139: Comparing Your Spouse to Your Affair Partner

May 02, 2023

Comparison is a normal human behavior, especially if you’re romantically involved with multiple people. There is a time and place to make comparisons, but are the comparisons you’re making between your spouse and your affair partner (or between any two people in your life) helping you in any discernable way?

If you’re making a decision about your relationships and comparing your partners is helping you do that, that’s terrific. However, if you’re just stuck, spinning in comparison and not getting any closer to deciding what you want, it’s time to start reconsidering the value of the comparisons you’re making.

Tune in this week to discover the problem with comparing your spouse to your affair partner. Dr. Marie Murphy is discussing why making comparisons doesn’t make decisions easier, how to see where you’re stuck in an unhelpful and ineffective comparison loop, and 3 simple tips for doing things differently if comparing your romantic partners isn’t helping you decide your infidelity situation.

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:

  • Why making comparisons isn’t categorically bad, but you need to be aware of how you’re using comparisons.

  • Some of the unhelpful ways you might be using comparisons and how it might have become a habit for you.

  • How believing that you should stay married to your spouse makes comparisons way murkier than they have to be.

  • What you’re missing out on when you’re stuck in a place of compulsively comparing your spouse and your affair partner.

  • How to see where you’re trapped in a mental loop of comparison.

  • 3 things you can do differently if your comparisons aren't helping you.

Listen to the Full Episode:


Featured on the Show:

Hi everyone, I’m Dr. Marie Murphy, and I’m a relationship coach.  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.  When you are ready to resolve your infidelity situation in a way that’s truly right for you, I can help you do it.  I’m not going to shove prescriptive advice down your throat, or tell you what you should do, or have to do.  I’m going to help you deal with your situation in a way that you feel great about.  When you’re ready to get started you can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.  I can’t wait to meet you.

Okay everyone.  Today we are going to have a little talk about making comparisons.  And the title of this episode is comparing your spouse to your affair partner, because that’s a common Thing, but what I talk about today will apply to comparing anyone to anyone you are sexually and romantically involved with.  Whoever you’re comparing, whatever labels you place on your relationships with them, if you’re doing it, this episode is for you.  Okay.

Now, before I launch into the portion of this program where I rant a little bit, let me say this.  There is a time and place to make comparisons!  Sometimes comparisons are super useful to make.  So if you have been comparing your spouse to your affair partner, or your affair partner to your spouse, or one person you’re involved with to another person you’re involved with, and doing that is helping you in some discernable way, in some way that you can actually identify, then that’s fantastic.  For instance, if you are making a decision about your relationships, and comparing the people that you’re involved with is helping you do that, that’s terrific.  For what it's worth, I think a LOT of decisions involve some degree of comparison-making.  So it’s not that making comparisons is inherently bad, or categorically bad.

Rather, it’s how we make use of comparisons that we want to be aware of.  And I will tell you that some people make “use” – that’s “use” in quotation marks – of comparisons in some very unhelpful ways.

For instance, some people tell themselves that they need to make comparisons between their spouse and their affair partner for the sake of making a decision, but they don’t actually make a decision.  And they’re not actively working towards making a decision.  They just keep on comparing and comparing, and they tell themselves that they still don’t know what they want, they still don’t know who they want to be with, but yet think they can’t stop making comparisons.  And this may be because they think there’s actually value in continuing to compare, so they’d better keep doing it, or because the comparison-making is such an ingrained mental habit for them that they think they literally can’t stop.

And this can end up being pretty tragic, because the person who thinks they’re stuck in comparison mode doesn’t make any decisions, AND they rob themselves of the opportunity to enjoy the person they are with when they are with them.  If you’re with your spouse, meaning, you’ve chosen to continue your relationship with your spouse, and you are physically present with your spouse, if you’re comparing them to your affair partner, you are not mentally present with your spouse!  That’s problem number one!  Problem number two, of course, is that if the comparisons you’re making in your mind aren’t favorable towards your spouse, you’re probably not enjoying their company as much as you could be.  If you have decided that you, say, find your conversations with your affair partner more exciting than conversations with your spouse, and you’re supposed to be having a conversation with your spouse but all you’re doing is thinking about how much better of a conversationalist your affair partner is, you’re not investing in creating a better conversation with your spouse in that moment.  And you’re not making the effort to focus on the ways in which your spouse actually might be pretty wonderful, in that moment.

Here's the thing, people.  You are allowed to prefer having conversations with one person over another.  That is totally fair.  But there’s a difference between saying, “Hey, I prefer this thing over the other, so I’m going to go after this thing, and NOT go after this other thing,” and just making comparisons over and over again and continuing to find someone lacking, and not doing anything about that.  

Another common focus of comparisons is sex.  People tell me all the time, “Well, I just can’t stop comparing the sex with my affair partner to the sex with my spouse, and the sex with my affair partner was so much better and I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to stop making that comparison.”  It’s important to mention that when people tell me that, they are often in the throes of convincing themselves that they HAVE to stay married to their spouse, for some reason or another.  And there are a lot of reasons why people think they “have to” stay married to their spouse. 

And if you want to, you can decide to stay married to your spouse if you think you have to, and you can do so BECAUSE you think you have to.  If you’re going to do that, I recommend that you make that decision consciously rather than unconsciously, but that is an option that’s available to you.  And, if you’re going to do that, I encourage you to find ways of making the best of your situation, which will probably include easing yourself out of the habit of making comparisons.  I’ll say more about how we can do that later, but for now, the really important point I want to make is that sometimes we make comparisons as a form of protest, because we think we’re stuck with something, and we aren’t happy about it.

When people think that they have to stay married to their spouse, but also don’t really WANT to stay married to their spouse, it can be really easy to fall into a habit of comparing their spouse to their affair partner – and this often means thinking about how much better their affair partner is, compared to their spouse, in multiple regards.  This is easy to do because it usually feels great to think about something we like, and if you really like your affair partner, and aspects of your relationship with them, it will feel good to think about that!  It may also feel good to you to mentally criticize your spouse a little, or find them lacking in comparison to your affair partner, but that’s kind of another story.  

And so it can be really easy to get into a mental loop of thinking, I’m not really sure if I want to stay married or not, but I kind of have to, so I guess that’s all there is to it, but oh my god, my affair partner is so much more awesome than my spouse, and it feels good to think about them, but I can’t really do anything about the fact that I have to stay married, and that sucks, so I guess I’ll just think about my affair partner and how great they are some more because at least it feels good to think about that, and I want to feel good.  Right?  If you’ve found yourself in this kind of thought loop, there’s nothing wrong with you.  The question is, what are you going to do about it?  You may not want to keep yourself in this kind of thought loop forever.

If you are routinely making comparisons, but those comparisons aren’t helping you do anything, here are three things you can start to do differently:

Number one: Start noticing the mental habit of making comparisons, and dedicating yourself to changing it.  Even if you’ve been in the habit of making comparisons for a long time, it is a habit you can change if you want to.  And I’ll say more about how in a few moments. 

Number two: Start focusing on what’s awesome when you’re with someone.  This is what you can do with your mental energy instead of making comparisons.  If you’re in the habit of comparing someone to someone else, you can instead practice using your mighty mind to focus on all of the great things about the person you are currently involved with, or spending time with.

Number three: Be willing to be really honest with yourself about what you want, and make choices in the service of what you want.  Be willing to deal with the fact that choosing one thing usually means giving up another thing.

Now I’ll say a little more about what I mean by each of these three things. 

Sometimes people who are married and are also involved with someone else will choose to end their affair relationship and stay with their spouse, or at least, try to make things work with their spouse.  But then, after they commit to this decision, they have a hard time engaging with their spouse, and enjoying their spouse, and they find themselves constantly comparing their spouse to their affair partner, and thinking about how much better things were with their affair partner.

Let’s say you’ve decided to end a really exciting relationship with your affair partner because you truly believe that your relationship with your spouse is what you really want.  Even if you are enthusiastic about focusing your attention on your spouse, and even if you are reasonably okay with having let your relationship with your affair partner go, you may still wish for some of the experiences you had with your affair partner.  And your brain may really crave feeling the kinds of feelings you experienced with your affair partner.  Your experiences with your affair partner may have been INTENSELY pleasurable.  And even if you are a million and twenty percent sure that you really want to be with your spouse, your feelings about them, and your feelings about interacting with them, may not be as intensely pleasurable right now.  It may be like the difference between doing a line of cocaine and drinking a cappuccino.  Or, to get away from drug references, it may be like the difference between eating a really rich, sweet dessert and eating a pear.  

Here's the thing.  Cappuccinos are GREAT.  Pears are GREAT.  But in order to enjoy them, we need to be able to enjoy them on their own terms, and actually WANTING to enjoy them on their own terms helps a lot with this.  Sometimes you don’t want to eat fruit!  Sometimes you want a really decadent dessert.  And sometimes you don’t want a mild high, you want a really strong high.  And that’s okay.  There is a time and place for wanting the strong high.  But there are also great reasons, sometimes, to opt for less concentrated, less intense forms of pleasure.  And if you want to enjoy these less concentrated, less hit-you-over-the-head forms of pleasure, it’s going to help to be willing to enjoy them for what they are - rather than comparing them to the more intense thing.

Doing this requires a willingness to recalibrate your palate, literally or figuratively.  It also requires a willingness to get out of comparison-making mode, and into appreciating-what’s-in-front-of-you mode.  And these are changes that may take some effort to make, but are totally POSSIBLE to make.

So let’s say that you’ve decided to end your relationship with your affair partner, and recommit to your relationship with your spouse.  And the sex with your affair partner was AMAZING, and the sex with your spouse is okay.  You’re not unattracted to your spouse – you just aren’t wildly attracted to them.  The sex with them is nice enough, but you’re not consumed with lust.  

If you want that to change, if you want to feel more attracted to your spouse, you can – and that starts with being willing to turn your focus to what you really enjoy and like about them, and what you enjoy about being sexual with them.  If you’re NOT doing that at all, and instead are thinking how much hotter your affair partner was, and how much better the sex was with them, it’s going to be very hard for you to enhance your connection to your spouse!  And thus it's going to be pretty hard for you to create sexual experiences with them that are more to your liking.  If what you’re continuously thinking is something along the lines of, “Oh, this was so much better with my affair partner,” there’s a good chance you’ll prove yourself right, and continue to prove yourself right.  On the other hand, if you’re willing to look for what you already find pleasurable with your spouse, and focus on that, and build on that, you have the potential to create a new sexual relationship with them that is awesome.  But that does mean that you find ways of appreciating nice sex, or good-enough sex.  

What do you do if you are on board with this idea, but can’t seem to help making comparisons?  What happens if the comparisons just pop into your head without warning, and just keep on coming back?  If this happens, it’s just an opportunity for you to practice actively and gently managing your mind.  If the comparison thoughts come up, like, “Oh, this would be so much better with my affair partner,” we don’t have to pay too much attention to them.  We may not have control over which thoughts pop into our head, but we do get to decide which thoughts we pay attention to.  If you’ve gotten into the habit of making comparisons, those kinds of thoughts may just keep on popping up.  And when they do, you can just notice what you’re thinking, without buying into the thought.  Oh, there goes my mind again, making comparisons.  Oh yeah, that’s just a thing my mind likes to do.  Just because my mind has offered me these thoughts does not mean I have to actively engage with them.  I don’t have to take all of my thoughts seriously.  I don’t have to act on every single thought I have.  

Noticing your thoughts without getting too invested in them takes practice, and practice takes effort.  If you want to be the manager of your mind, instead of letting your mind boss you around, it will take effort and practice to deal with your thinking in a way that serves you well.  But it’s totally do-able, and it’s well worth the effort.  So if you’ve gotten into the habit of making comparisons, if you’ve gotten hooked on comparing, it may just be that you have a mental habit that you want to unlearn.  And that can be a really worthy project to take on.  

And with that, you may want to practice focusing on what is awesome about your spouse, if you’ve chosen to be with them.  You may want to practice actively focusing on what’s great about them.  This can take some effort too, because you may not get you the same instant rush of intense pleasure from interacting with your spouse that you got from interacting with your affair partner.  But it may be WORTH IT to you to practice directing your focus in this way, because you may really WANT to enjoy your spouse.

However, if you find yourself making a lot of comparisons between your spouse and your affair partner, or between one person and another person, it may not just be an indication that you’ve gotten sucked into the mental habit of making comparisons.  It may be an indication that you want to make different decisions!  It may be an indication that it’s time for you to be more honest with yourself about what you really want!

For instance, if you have told yourself that you really want to stay married to your spouse, but you keep on comparing the sex you had with your affair partner to the sex you’re having with your spouse, and you just cannot get over how great the sex with your affair partner was, and you just find the sex you have with your spouse so incredibly unfulfilling by comparison, it may be time to ask yourself if you really do want to be with your spouse.  If you are not interested in focusing on what’s great about your sex life with them, or making your sex life with them better, you may want to acknowledge that to yourself and do something about that.  If the sex with your affair partner was so amazing that you don’t WANT to stop thinking about it, and you don’t WANT to live without those experiences, then maybe it’s time to rearrange your life so that you can have more of those kinds of experiences.  

Sometimes we persist in making comparisons because we don’t know how else to acknowledge what’s really important to us.  Sometimes we don’t think we have the power to say, I want this, and I’m going to go after it – so we stick with what we think we’re stuck with, and we compare what we’re stuck with to what we’d prefer.  

In other words, sometimes making comparisons is an indication that we’ve made some decisions for reasons we don’t love, or that we don’t like the consequences of our decisions and we don’t know what to do about that.  If we’re in that kind of situation, making comparisons between the person we’ve chosen to be with and someone who seems more exciting can provide a little temporary relief from feeling unhappy or stuck or confused or powerless.  Thinking about how great someone else was, or is, can feel good, and that can be a really nice distraction when we think we’re stuck in a relationship we aren’t all that thrilled about.

But if you want to get unstuck, if you want to experience something different from what you are currently experiencing, if you want to actually do something about whatever it is that you’re finding lacking when you compare it to something else, you’re going to have to make some choices and some changes.  And continuing to revisit the comparisons will not help you do that.  At some point, it’s not the comparisons that matter, it’s the willingness to make a decision and act on it that does.

All of the comparison-making in the world will not make a decision for you.  Sometimes we think that if we compare and compare and compare enough, it will become so obvious to us that we prefer one thing over another, and our decision will effectively make itself, and the whole thing will be completely effortless and free of all discomfort.  If you’ve been in comparison mode for a while now, I encourage you to consider that you’ve done all the comparing you need to do.  Now it’s time for you to either make some different decisions, or dedicate yourself to dealing with the comparison habit.

And that is it for today.  If you want my help dealing with your tendency to make comparisons between your spouse and your affair partner, of if you want help making clear decisions about your infidelity situation, let’s work together.  The first step is for you to 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.  I can’t wait to meet you.

Okay, thank you all so much for listening!  If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard, I would appreciate it if you would rate and review the podcast on itunes.  You can do this anonymously, and your ratings help other people who would benefit from hearing my perspectives on infidelity find this podcast too.  So thank you in advance for taking a moment to do that.  Have a great week everyone.  Bye for now.

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