109: You Don’t HAVE to Make a Decision

Oct 04, 2022

Decisions are important. They set you free, giving you the opportunity to go all-in on one thing, and relieve you from focusing on others. Being able to concentrate your energy is powerful, and that isn’t up for debate. However, that doesn’t mean that you ever have to make decisions, and sometimes, making a decision isn’t the best use of your energy.

When people are in an infidelity situation, they often want to resolve it as quickly as possible, which means making a decision about what they want quickly. Wanting to make a decision efficiently is great, but as you may know from your own experience, believing that you need to make a decision ASAP isn’t necessarily going to help you make the right decision for you.

Tune in this week to discover why it may be helpful to hold off on making a decision. Dr. Marie Murphy is diving into why pressuring yourself to immediately make a decision about your infidelity situation isn’t going to lead to a decision you actually feel good about, and how to slow down, so you can make the decision that’s right for you when you’re ready. 

If you’re ready to take this topic deeper in a confidential and compassionate environment, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with me by clicking here!

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How telling yourself you have to make a decision usually makes it much harder to actually make a decision.

  • The reasons so many people in infidelity situations believe they need to make a decision about which partner to choose immediately.

  • Why the pressure you feel to make a decision is always internally generated.

  • How to see why you don’t need to make a rushed, pressured decision right in this moment.

  • Why dropping the urgency doesn’t mean avoiding the decision altogether.

  • What’s really going on when people think they’re unable to make a decision about their infidelity situation.

  • How to take the pressure off, assess the intensity of your emotions, then break your decision down into manageable pieces.

Listen to the Full Episode:


Featured on the Show:

Hi everyone, I’m Dr. Marie Murphy.  I’m a relationship coach, and I help people who are engaging in anything they think counts as infidelity to deal with their feelings, clarify what they want, and make decisions about what they’re going to do.  No shame, no blame, no judgements.  I firmly believe that you are entitled to guidance and support that respects the fullness of your humanity and the complexity of your situation, no matter what you’re doing.  So if you’re ready to resolve your infidelity situation in a way that’s truly right for you, let’s work together.  You can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.  I offer confidential, compassionate coaching via Zoom, so we can work together no matter where you’re located.

Today we’re going to talk about why it may be helpful to hold off on making decisions.

This may sound like a contradiction of things I’ve said in the past on this podcast.  If you’ve been listening for a while, you know I am a big fan of clear decisions.  Decisions set us free.  Decisions give us the opportunity to go all in on one thing, or one set of things.  Decisions give us the opportunity to dedicate our attention to specific things, and to relieve ourselves from focusing on other things.  Being able to concentrate our energy is powerful.  Sometimes it’s great to be all over the place, and put our energy into many different things.  Sometimes it’s really wonderful and valuable to allow ourselves to disperse our energies.  But there may be times in life when we don’t want to do that anymore.  In order to have certain kinds of experiences, or get certain things done, we have to make decisions, and that means saying no to some things so that we can fully say yes to others.

So, decisions are great.  THAT isn’t up for debate.

But that doesn’t mean that we ever HAVE to make decisions.  And there may be times when attempting to make a decision just isn’t the best use of our energy.  And moreover, telling ourselves that we have to make a decision usually makes it much harder to make one.

I’m going to explain what this can look like, and before I do that, let me offer a little context about the way I work with clients.

The way my coaching practice is currently set up, as I record this in September 2022, is as follows.  I offer clients an introductory coaching session, as you’ve heard me mention on the podcast many times, and usually the client and I decide it makes sense for us to continue working together, and the client then has the opportunity to purchase a package of eight hour-long coaching sessions with me, to be held at frequency of once a week.  If you want to check out my current pricing for these services, it’s listed on the services page of my website, mariemurphyphd.com.  And I should point out that the services I offer will change at some point in the future, so depending on when you’re listening to this, things may be different, but you can always learn about the coaching I offer through the services page of my website.  For now, though, the way it works is you book yourself an intro session, and then we may proceed with eight coaching sessions, and I give most of my clients the option to renew their packages, and many do.  Which means I may work with folks for a total of sixteen sessions after their intro session, or twenty-four, or more than that depending on what the client wants out of coaching.  And that’s important context for what I’m going to tell you next.

Sometimes people come to the introductory coaching call and they’re like, I have this infidelity situation going on, and I need to resolve it IMMEDIATELY, which means I have to make a decision about what I want RIGHT NOW.  In fact, it would be much better if I had made this decision yesterday, but since I didn’t, I need to make it right this second.    

On the one hand, wanting to make a decision efficiently is kind of a great thing to want to do.  BUT, as you may perhaps know from your own experience, believing that we have to make a decision RIGHT FUCKING NOW usually feels pretty bad.  Believing we have to do something right away usually creates feelings like urgency, and anxiety, and pressure, and panic, and overwhelm. 

And it may seem like your situation truly IS urgent and overwhelming and high-stakes.  Infidelity situations can seem like a REALLY big deal.  We may be living out a lot of conflicts and contradictions that we don’t like.  We may be doing things that we don’t really want to be doing.  We may have been carrying on like this for a while and we may be very tired.  We may want the whole thing over and done with, one way or another, for our own sake.  On top of that, we may have someone, or someoneS in our life who really want us to make decisions about what we’re doing with our relationships, and those people may be making their wishes very well known.  And we may feel like we HAVE to do what they want us to do, and this can compound our feelings of panic and overwhelm and pressure and urgency and confusion and all of the rest of that good stuff.

Whether your sense of pressure or urgency to make a decision is internally generated, through your own desire to make some changes, or externally generated, through someone else’s insistence that you make changes doesn’t really matter. 

What matters is that when we tell ourselves we HAVE to make a decision, especially if it’s a decision we think is really high-stakes, we usually freak out.  We CREATE pressure and overwhelm and panic and urgency when we believe we have to make a decision.  And of course, when we’re in those kinds of feeling states, it’s almost impossible to make a decision!  When emotion is high, intelligence is low!

It may SEEM like telling ourselves we HAVE to make a decision will motivate us to do so efficiently, but rarely does it work out that way.  Quite simply, when we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, it’s hard to think clearly.  And that of course makes it harder to make a decision, and then we beat ourselves up for not making a decision, and we believe that there’s a big problem in our lives because we can’t decide, and this creates a very unpleasant and unproductive cycle.  And then, we may think that THE solution, the sole solution to our overall problem is to just make a decision!  We think that if only we could just squeeze the decision out of ourselves, THEN everything would be fine, or at least, would start to get better.  And thus the cycle continues.

If this sounds like you, if you’ve been thinking that you HAVE to make a decision about your infidelity situation ASAP, I have good news and bad news.

The bad news is, if you’re in a frenzied state of urgency, the chances of you making any choice at all aren’t great, and the chances of you making a choice you feel really good about are even less great.  If you want to make a decision that’s truly right for you, you will need to SLOW DOWN.

The good news is, that isn’t really bad news.  What is really going to happen if you take another week or another month or even another six months to decide what you want?  Does the fate of nations hang upon your decision about your relationship stuff?  Probably not.  Yes, it may be uncomfortable to slow down and learn how to make sense of your emotions, and examine your operating assumptions about your situation – but it’s doing these things that will help you reach a decision that you’re actually happy with. 

Sometimes we think the only way to deal with a big conundrum is all at once.  We think we need a TOTAL solution in order to make our situation better.  Or to put it differently, we think we need to eat the whole elephant in one bite.

But that’s a pretty big mouthful!  We just CAN’T eat elephant-sized things in one bite.  But we can eat the elephant one bite at a time.

So often, though, we don’t WANT to take it one bite at a time!  And the “it” can be any situation in our lives that’s really bothering us, but of course for our purposes, I mean your infidelity situation.  When we’ve been dealing with a situation for a while that seems really hard and overwhelming, the idea of slowing down and taking it one bite at a time, or dealing with it one step at a time can seem really unappealing, because we’re so we’re so overwhelmed by the whole thing, and we just want the whole thing to go away in one fell swoop.  We’ve been feeling so uncomfortable, and we just want fast and complete relief.

Here's the deal, people.  I get it.  I totally get it.  There have been so many times in my life when I have wanted an instant and comprehensive solution to a seemingly impossible problem.  And I actually have a few relatively minor situations like that in my life right now.  I don’t WANT to slow down and do the work to make change.  I just want the change fairy to come along and make everything better for me.  But I also know that a) the change fairy ain’t coming, or, to put it differently, I am the only change fairy that’s coming, and b) I TRUST that the satisfaction I will gain from being willing to take on the task of making change for myself is what I REALLY want.  I might like the idea of easy change that I don’t have to slow down and work for.  I might like the idea of some magical fairy coming along to do the stuff for me, but I know that would at best bring me short-term relief.  I know the true win is being willing to grapple with my challenges, and eat my elephants one bite at a time.

And I was to suggest that that may be your best option, too.  Namely, to be willing to slow down, learn how to deal with the intensity of your emotions, and then take a look at your decision one piece at a time.  This will require you to consider that your decision might not be as urgent as it is, and that might seem totally implausible to you.

But even if it seems implausible, you can still CONSIDER why it might be okay to drop the urgency.  Dropping the urgency doesn’t mean you avoid your decision.  It means you dedicate your energy to the process, rather than to worrying about the outcome.  When we attend to the process of decision-making, the outcome will come.

And, of course, if you really WANT to make a decision RIGHT THIS MINUTE, you could.  I’m not telling you you have to slow down just for the hell of it.  If time really is of the essence, then make a choice, and commit to making the best of it.  You could do that at any moment in time – BUT you don’t have to!  I’ll say more about that later, but the point for now is that if you really don’t want to slow down, let the dust settle, and approach your situation from a different angle, you don’t HAVE to.

Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying something to the effect of, “the kind of thinking that created a problem is not the kind of thinking that will enable us to solve the problem.”

What this can mean for today’s purposes is that kind of thinking that creates urgency, or seemingly impossible decisions, is not the kind of thinking that will allow you to make a decision. 

And this is where coaching comes in.  Coaching gives you the tools you need to use your mind to solve problems, rather than allowing your mind to run circles around you and keep you stuck where you are.

If you’re in the midst of an urgency freak out, the idea that in order to actually make a decision, you may need to slow down and let the dust settle may seem totally anathema or just plain impossible.  You may not believe you CAN slow down, whether because you’re so agitated or because the pressures to make a decision seem so very real and so very, very urgent.  But what if you could?  What if, just for today, you didn’t HAVE to make a choice?  What if you could take that pressure off just for the rest of the day?

Okay.  On the other hand, sometimes, after working with me for a while, and systematically working towards making a decision, people decide that they don’t WANT to make a decision about their infidelity situation, or come to the conclusion that they “can’t” make a decision about their infidelity situation.  And I’ll talk about each of these decisions in turn.

There are two interesting things about people deciding they don’t want to make a decision about their infidelity situation.  The first is, that’s actually a decision!  If you decide you don’t want to make any decisions about your infidelity situation, that usually means you don’t want to make any CHANGES in what you are doing, and that is a choice!  You’re choosing to stick with the way things are.  And I want to suggest that when that choice is made consciously, it can be a powerful, helpful choice.  I believe that the best decisions are made when we WANT to make a choice, or when our desire to make a choice outweighs our desire to NOT make one.  Right?  And part of what I help a lot of people do is get clear on why they might want to make a choice, to potentially help build desire to make a choice.  There CAN be a lot of benefits that come with making a decision, after all!  But sometimes we decide that we’re getting more benefits from sticking with the status quo.  And that is always a legitimate choice for you to make, although my bias, as usual, is that it’s better to make that choice consciously, rather than unconsciously.

Sometimes we prefer to just focus on living our lives, even if that means we don’t resolve our infidelity situation, and also means we carry on with some activities we aren’t totally comfortable with, or live with some contradictions, for a while longer.  Remember, you never HAVE to make a decision.  It may seem like you do!  But in the absolute scheme of things, you rarely HAVE to.  There may be consequences to not making a decision, but that doesn’t mean you ever have to make one.  And sometimes, after working with me and taking a close look at their situation, people decide that they really prefer to defer making choices.  And that’s always your prerogative.

Now some people, after working with me for a while, say they CAN’T make a decision.  And here’s some tough love for you guys: when you say you can’t make a decision, what that really means is you don’t want to make a decision.  You never HAVE TO make a decision, but you always CAN.  You never NEED more information, or more time, or even more coaching.  You COULD just make your choice right this second.  That doesn’t mean you have to.  But it’s important to recognize that you COULD.

If you’ve been trying to make a decision for a while, and you’ve started telling yourself that you can’t make a decision, I encourage you to empower yourself by considering that you could make a decision but you’re choosing not to.  When we say we can’t make a decision, we imply that forces beyond our control are preventing us from doing so.  And is that ever true?  I want you to entertain the possibility that it is not!  And moreover, does it HELP you to believe that you “can’t” make a decision?  No.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  Believing you can’t make a decision may be a comforting idea, because it means you don’t have to do anything!  If it were true that you literally could not make a decision, then you’re just stuck, and there’s nothing you can do about it!  And that can feel very comfortable sometimes, or at least, it may feel less uncomfortable than recognizing that you do have choices.

Here are two common things that are going on when we think we “can’t” make a decision:

The first thing is a lack of certainty about what we REALLY want.

This is a sneaky one.  Often we think that we aren’t sure of what we want, or don’t know what we want, and that’s just a fact, and we can’t do anything about it.  But certainty is not something that falls out of the sky one day.  Often, certainty has to be cultivated.  And this can be done very consciously and intentionally – and sometimes that’s the way it HAS to be done.  But we may resist doing this, for a lot of reasons, one being that if we were certain, we might have to do something about it.  I’m going to say a little more about that at the very end of the episode.

If you’re resisting cultivating certainty, I want to suggest that you have two choices: decide you aren’t going to make a decision, and make peace with that, OR become willing to work with your resistance.  Resistance may be annoying, but it doesn’t have to be a stopping point.

The second thing that’s often going on when we think we “can’t” make a decision is we’re  afraid of what we think will have to relinquish, or afraid of what we think we’ll miss out on by making a choice.

Here’s the deal, people.  You may well have to give up some things you really value in order to make a choice about how you move forward with your romantic life.  And it’s important to examine what you value, and think clearly about what you’re willing to give up and what you aren’t.  

But there isn’t really any way to get around the fact that relinquishing things that we value can be fucking SAD.  When we make a choice, and relinquish some things that are important to us, there may be sadness and loss and grief and maybe some doubt and bewilderment and maybe even some agony.  Sometimes letting go of things we’re attached to comes with a lot of intense emotions.  And this can be true EVEN WHEN we are sure that we are making the decision that is best for us.

And this doesn’t have to be a problem, but we often make it one.  Often, we FEAR the experience of these kinds of emotions before we even start to actually experience them!  And to echo something I’ve said before on the podcast, I don’t think that’s unreasonable, given that very few, if any, of us, have ever learned how to tolerate and even befriend our most uncomfortable emotions.  But what we’re effectively doing by fearing discomfort in the future is creating discomfort in the present.  Funny how that works.  By anticipating how hard it might be to let go of the things we may need to give up if we make a particular choice, we’re making ourselves feel unpleasant emotions in real time.  So in other words, we may think the problem is in the future, but it’s actually right there in the present.

Our superpower lies in being willing to feel our feelings as they come up, in real time, even when they’re uncomfortable.  We can’t deal with feelings in advance by anticipating them.  And we can’t entirely avoid negative, or uncomfortable emotions, although we can reduce unnecessary suffering by actively managing our thinking!  So, one of our biggest opportunities lies in being willing to tolerate and befriend our emotions, and then actually DOING this, again and again and again.

Putting our willingness to tolerate our big emotions into a practice of actually doing so is where the rubber hits the road.  A lot of people tell me, “Oh, I know, I get it, I know that no matter what I choose, there’s going to be some sadness and all of that, and I’m totally okay with it!”

And to that I say, really?  If you’re so okay with feeling sadness, and all of your other uncomfortable emotions, then none of the things you think you might have to relinquish if you make a decision need to get in the way of you making a decision.  If you trust that you can deal with your feelings, you can give up anything.

Now just to be clear, I’m all in favor of you carefully considering what you’re willing to give up and what you aren’t.  I’m all in favor of you taking a close look at your fears.  This is important.  But beyond a certain point, if you aren’t willing to actually FEEL the feelings associated with letting something or some things go, you aren’t going to get anywhere.  Letting go is not just an intellectual exercise.  It’s also a practice of being willing to work with our emotions on an ongoing basis, as they come up.

NOW, that said, there may be times when intentionally dealing with a bunch of uncomfortable emotions simply isn’t a project we want to take on.

Sometimes people come to me and they’re like, yeah, one of my parents just died, and I’m devastated about that, and I’m dealing with major health stuff, and I’m really scared, and I’m changing careers, that’s really stressful, and I’m really worried about all these other things, and I’m totally overwhelmed and exhausted by all of this, and oh yeah, I have to resolve my infidelity situation RIGHT NOW.  

Here’s the thing.  Sometimes we have a lot of major life stuff going on in our lives all at once, and we kind of have to juggle all of it simultaneously as best as we can.  That CAN be a thing.  But it’s also true that we usually have more choices about what we contend with at any given point in time than we think.  

To that effect, if you are contending with a lot of major life stuff, there’s nothing that says you shouldn’t prioritize addressing your infidelity situation.  You could!  And that might be exactly what you WANT to do.  But in order to make significant changes in any area of your life, you really do have to focus your time and energy and effort on that area of your life.  And since we all have limited bandwidth, focusing on one thing means devoting LESS of your time and energy to other areas of your life.  And it’s important to be judicious about how we use our energy.  If we have a lot of stuff going on that ALL seems really important and/or urgent, we need to deliberately prioritize what we want to address.  And it may be that addressing your infidelity situation is your top priority, but it also might not be.  Maybe it’s more important for you to just deal with your career change first.  Or maybe it’s more important to really focus on your health, or to give yourself the opportunity to grieve your parent’s death.  It may all be important, but that doesn’t mean it’s all urgent.  

Similarly, although it’s important to recognize that whether or not something is “hard” is a matter of your thinking, it’s OKAY for you to decide that you’re not going to do something because you think it’s going to be too hard.  Or too scary.  Or too much.  Or too overwhelming.  Or too whatever.  There’s a little bit of a paradox here, but that’s okay, we can all embrace paradox.  On the one hand, we need to be aware that in order to get what we want in life, there will be times when we’ll have to willingly do things that seem hard or scary or inconvenient or impossible or whatever.  If we want to live out our fullest lives, it doesn’t serve us to indulge in thinking that creates feelings like overwhelm or fear.  If we want to make big changes in our lives, it doesn’t serve us to avoid feelings like overwhelm or fear.

BUT.  It is also true that there are times in life when the most important and appropriate thing is to be gentle with ourselves, and NOT challenge ourselves.  Sometimes we need to withdraw and seek out comfort.  Sometimes attempting to do hard things, as they say, is the best thing for us.  And sometimes it’s the worst thing for us!  If you have been through a bunch of stuff that has been challenging for you, you may need to hit the pause button and practice RESTING.  And that may include deciding that you are not going to make a decision about your infidelity situation for a while because you just don’t have the fortitude for it.

There’s a time to hold ourselves accountable, and there’s a time to allow ourselves to pause, or withdraw, or retreat, or rest.  And our humanity depends upon being able to do both.  

Okay.  If you’ve been stewing for a while, if you’ve been telling yourself you have to make a decision for a while but you aren’t actually doing that, I have two suggestions:

Number one: Consider the possibility that you are choosing not to make a decision right now.  And consider telling yourself that over and over.  Assuming responsibility for not making a decision might seem like a blight on your character of some sort, but what if it isn’t?  What if it’s a perfectly legitimate choice to make, AND what if recognizing that you’re making a choice is far more empowering than thinking that you can’t make a choice?  I highly recommend that you try this out.  If you’ve been telling yourself that you can’t make a choice, try telling yourself that you’re choosing not to make a choice.  See how you feel.  See what happens.

Similarly, if you’ve been telling yourself that you HAVE to make a choice, try telling yourself that you have the opportunity to make a choice.  Or you have the option to make a choice.  See what happens when you shift your thinking this way.

My second suggestion, if you have been telling yourself for a while that you have to make a decision, but haven’t done it yet, or you’ve been telling yourself that you can’t make a decision, is that you intentionally put your decision on the shelf.

Now when I say put your decision on the shelf, I really mean put it on the shelf.  I mean you make a conscious decision to stop fucking ruminating on whatever your decision is, and you get busy being present in your life, and actively attending to other matters that you’ve prioritized.  This CAN be incredibly helpful.  

The irony, of course, is that people sometimes think that they “can’t” put their infidelity situation on the shelf, because they haven’t made a decision yet!  Right?  And this gets us back into the same chicken and egg problem that I talked about earlier.  We think we have to make a decision, and that creates a sense of urgency, and then it’s harder to make a decision, so then we freak out more, and we essentially stay put.

Intentionally putting a decision on the shelf will almost certainly require you to actively manage your mind to avoid defaulting to ruminating on your decision, but that is POSSIBLE.  And I can teach you how to do that.  To be clear, putting a decision on the shelf is not the same as putting a decision off.  It’s a conscious decision to take a break for the sake of letting the dust settle.  And if you’ve gotten lost in a dust storm of indecision and urgency and you can’t find your bearings, this may be exactly what you need to do.   

Here’s one last thing I want to say about decisions today.  Making a decision does not mean you then have to take action in any particular time frame.  Sometimes people are afraid that if they make a choice, they’ll have to do something about it immediately.  And you don’t have to!  Making a decision and taking action in support of that decision can be two distinct steps in your journey, and there may be a few steps in between taking action and making a decision.  There’s more I can say about that, but I’ll save it for another time.

Okay everyone!  That’s it for today.  Thank you so much for listening.

If you want my help applying what I talk about on the podcast to your own life, let’s work together!  You can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.  I can’t wait to meet you.

Have a great week, everybody.  Bye for now.  

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