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. If you would like my help resolving your infidelity situation in a way that’s truly right for you, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com. I offer confidential, compassionate coaching via Zoom, which means we can work together no matter where you’re located.
Okay. Right this minute, just off the top of your head, without thinking about it TOO much, I want you to rate your love life on a scale of one to ten. You don’t have to tell anyone what the number is, or why you’ve given your love life this particular rating, and your thoughts a) are totally private unless you choose to make them otherwise, and b) have no moral value as sentences in your mind, so go ahead and be honest with yourself.
Now I want you to ask yourself if you liked your answer. Let’s say you rated your love life as a seven. Do you like it being a seven? If so, that’s fine. If it’s a two and you like it that way, that’s fine with me. But I want you to see if you can be really honest with yourself about whether or not you like the rating you gave your love life. If you want your love life to better, can you acknowledge that to yourself? It might not be easy to acknowledge this! It might not be easy at all. And part of the reason for this is usually that we place limits on what we think is available to us. Or more specifically, we think our love lives can be only so good, and not better. We think that if we’re unhappy with our love lives, we’re kind of stuck with our lot.
Here's the deal, people. If we want to have different experiences in our love lives – or any area of our lives – we have to believe that the kinds of experiences we want to have are available to us. We have to believe that we’re allowed to have the kinds of experiences we want to have. We have to believe that the kinds of experiences we want to have are possible, and possible for US.
And a lot of us DON’T believe these kinds of things!
A lot of us don’t believe that it’s possible for us to have what we want! And this really matters, because if we do not believe that it’s possible for us to have what we want, we are very likely to prove ourselves right. What happens when we don’t believe we can have what we want is we don’t go after it. We don’t take the actions that we could take to get what we want, or more accurately, we don’t take the kinds of actions that have the potential to get us what we want, or closer to what we want.
Now I want to be really, really, really clear about something very important. Going after what we want can be extremely uncomfortable. I want to make that absolutely clear, and I also want to suggest that that does not have to be a problem. There’s a lot of talk out there in the personal development world about “manifesting” things that you want, and sometimes it is implied or even stated explicitly that in order to get what you want in life, you just have to think about it, and then the law of attraction will bring it to you. And to an extent, I think this line of thinking is well-intentioned, but in practice, we usually have to take ACTION in the service of getting what we want, and sometimes a lot of it. Yes, we have to think about it, but then we actually have to do something about it. Does it sometimes seem like things we want just fall out of the sky and hit us on the head? Yes, it might. That certainly happens to me sometimes. But “seem like” are the operative words in that sentence. Often, when it seems like things that we want just come to us without any effort, we’ve actually been putting in a lot of effort, we’ve just been doing it joyfully, and when the results come to us, it seems like they came out of nowhere. As the saying goes, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” For years, I thought that quote came from Benjamin Franklin but I just looked it up and it’s attributed to Thomas Jefferson. I’m glad I looked it up.
Here's an example of what this can look like. Let’s say you’re single, and you want to find a romantic partner. You could sit around your house waiting to “manifest” a partner, and who knows, maybe someone wonderful will literally ring your doorbell and ask to borrow a cup of sugar and the rest will be history. But you might have a little more luck if you were willing to work a little harder. Maybe you want to get on the dating apps. Or maybe you don’t want anything to do with the dating apps, but you do want to start taking swing dancing lessons. Or maybe you really want to start volunteering again. Or maybe you want to ask ten people you know who live near where you live if they’ll introduce you to someone interesting who you could ask out for coffee. Or whatever. These are just my off-the-cuff examples. The point is that if you want to meet someone wonderful, there are a million ways you can get out there and start meeting people. It will take effort. It might take a lot of effort. You might end up going on a lot of bad dates. You might try out fifteen different volunteering opportunities before you find one that you really like, that puts you into contact with people you’re excited to meet. But if you believe that these efforts will eventually get you what you want, and you keep on joyfully making the effort, I can pretty much guarantee that you will not only meet someone wonderful in terms of a romantic partner, but you will meet a LOT of wonderful people and that will enrich your life immensely.
But if, on the other hand, you don’t actually believe it’s possible for you to meet someone you are deliriously happy with, you are probably going to just sit on your couch and complain that there aren’t any good humans out there at your age. Or something to that effect. And then, by virtue of taking the actions of sitting on your couch and complaining, you will probably get the result of not meeting someone you’re deliriously happy with, and thus you will prove yourself right.
And we may find some satisfaction in this. Sometimes we’d rather be right than happy. It may be a lot more comfortable to be right than to be happy. Allowing ourselves to decide that we have the right to be happy and the opportunity to be happy can be really scary. Allowing ourselves to name and claim what we want, and pursue what we want can be really scary.
Many of us are not in the habit of asking ourselves questions like, “How good can I stand it?” and expanding our capacity to experience joy and delight and abundance and love and all of that stuff. Instead, many of us are in the habit of putting our guard up, or preparing for the worst, or keeping our expectations low. And when we do this, we may think we’re protecting ourselves from all the bad feelings that we might potentially have to feel, but we’re also limiting our capacity to enjoy all of the amazing feelings that humans have the opportunity to feel.
And this is why feeling good sometimes doesn’t feel so good. If we’re out of the habit of allowing ourselves to want things and receive what we want, getting what we want can feel really unsettling. We may not know how to receive and enjoy it.
And if we don’t know how to deal with feeling unsettled, we may reject our desires, or tell ourselves that what we want isn’t possible, or sabotage ourselves or our relationships when things get good. OR we can simply recognize what’s going on, and give ourselves the opportunity to settle into feeling good, and get accustomed to receiving more of what we want in life.
Here’s a little example from my own life. I just went on vacation, and in the context of what I think counts as a vacation, it was the first “real” vacation I’ve taken in a few years. Now, before I go any further, let me acknowledge that by some people’s standards, my entire life is a vacation. I do work that I love, I have a roof over my head, and although by San Francisco standards my life is not exactly luxurious, I live in a state of abundance that many people on this planet will never know. And I appreciate all of that immensely, AND, one of my deepest, most long-running desires in life is to travel internationally. And I’ve done a bit of that, for sure, or more than a bit of that, depending on your frame of reference, but I have not left the country since before covid, and the vacations I took during covid were mostly road trips, and although I got to see some places that I might never have visited if it weren’t for covid, I honestly don’t love road trips very much. I just can’t get as excited about driving somewhere in California or Oregon as I can about getting on a plane and spending a few weeks in a foreign country. We all have different preferences, and those are some of mine.
So during covid I kind of squelched some of my travel desires. It was a survival tactic, of sorts. I felt like I effectively couldn’t travel internationally for the first part of covid, and then I wasn’t really sure how I felt about getting on a long plane ride even after the vaccines came out, and in addition to that and related to that, I’d committed to some road trips. And as a result, by my estimation, I didn’t have time to take a proper international vacation for a while there. That didn’t have to be as true as I thought it was, of course, but that was what I told myself for a while. At any rate, the fact was that a few years went by without me doing something that’s really important to me, namely, to travel outside of the US.
One of the ways I dealt with this was by telling myself that I wasn’t really missing out on anything. I told myself that I was lucky to be able to take the vacations that I did take. I told myself that it wasn’t really that important to me to get out into the world. I told myself that more local adventures were just fine.
And that, dear listeners, brings me to a very interesting point which I need to make a full podcast episode about sometime. On the one hand, it was TRUE that I was fortunate to be able to take the road trips that I was able to take. But on the other hand, it wasn’t true that this kind of travel was “enough” for me. Or “just fine” for me. And there’s a difference between appreciating something for what it is, which I think is a very wonderful thing to do, and telling yourself that because something is worth appreciating, it’s enough for you.
Put a little differently, there’s a lot to appreciate about a Prius. But sometimes we don’t want a Prius, we want a fucking Ferrari. And yes, it’s wonderful to appreciate any car that you have in a world where many people don’t have cars and need them to get from point A to point B. That’s fine and good. And if you need a car and you have a car, it’s worth appreciating that car. But that doesn’t mean you can’t want the Ferrari.
Anyway, this is a topic that I’m going to return to on a future episode, because it is relevant to infidelity situations in so many ways, but for today’s purposes, the point is this. I love international travel, but for a while, I kind of suppressed that desire, and told myself I was fine without it.
Then, after planning this vacation, once the time came for me to actually get on the plane and go to Costa Rica and be on vacation and enjoy the experience of doing something that I’d really wanted to do for a long time, it was hard for me to do that.
It was hard to allow myself to be in the experience of being where I was. It was hard for me to drink it all in. It was hard for me to unclench from the big and small stresses of business as usual at home. It was profoundly weird to be in a situation where the whole point was for me to allow myself to enjoy myself in a way that I hadn’t in a long time. It was hard to allow myself to receive the experience of having what I wanted.
People always say things like, “it takes a week to get used to being on vacation, and another week to enjoy it,” and I’ve definitely related to that in the past, but this was kind of on a whole other level. This was like allowing my heart to thaw after it having been buried in the back of the freezer for way too long.
And there’s a lot more I could say about that, and my experience of allowing myself to enjoy being in Costa Rica, which I most certainly did, even if it wasn’t an uncomplicated process of unmitigated joy. But the points that I want to make about this experience of mine are these:
One is, in case it doesn’t go without saying, my experience of getting out of the country for the first time in a long time has many parallels to some people’s experiences of experiencing the kind of love they want to have with another person after not having that kind of experience for a long time. It can seem too good to be true, at first. It can be hard to settle into. It can be hard to lean into, and enjoy, and receive.
The second point is that if I were not practiced in allowing myself to feel discomfort, I probably would have handled the weirdness of being on vacation very differently than I did. I basically let myself feel the weirdness and explore it. Which was uncomfortable, but interesting. However, I could have dealt with it by effectively distracting myself from my experience by, say, working during my vacation. I could have just opened my laptop and worked non-stop. There’s always more work to be done, after all. I could have dealt with the strangeness of being on vacation by effectively not being on vacation. In other words, I could have sabotaged the whole point of the trip. And then I might not have had to feel the discomfort of readjusting to the experience of allowing myself to have an experience that I really wanted to have, but I also wouldn’t have gotten to the point of being able to allow myself to have the joy of that experience. I would have kept myself stuck in a purgatory zone of sorts instead.
Okay. Let’s talk about how everything I’ve said so far can apply to infidelity situations. We’re going to talk about two examples.
Example number one is this:
Sometimes, people are having an affair, and they decide they want to leave their marriage, and they start the process of doing that, and they may get pretty far along in the process of leaving their marriage, but then a funny thing happens. They’re finally free to be with their affair partner in an above-board manner, but then they start to think that that relationship is just too good to be true. Things were so bad with their ex-spouse, or soon-to-be-ex-spouse, and things with their affair partner who is more like their “normal” partner now are uncomplicated and good, and it’s starting to seem like something might be wrong.
It just seems like if the relationship isn’t troubled, or marked by particular forms of strife, something is fundamentally amiss. We may have been telling ourselves for years that all we want is a nice, normal, happy relationship, full of good communication and great sex and shared interests and unicorns and rainbows and cupcakes or whatever. Obviously I’m being a little facetious, but the point is serious. Sometimes we get exactly what we’ve always wanted in a relationship, and we’re kind of stunned by this.
And we may respond to this in funny ways. We might respond by losing interest in our former affair partner who is now “just” our partner. We might start to think that they aren’t actually as compelling as they once seemed to us. We might even start to head back in the direction of our ex-spouse, or almost-ex spouse, because we just don’t know how to function in the absence of the strife and drama that came with that relationship. Or, we might stir up drama in our relationship with our former affair partner who is now our regular old partner. We might instigate some sort of difficulty, because we simply don’t know how to exist in a state of contentment and peace in a relationship. On the one hand, we may really WANT to have a nice, peaceful relationship with our former affair partner who is now just our partner. But we may not know how to do that, or how to allow ourselves to have that.
And I want to suggest that there is nothing wrong with you if you’re having this kind of experience. I know that some people will tell you that if you engage in this kind of self-sabotaging behavior that there’s something really wrong with you and you have some kind of a diagnosable disorder and all of that. But I want you to consider an alternate perspective, which is that being able to name and claim what we want, and being able to receive and appreciate what we want, are skill sets. And some people were taught these skills pretty much starting at birth, and lucky them. Some people know how to do this, and have modeled this really effectively for others, and that’s great.
But not all humans have had the opportunity to learn that it’s safe to want things, and safe to receive what we want. And some of us who are fairly comfortable naming what we want and receiving it in one or some areas of our lives are not comfortable doing this in others. And what I want to suggest to you is that this is an area where you can learn and change and evolve and expand your capacities. Some of us may need to deliberately learn how to receive joy and happiness. More specifically, some of us may need to deliberately learn how to have the kind of romantic relationship we want to have, without subconsciously rejecting it or sabotaging it.
And if you need to learn how to do this, if you need to work on expanding your capacity for this, that’s okay. It’s not an indication that there’s something wrong with you. It’s just an indication that you have an opportunity to learn and grow.
Here's the second example of how the general themes I’ve been talking about today can apply to infidelity situations.
I often work with clients who are married, and have kids with their spouse, and are having an affair, and the client is terribly afraid that if they choose to leave their marriage, and pursue a relationship with their affair partner, their spouse will hate them and totally poison the relationship they have with their kids as a result of their hatred.
Sometimes people’s visions aren’t QUITE this dire. Sometimes they really are, though, but sometimes people “just” think that their spouse won’t want to have anything to do with them, and won’t want to have any kind of shared family life with them and the kids they share. And that can seem like a pretty unappealing possibility!
Now, it is of course possible that if you get divorced and your spouse becomes aware of your affair, they might not be all that excited. They might be very displeased with you. And they might not want to have all that much to do with you – initially, or ever. That IS possible. But it isn’t the ONLY possible outcome!
For example, it is POSSIBLE that your spouse, upon learning that you want a divorce, and learning that you’ve been cheating on them, has a major moment of reckoning with themselves. Maybe they’re hurt and surprised by your news, but maybe they also use this development as an opportunity to get really clear on how they want to live their life going forward, and maybe they decide that even though their marriage to you didn’t work out, they really want to forge a new kind of familial relationship with you. They really want to have a great co-parenting relationship with you, they want to be friends with you, and they really want to have a good relationship with your new partner, too. And they want this because they want their kids – who are also your kids – to see what’s possible when people decide to forgive and evolve, and they want as much love in their lives as possible, in as many different forms as possible.
When I suggest that something like this is possible to people, they sometimes tell me things like, “NO WAY, I don’t believe that could ever happen” or, “Well, that might be possible for other people, but it would never happen with me and my spouse.”
I want to suggest that this COULD be possible for you and your spouse, or you and your future ex-spouse. You get to decide what you want, of course. Maybe you don’t want to have any kind of relationship with your future ex-spouse at all, even if you share kids with them! But so often, people tell me that they’d like to have a friendly relationship with their future ex-spouse, but that simply isn’t going to be possible.
What if it were? Could you allow yourself to consider that it just might be? How good COULD things be in your relationship with your future ex-spouse? How good COULD your reconfigured family relationship be? A lot of us are really good at thinking about worst-case scenarios and imagining how unpleasant things could become, but what if we allowed ourselves to imagine best-case scenarios instead? Let’s just say you’re having an affair, and your affair partner is also married and has kids, and you and your affair partner want to leave your respective marriages and be together, and also have good relationships with and between your former spouses. What if that’s totally possible? Why not??? How good could you stand for that kind of situation to be?
So often we fear other people’s animosity, and think about how we’re going to shield ourselves from that. But what if we could anticipate other people’s understanding and goodwill? What if we allowed ourselves to believe that our spouse – and our affair partner’s spouse – might be able to come to terms with what’s happened, i.e., the fact that cheating has occurred? What if we could believe that our spouse – and our affair partner’s spouse – might WANT to form a new kind of bond with us, even if we’ve done something that was outside of the bounds of our original agreements with them?
Can you allow yourself to consider these kinds of possibilities?
I’m not trying to tell you that your future ex-spouse will want to have a good post-divorce relationship with you simply by virtue of you believing this is possible. To expand on what I said earlier, it’s not exactly that our thoughts have this magical power to instantly bring us what we want, especially when other people are involved.
But I DO want to suggest that you believing that you could have a great post-divorce relationship with your future ex-spouse is a prerequisite for it becoming a reality. And that’s because you have to believe that such a relationship is possible in order to take the actions that will contribute to the possibility becoming a reality. If you believe you can have a great relationship with your future ex-spouse, you will behave very differently than you will behave if you do not believe it’s possible for the two of you to have a great post-divorce relationship. And your actions, the way you engage with your ex-spouse, will yield results.
Now you might be thinking, fine, maybe I can do everything in my power to create a good relationship with my future ex-spouse, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll want to have a good relationship with me. And of course, you’re right. You can’t determine what anyone else does or doesn’t do, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you take responsibility for your part of the equation, and you do whatever you can to contribute to making what you want possible.
To that effect, here are a few words from our friend Ghandi:
“It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”
What happens when we work towards what we want and we don’t get it? For example, what if you do your utmost to create a friendly relationship with your ex-spouse, and they continue to behave in ways you consider horrible? Well, you still get to be the person who believes in the possibility of a harmonious relationship with them, and acts accordingly. You still get to be the person who extends grace and friendship to someone you care about. And that usually feels a hell of a lot better than telling yourself that having a good relationship with your ex-spouse isn’t possible, even though you want it, and not doing anything that’s within your power to create the kind of relationship with them that you would like to have. And, to reiterate that last line from the Ghandi quote, if you do nothing, there will be no result. If you don’t try to create the kind of relationship with your ex-spouse that you want to have, if you don’t attempt to create the new family configuration that you want to have, it won’t happen. Your effort is essential. Even if your ex-spouse does everything “perfectly,” whatever that might mean, your effort is still required to make the whole thing happen.
Before we take action in the service of what we want, we’ve got to get clear on what we want, and we’ve got to work on believing that it is possible. And “work” is the key word here. Sometimes changing our beliefs about what is possible takes some serious effort and time. But I would urge you to consider that any investment you make into expanding your beliefs about what is possible is an investment well worth making. And you can start to expand those beliefs right now. How good can you stand it? How good could you allow your love life to be?
Returning to my initial question of how you would rate your love life on a scale of 1 – 10, what if your love life were so good that you couldn’t even imagine using the 1-10 scale? Can you imagine being so full of love for your partner and your relationship that you’d give it and them a score of a thousand, or a million, or infinity?
Can you imagine the specifics of a particular aspect of your situation being resolved in such a way that not only are you okay with the outcome, or not devastated with the outcome, but delighted by it?
Can you start to ask yourself the question, “What’s the best possible thing that could happen here?” a little more often?
We may need to ask ourselves these kinds of questions a lot.
If we’re in the habit of believing we can’t have what we want, allowing ourselves to want something and believe that it’s possible to have it can feel strange. And quite a few of us are in the habit of believing that what we want isn’t really possible.
Actually having what we want, or experiencing what we want, can feel even stranger. If we’ve been guarding our hearts in any way for a while, letting down the fortress walls can feel pretty damn scary.
And this scariness and strangeness may seem like DANGER. Figuratively or literally!
So often, we interpret strange or unfamiliar emotions as warnings that something bad is happening, or going to happening. So we may reject the strangeness… but in so doing, we also reject what we really want. Thus we may run the risk of sabotaging ourselves in the service of supposedly protecting ourselves.
Allowing ourselves to let our guard down, allowing ourselves to allow ourselves to receive what we want and enjoy what we want may take PRACTICE. And like any other practice that has the potential to lead to massive, mind-blowing, life-changing results, that practice may take time and care and compassion for ourselves and a willingness to “fail,” or not “do it right,” so to speak. There may be moments when we default to our knee-jerk reaction to reject something good, because we just don’t know how to exist in a state of happiness or enjoyment or satisfaction or whatever. If it seems too good to be true, we may reject it because our minds can’t quite accommodate it and our nervous systems can’t, either.
So that’s why we practice. That’s why we need to ask ourselves, again and again, “how good can I stand it?” And little by little, we can build our capacity to receive more of what we want to experience in life.
All right, people. That’s where we’ll leave it for today.
If you are in the midst of an infidelity situation and you would like my help sorting it out, let’s work together. You can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com, and you can learn more about the coaching packages I offer through the services page of my website. If you’ve been trying to resolve your infidelity situation on your own for a while, but you haven’t come to any satisfying conclusions, now’s the time to ask yourself how much longer you want to stay in limbo. If you’re ready to get serious about making changes, I can help you do it. Working with me can help you clarify what you want to change and actually make those changes a lot more efficiently and effectively than you may be able to on your own.
Thank you all so much for listening! Have a great week. Bye for now.