Orna Guralnik from “Couples Therapy” Shares Top Love Lessons
Few could conduct a master class on the complex inner workings of romantic partnerships like Orna Guralnik, PsyD, the Israeli American psychologist and psychoanalyst who hosts Showtime’s docuseries Couples Therapy. With deep intelligence, equanimity, and compassion, even in the face of the most challenging (and disrespectful—like Mau from season one) clients, she’s helped individuals triumph over their histories and limitations to repair their unions, illuminating her notion that “we must love our partners enough to transcend ourselves.”
Now in its third season, Couples Therapy invites viewers back into her office, where she continues to referee fraught love affairs and help rebuild collapsed bridges. With cameras hidden behind walls within the office, audiences get to see real-life therapy sessions—deeply raw, often barbed, but always beautiful and moving—play out on-screen. Some viewers come for the drama (it’s got lots of that!), while others seek the show’s quieter, more meditative moments, benefiting from the ways it encourages self-reflection, where new avenues for self-evolution emerge.
While facilitating such breakthroughs, Guralnik offers unforgettable nuggets of relationship wisdom. Not everyone can afford a high-end couples therapist, but Guralnik’s work on Couples Therapy helps audiences vicariously challenge their own shackling beliefs and behaviors, paving the way for an improved ability to give and receive love. Guralnik recently sat down with Oprah Daily to muse on important lessons she’s learned from couples on the couch.
Falling in love can be used as an opportunity for growth.
“In the earlier stages of falling in love, people enter what I call a ‘spells state,’ where all sorts of fixed defensive structures temporarily liquidate. People are suddenly open to all sorts of new things that normally they would not be. They tolerate a lot more vulnerability in themselves. They’re less defended. They’re less boundaried. New things can happen during that very special phase of falling in love. People try out things they’ve never tried before. They’re willing to reveal things to themselves and to other people that they’ve never revealed. They’re willing to move. They’re willing to change professions.… It’s this temporary opening of the defenses. All sorts of things get reshuffled, and then gradually the defensive structure kind of clamps back down. But hopefully, the person has grown enough to be able to really change rather than just regress.”
You may need to rethink what sex is for you.
“Desire is this elusive thing that is our most direct link to the unconscious. Things move us and move through us in ways we don’t understand, and thank God, because it can surprise and unsettle us. It’s a very creative, elusive, interesting force, but sex is a lot of what you allow your mind to define it as.… It manifests itself in all sorts of ways. People want intimacy or other kinds of excitement, but they may not necessarily follow this linear trajectory of A (hard-on), B (intercourse) leads to C (orgasm), which is very childish.… We have these regimented ways of thinking about sex. But what is sex? In the tantric world, for example, sex is defined very differently. People can have ecstatic sexual experiences without touching another person. It’s important to define for yourself what sex is, what it includes, what it excludes.”
Check your “shoulds.”
“A couple might have this idea that they should be having sex once a week. Neither of them might want to, really—they might want something very different. But they’re operating within this ‘should’ that’s creating a source of misery because there’s a gap between the should and what’s organically happening between them. There gaps are everywhere in our lives.… It’s important to ask yourself: What’s really underlying the should? What are the conflicting motivations that are underlying the shoulds? If your should is too loud, you’re blocking access to what really matters to you.”
Nonverbal forms of language are legit communication.
“People talk in a variety of ways. They talk with their feet. They talk with their expressions and body language. They talk sometimes in very loud ways that are nonverbal. You need to learn to listen to your partner in the language that they’re speaking. Where people get crazy is when there’s a contradiction between what their partner is doing with their feet and what they’re saying with their mouth. That, I think, is an important issue to address with couples. They need to be sure there is a fit between what they are saying and what they are doing.”
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