129: Cultivating Clarity and Certainty (Part 2)

Feb 21, 2023

If you’re in the midst of an infidelity situation and you’re confused about what to do next, it’s generally the case that you may be using your mind in ways that are not actually helpful in cultivating the clarity and certainty you crave. For example, you’ll look for advice, like there’s a magic answer out there somewhere. You might try coming up with a solution that solves every facet of the situation in one fell swoop. Or you might latch onto indecision and just wallow in it.

However, when you’re doing this, you’re focusing on all of the things you think are problems, and how difficult they’ll be to solve. So, on this episode, Dr. Marie Murphy is giving you the alternatives when it comes to creating clarity and certainty around your infidelity situation.

Tune in this week to start recognizing that you’re probably not as confused or uncertain as you think you are. Dr. Marie Murphy is showing you how to start intentionally creating clarity and certainty, even if it feels impossible right now, so you can make intentional decisions instead of sitting in the anguish of uncertainty. 

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

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How confusion manifests in an infidelity situation.

  • Why you’re more inclined to focus on what you don’t know, rather than what you do know.

  • How to see where you’re obsessing over unhelpful questions that aren’t helping you make a decision.

  • The value of welcoming uncertainty and being curious about it.

  • Why clarity and certainty will never just come to you.

  • How to intentionally cultivate clarity and certainty for yourself and not reconsider every time your mind has a little freakout.

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 judgments.  If you are in the midst of a complicated infidelity situation and you would like my help making sense of it, 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.

All right.  When we find ourselves in a situation in which we think we are confused, and don’t know what to do, we tend to use our minds in ways that are not helpful.

For example, sometimes we look for advice.  Sometimes we think that the answers are “out there” somewhere.  Sometimes we think that if we can just find someone who can tell us what we should do, everything will be great.  I talked about advice-seeking at length in a recent episode.

Sometimes we try to solve for all of the facets, or aspects of our situations all at once.  We try to eat the whole elephant at once, in other words.  But when we’re doing this, what we really may be doing is focusing on all of the things that we think are problems, and thinking about how bad those problems are, or how difficult they will be to solve.  Not always, not necessarily.  But that is a thing that happens a lot, and it doesn’t work out well.

Or, we may latch onto indecision just for the hell of it, or semi-unintentionally.  If you listened to last week’s episode, I talked about how I, after being quite sure that I did not want kids for a number of years, suddenly decided that maybe I should want kids, or should want to want kids, and this kicked off a couple years of me wallowing in indecision.

There’s a bit of a paradox I want to address here.

In many episodes of this podcast, I have talked about uncertainty as an optional thing, and the drawbacks associated with saying “I don’t know” or “I’m confused” or anything along those lines.  And I’ve said all of these kinds of things, and will keep saying all of these kinds of things, because I think that often we indulge uncertainty in ways that really are not helpful.  We may tell ourselves we WANT clarity and certainty, but then we do a lot of things that only stand to move us further away from that.  

For example, when people tell me that they don’t know whether they want to leave their spouse or end their relationship with their affair partner, it may true that they don’t have an answer to those ultimate questions yet.  

And that’s fair enough, but there are usually three things going on in these kinds of situations that are far more noteworthy.  One is that the person who is telling me they don’t know what they want to do about their relationships is nearly always focusing on what they think they don’t know, or aren’t sure of, rather than what they DO know for sure.  And the interesting thing is that this can SEEM like a really productive thing to do.  But it often isn’t, and I’ll say more about this later.  

The second thing that’s often happening is that their whole system of thinking, or their entire approach to thinking about their conundrum, may be based on a bunch of thought errors.  Or put differently, they may believe a whole bunch of things are true that aren’t necessarily as true as they think they are.

And the third thing that’s often happening when we think we’re deeply confused about something very important is that we aren’t asking ourselves useful questions that would help us move forward.  Instead, we’re asking ourselves questions – and perhaps OBSESSING about questions – that can take up a lot of time and energy but just aren’t all that useful.

So there are definitely instances when we tell ourselves that we “don’t know” what we want, and that doesn’t end up being as true as we say it is.  And I believe that we can do ourselves a tremendous favor by getting better at recognizing that a lot of the time, we may not be nearly as confused or uncertain as we think we are, and getting better at intentionally creating clarity and certainty for ourselves.  Or having someone help us do that.

BUT.  Here’s comes the big but.  There are times in life when our not-knowing goes pretty broad and deep.  There are times when we really are uncertain about a lot of things, or at least, several very important things.  And I don’t want to dismiss or deny or minimize these kinds of experiences.  They happen, and they are important.  Sometimes we get to a point in life when we realize that all of our old ideas, all of our old ways of being, and all of our old ways of doing things really do not fit anymore, and we want to take everything apart and start fresh.  This is rich, fertile territory, and when we’re in it, there may be a lot of things that we don’t know.  Sometimes we have to totally melt ourselves down so that we can reformulate ourselves and our lives, and that is beautiful.

Interestingly, whether we are facing what I’m going to very loosely call truly grand uncertainty – even though I don’t think that language is great at all, that’s kind of the best I can do right now - or whether we THINK we’re confused and uncertain, but we really know a lot more than we think, the process of dealing with our state of uncertainty is very similar.  Basically, we need to welcome uncertainty and be curious about it – and be willing to intentionally create more certainty for ourselves, if that’s what we want.

And if we DO want clarity and certainty, we have to, to modify a line from Ram Das, be willing to go as fast as we can, and also be willing to only go as fast as we can.

And we don’t often like this very much!  We want certainty to “just come to us”!

But if certainty IS what you want, you will be served well by being willing to do the two very unglamorous things I mentioned a moment ago.  One is welcome uncertainty with patience and curiosity, and the other is, decide that you are going to intentionally create more and more certainty for yourself.

These are simple things, but they’re important things.  Many of us think that clarity and certainty “just come to us,” and that when that happens, it’s like turning on a light switch, and instantly being able to see what was obscured by darkness just a moment ago.  And while this CAN happen, I don’t recommend that you COUNT on this happening.  Waiting for the revelation that’s going to change everything may mean you spend a lot of time waiting that you could put to much better use.

To refer back to the story I told you in last week’s episode, when I launched myself into a phase of wondering if I should want to want kids, after having conclusively decided that I did not, I was NOT focusing at all on what I WAS sure of, I was NOT asking myself useful questions, and I was operating from a bunch of thought errors that I did not recognize.  For instance, one of the questions I asked myself obsessively was, “What if I wake up when I’m 70 and I wish that I had had kids?”

On the one hand, that’s a terrible question, because there’s no way to know what I’m going to want when I’m 70.  I’m not 70 yet.  But even if that was a terrible question, I could have decided to conclusively answer it.  I could have turned it into answerable question, rather than an un-answerable question.  I could have said to myself, “Okay, if I do wake up when I’m 70 and wish that I’d had kids, how will I handle that?”  And I could have then answered that question!  But I didn’t do that.  Instead, I treated the question as both important, and impossible to answer.  But I didn’t have to do either of those things.  

I was also wondering if maybe everyone who had kids understood something important about what it means to live a full and rich life that I didn’t.  WONDERING is the key word in that last sentence.  I was rather aimlessly wondering if maybe all of the ideas I’d had about what I thought comprised a rich and meaningful life were perhaps baseless.  

Here’s the thing.  Sometimes we really do want to question our beliefs about what constitutes a meaningful and worthwhile life.  Sometimes we really do want to make some adjustments in that department.  Sometimes we decide that our old beliefs, our old operating systems, really don’t suit us anymore, and we want to make some changes.  But that isn’t what was going on with me.  What was happening with me was, I had latched onto the idea that maybe other people’s priorities should be my priorities.  I had latched onto the idea that maybe there was something wrong with me if I didn’t value the same things that some other people did.  And that, my friends, could be considered a thought error.  In fact, I would actually say that any thought that contains the phrase, “maybe there’s something wrong with me” is always a thought error.

Moreover, as I said last week, I wasn’t dealing with my so-called dilemma about whether or not I wanted to have kids in ANY systematic way.  I was not organizing my thinking at ALL.  I was letting uncertainty have its way with me.  

And this is exactly what I see a lot of my clients doing, in regards to their infidelity situation, and this is what I help people STOP doing.  Giving serious thought to major questions in your life and allowing yourself to experience productive uncertainty is one thing.  Staying mired in uncertainty because you don’t know what else to do is another thing entirely.

How do we get ourselves out of the fog of uncertainty and confusion and not-knowing?  We can learn how to manage our minds, rather than letting them manage us.  This is a process.  This is a practice.  This takes effort.  This is not something I can teach you how to do in a podcast episode.  But, what I can tell you right now is that you can decide, starting today, is that you can intentionally create clarity and certainty for yourself if you want to.  You really do have to decide that this is something you have the power to do.  If you continue to believe – consciously or semi-consciously – that clarity and certainty are things that “just happen,” and are things that are beyond your power to create for yourself, then guess what.  You will create evidence for yourself that that is true.

You may be familiar with the saying, “The mind makes a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.”  You may have heard me say that before, on this podcast!  That line is attributed to Robin Sharma, but I’m willing to bet it’s an expression with ancient, untraceable roots.  Maybe Buddha said it first.  Anyway, it’s one thing to hear this line, and it’s another thing entirely to decide that you are going to learn how to be the master of your mind, rather than its servant.  But that process starts with a simple decision.  You can decide right now that you’re going to be the master of your mind.  You can decide right now that you’re going to put your energy into cultivating clarity and certainty for yourself, rather than putting your energy into feeding your uncertainty.

Making these decisions, and then following through on them, may not give you any hit of instant gratification.  Then again, it might, because deciding to take responsibility for any aspect of our lives CAN feel wonderful.  But sometimes it doesn’t!  Sometimes taking responsibility for our life experience doesn’t sound fun at all.  Sometimes we want someone to come along and do it for us, and we’re really un-excited about the idea of doing things for ourselves.  But we just may get to the point where we see that that really might be the only way forward, so we decide we’re willing to step up and take responsibility for creating clarity and certainty for ourselves.

Whether making this decision sends a shiver of excitement through you or not, I will tell you that the work of managing our minds is not always fun or glamorous!  Sometimes it’s anything BUT that!  Especially if we are not in the habit of managing our minds at all, learning how to do this can be like learning a completely new language, or an entirely new skill set.  At first it may seem like a lot of effort for little reward.  

But then the effort pays off, and it’s amazing.  When we actively manage our minds, instead of letting our minds lead us in every which way, life gets so much simpler and so much better.  We’re able to get clear on what we want and go after it.  We’re able to deal with things that are beyond our control in a truly different way.

Doing this has many benefits, and one of them is that we can deal with our infidelity situations with a lot less fuss and drama, and then we can get on with the business of enjoying our romantic lives, and our entire lives a whole lot more.


ONE: Decide that you’re going to deal with your puzzle one piece at a time.

When we have what seems like a complex, multi-faceted situation on our hands, we may attempt to solve for all the things at once.  We are especially likely to do this if we believe our situation is a PROBLEM, and even more likely to do this if we believe we don’t currently know how to solve our problem.  This kind of thinking can send us into panic mode.  When we’re in panic mode, we may want to attempt to boil the ocean in a teacup.  We may want to try to eat the whole elephant at once.  But this, quite simply, is impossible.

Instead of trying to solve for all the things at once, we need to be able to slow down and examine our situation deliberately.  What exactly is the nature and scope of the situation, or conundrum, we’re in?  What are the questions we’re trying to answer, or problems we’re trying to solve?  And then, once we’ve identified the facets of our situation, can we slow down and address them one at a time?

This is something that many people find very hard to do, and that’s understandable.

Our minds may WANT to attempt to solve for every facet of our situation at once.  Our brains may want us to believe that we’ve got a big gnarly problem on our hands, and we will not be able to rest until we solve it – so we try to address all of it at once, and as quickly as possible.  But since this doesn’t work, we have to be willing to step in and assure our minds that they don’t have to panic.  We’re going to work through our situation, but we’re going to do it at a reasonable pace.  We’re going to deal with one topic at a time, one question at a time, one thought at a time.  And we’re going to trust that by doing this, we’ll make better progress than if we try to do everything all at once.

TWO: Stop asking yourself unhelpful questions, and start asking yourself questions that are actually helpful.

One of the most unhelpful things we do with our minds is ask ourselves the same questions over and over again, without actually answering them.

If you have been doing this, I will give you two choices for how to proceed: either just stop asking the questions, or decide that you’re going to answer the questions you’ve been asking yourself.

What you may find is that the questions you have been asking yourself over and over again are not actually questions you can answer.  For example, a lot of people spend a lot of time ruminating on questions like, “Will I be happy with my affair partner a year from now if I leave my marriage to be with them?” or “How will I feel if I re-commit to my marriage, and then later decide I made a mistake by letting my affair partner go?”  These are not questions you can answer in the present.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  You COULD decide on purpose how you WANT to feel, no matter what, no matter what happens in the future.  That IS an option that is available to you.  But if you’re not going to do that, then you may not be able to know how you’re going to feel in the future.  And therefore, spending time on questions of how will you feel in the future if you do x, y, or z, are just going to keep you stuck.  Asking yourself these questions over and over again will not help you move forward at all.

However, questions about what you are willing to try or invest in are much more helpful.  

For instance, you might usefully ask yourself, “Do I want to give my relationship with my affair partner a try outside of the affair bubble?”  That is a question you can answer in the present.

So if you are spending time repeatedly mulling over questions that you cannot answer, it may be time to ditch your old questions and ask yourself some new ones.

THREE: Decide that you can and will answer the questions you ask yourself.  

This may sound like a simple thing, but it’s actually a really big deal.

Answering questions for yourself may require you to decide that you CAN answer questions for yourself.  And you may not have yet claimed your power and authority to do this for yourself!  But you CAN!  And no one can do that for you.  Nobody’s going to come up to you and say, okay, guess what, you now have permission to be the supreme authority of your own life, and you are totally in charge of your own decisions, and there’s no need to second-guess yourself.

Now, here’s where it gets really interesting.  Even when you know in your bones that you have the power to come up with your own answers, coming up with your own answers will still take work.  And developing certainty that your answers are right for you will still take effort sometimes.  Sometimes it’s easy!  Sometimes we just know what we want, and why we want it, and it doesn’t take ANY effort.  That happens sometimes, and when it does, it’s lovely.

But sometimes we really have to dig deep to formulate answers to the questions we’re facing.  This may take some serious exploration, and some trial and error.  For instance, if we’re trying to make some decisions about our love life, we may want to ask ourselves what we would ideally like the future of our love lives to look like – and we may not have ever considered that question before.  We may have just assumed we’d keep on doing whatever we were already doing, and the possibility of choosing differently may be new to us.

So we get to ask ourselves what we might like to experience and why.  And we may need to ask ourselves that over and over again.  We might have to be willing to consider and reject a lot of different answers before we come across anything that sounds even remotely appealing to us.  But if we decide we’re willing to come up with answers, when we decide that we’re dedicated to moving through uncertainty, or through a state of not-knowing, and into a state of knowing, we can do that.  By focusing on what we do know for sure, or what we are starting to know for sure, we can build on certainty, rather than feeding uncertainty.  

FOUR: Finally, in order to create certainty, we have to be willing to remind ourselves of what is true for us.

Our minds will drive us crazy if we let them.  Our minds are perfectly capable of second-guessing their own ideas.  So if you want to feel more certain of a decision you are making, you need to come up with clear reasons why you are making the choice you’re making, and be ready to remind yourself of these reasons regularly.

Especially if we are NOT in the habit of creating clarity and certainty for ourselves, our minds may tend towards creating more confusion.  Some of us are very much in the habit of making a decision, and then promptly deciding that we haven’t really made a decision, or that we need to go back and revisit the decision we thought we’d made.

You do not have to put up with these kinds of shenanigans.  You can, gently but firmly, tell your mind that you have made a decision, and that you like that decision, for reasons a, b, and c, and that you are not going to reconsider just because your mind is having a little freak out.  

There are many reasons why our minds love to entertain uncertainty and indecision.  There are many reasons why our minds resist certainty – and resist our efforts to create it for ourselves.  This of course is ironic, because our minds also love certainty, but that’s okay, because both of these things can be true at once.  What you need to know is that you need to be prepared for your mind’s resistance to your certainty-creation process, and be ready to actively build certainty by repeatedly reminding yourself of what is true for you, or why what you have decided to do is a good idea, or why you want what you want.

One of the greatest powers we possess is our power to choose what we focus on.  We can focus on what we are sure of, or we can focus on what we aren’t sure of.  This is a simple thing, but it’s really powerful, and so often, we don’t exercise our power to use our focus to our advantage.  

Okay.  It’s one thing to hear me talk about all of this stuff on the podcast, and it’s another thing to have me as your coach who helps you apply my teachings to your specific situation, and put the concepts I talk about to use in your own life.  Sometimes a good hit of insight is GREAT.  But there is a big difference between passively consuming information – like, by listening to a podcast – and doing the work of actually making change.  So if you want to begin to resolve your infidelity situation in a way that’s truly right for you, and you want my help doing it, let’s work together.  The first step is for you to schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.  I can’t wait to meet you.

Thank you all so much for listening!  Have a great week.  Bye for now.


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