When I first came across the title of philosopher (and FEELguide favorite) Alain de Botton‘s 22-minute lecture “Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person”, I naturally assumed it was going to be a pessimistic analysis of the state of loving relationships in the modern world. I was right — but I was also very wrong. His ingenious lecture, created for his equally ingenious organization The School of Life, is a hugely informative and helpful guide for navigating a marriage/relationship that you may already be in, or one that you are on the verge of discovering.

Alain covers a wide range of topics in his analysis, but among his most fascinating is a theory from legendary psychoanalyst, Melanie Klein (1882-1960), who observed how infants split parents into two categories. This ‘splitting’ behavior stays with us our whole lives, and it becomes the foundation upon which we build our own understandings and how we practice love.

Another of de Botton’s references deals with the fundamentals of communication between a couple. He focuses on one of the most common forms of miscommunication that exists — sulking. At first thought we tend to think that sulking is a childish behavior. But de Botton goes deeper than that in this lecture, as well as in a separate article written for The Book of Life, an adjunct project of The School of Life. Sulking, it turns out, means so much more:

“Sulking is a highly distinctive phenomenon within the psychology of love. Crucially, we don’t just sulk with anyone. We reserve our sulks for people we believe should understand us but happen on a given occasion not to. We could explain what is wrong to them of course, but if we did so, it would mean that they had failed to understand us intuitively and therefore, that they were not worthy of love. People who may have been uncomplainingly articulate all day with colleagues at the office, with small children or relatives will, over an apparently minor misunderstanding with a partner, suddenly become obstinate and furiously uncommunicative, because these characters, of all people, should just know. A sulk is a sign of deep hope. One would never bother to storm out of a room, bang the door and refuse to say what was wrong for a few hours unless one held out very high hopes of a person. We don’t fall into sulks with most people because we have so little hope that they could ever understand. A sulk is one of the odder gifts of love.” (Read it in full HERE).

There are many gems in de Botton’s lecture and I consider it mandatory viewing for every human being in the world. But one of the moments that stood out the most was de Botton’s wise observation that, “the core of what love is is the willingness to interpret another’s behavior.” You can watch it in full below. And for an equally brilliant understanding of love in the modern world, don’t miss renowned marriage counselor Esther Perel’s TED Talk where she answers the question, “Why Do We Cheat?”. I’ve also included several other of my favorites from the topic.

Feature image courtesy of Ruberball


Writer, editor, and founder of FEELguide. I have written over 5,000 articles covering many topics including: travel, design, movies, music, politics, psychology, neuroscience, business, religion and spirituality, philosophy, pop culture, the universe, and so much more. I also work as an illustrator and set designer in the movie industry, and you can see all of my drawings at http://www.unifiedfeel.com.

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