focused. Mating In Captivity comes with a solid recommendation.

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