To Consider: The Underwood Model of Marriage

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Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Knight Takes King Prod/Netflix

Therapist and author Esther Perel has gotten a lot of press recently for her unconventional approach to couples counseling. She thinks the value of intimacy and honesty in monogamy is overblown, and in fact erases the “erotic differentiation” that makes other people — including, eventually, people who are not your significant other — so appealing. Perel calls this the “complete merge” model of marriage: best friends, soul mates, lovers, etc. In an interview with Slate’s Hanna Rosin, Perel lays out the alternative, in which affairs could be just what spouses need in order to feel like attractive, powerful individuals again.

Slate: Will future arrangements look something like the Underwood marriage on House of Cards, where their non-monogamous arrangement is understood between them without being explicitly discussed?

Perel: The Underwoods are totally seen as a power couple. People do not see that they have a profound sense of intimacy. But their intimacy is about how each one supports the other in their own pursuits. So it’s an intimacy based on nurturing differentiation. We are there for each other, to help each of us be who we want to be. And one of the important axes in any relationship is how the couple negotiate togetherness and separateness. The ability to be myself in your presence versus having to let go of parts of myself to be together.

The Underwood model is not recommended for couples trying to quit smoking.