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 ready to begin the process of resolving your infidelity situation in a way that’s truly right for you, I can help you do it. When you’re ready to talk, 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. I can’t wait to meet you.
This week’s episode is a complement to last week’s episode, in which I talked about infidelity situations as life projects. I think it can be really important and really useful to think about infidelity situations as life projects, as pieces of business that have landed in our inbox, that we can either attend to, or not attend to. And looking at infidelity situations in these rather neutral, pragmatic terms can be so much more helpful than thinking about infidelity situations as uniquely challenging problems, or problems that are impossible to solve, or great big mysteries that are beyond the realm of our comprehension.
But in addition to that way of looking at things, I also think it’s useful to view our infidelity situations through the lens of our spiritual experience of life. Have you ever heard someone say that we are spiritual beings having a human experience? I don’t love that expression, frankly, but I do think it’s worth considering that we’re these little pieces of the cosmos, part of something so much vaster than we are, which we can only understand partially. And I don’t think that viewing infidelity situations as life projects and as opportunities for spiritual development is at all contradictory.
I’ll say more about what I mean by infidelity situations as opportunities for spiritual development, but before I do, let me just make it clear right now that today I’m going to say the word “fuck” more frequently than I usually do, so if that’s a word you don’t like to hear, you might want to just turn this one off right now before you have to hear it again.
I’m also going to continue talking about spiritual development, and use words like “soul” and “spirit” and “karma” and “destiny.” These are not words and concepts that I usually use on this podcast, and there are a lot of reasons why I don’t, but it’s not because I don’t think these are important concepts for helping us think about the human experience. I absolutely do. Moreover, I think it’s really useful to think about yourself and your life from a cosmic perspective, or a spiritual perspective at least now and again. Some people do that every day, of course, but if you don’t do it every now and again, or EVER, you might want to try thinking about your life from a spiritual perspective, or a cosmic perspective. You might want to consider thinking about your soul, or your spirit, or both.
Now, I know there are a LOT of definitions of “souls” and “spirits” and “karma” and “destiny” out there, and I’m not going to operate from any firm definitions of these terms today. I’ll offer some working definitions as I go, but I want you to feel free to think about your soul or your spirit and your karma or your destiny in whatever ways you find helpful. And if you’ve never really thought in these terms, or if you’re kind of put off by these terms, that’s totally fine. You can take them lightly, or take them as words that point to aspects of the human experience that might be important to think about. To make use of what I’m going to talk about today, you don’t have to get too worked up on whether you believe in souls or not, or how you distinguish between your soul and your spirit, or whatever. We can take these ideas or concepts seriously without taking them too literally.
The reason why I’m going to use these terms today is because they can help us think about our answers to the question, “What is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” which is asked by the poet Mary Oliver. What is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
A lot of us never really encountered the idea that we might have a one wild and precious life, or that life could be particularly wild or precious. A lot of us having been living life with the understanding that we Have to Do The Things. The things other people say we have to do, or the things society expects of us. The things we have to do in order to be “successful,” whatever that may mean. For a number of folks I work with, the idea that life could be anything other than moving from one socially sanctioned thing to the next is rather foreign. Or WAS totally foreign, until their infidelity situation came about, and then they find themselves asking themselves something to the effect of, “Hey, what AM I going to do with this one wild and precious life of mine?” Or, “Hey wait a minute… maybe there’s so much more to being alive than I was previously aware of. And maybe this other stuff that I’m becoming aware of is really fucking important.”
And then of course some of us may have at times had deep awareness of the fact that our one life to live in this particular incarnation of ours is indeed a pretty wild and precious thing… but maybe we’ve lost sight of that awareness as we get bogged down by the business of trying to get through our days, and do all the things we think we’re supposed to be doing. But then our infidelity situation comes along and we’re like, “Oh yeah. That’s right. There is this part of me that is elemental and primal and wants to commune with the infinite. There is a part of me that wants joy and freedom and expansion. There is a part of me that KNOWS that it’s okay to want these things.”
What I want to suggest to you today is that even though getting the business of life taken care of is important, listening to the part of you that is elemental and wild and wants to commune with the infinite is pretty damn important too. And there may come a time in our lives when getting the business of life done – whatever that may look like for us – is damn near impossible if we don’t let our souls speak to us. We can usually override whatever our spirit wants, or whatever our soul is trying to tell us for a while, or to a certain extent. But not indefinitely. There may come a point at which we are more or less forced to listen to what our spirit wants.
And that may mean allowing ourselves to acknowledge that we are in the midst of a life project that we might never have anticipated or planned for ourselves. That may mean allowing ourselves to courageously examine our infidelity situations, and be radically honest with ourselves what we want, instead of trying to shove the whole damn thing under the rug. It may mean allowing ourselves to contend with our infidelity situations as life projects that seem very messy, or very potentially threatening to the status quo, instead of trying to avoid them.
According to Joseph Campbell, Friedrich Nietzsche got to a point in his life where he had an idea called the love of your fate. The idea is that whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say to yourself, “this is what I need.” It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, or a challenge.
You may want to consider that this is true, or something like this is true, of your infidelity situation. I think it can be really useful to consider that there may be times in life when our soul, or our spirit, needs particular challenges in order to become more of who it truly is, or for you to become more of who you truly are. And so, in a sense your infidelity situation is a life project in very pragmatic terms, but it’s also a life project on another level. It’s a project of your spiritual evolution. It’s a project of dealing with your own karma, and taking responsibility for your destiny.
Before I go any further, let me offer a few ways of thinking about what the soul or the spirit means. You could think if it as the most authentic part of you, or the truest part of you. The most elemental part of you. The part of you that wants to commune with the infinite. The part of you that trusts that you being the fullest expression of yourself is not only safe, but is in the service of the greater good, or the cosmic good. The part of you that knows that living up to societal expectations isn’t necessarily the most important thing you can do with your existence. The part of you that is open to all of life’s possibilities. There are other ways that you could think about the soul or the spirit, too, OF COURSE, but those are a few of my suggestions.
Now, as our good friend Carl Jung pointed out, “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.” Quite often, we don’t WANT to listen to the truest part of ourselves, or parts of ourselves. We don’t WANT to listen to the part of ourselves that trusts that it’s okay to be the fullest expression of who we are. Because we think that the better thing to do is to stick to the program! Do the things we’re supposed to do! Get married and stay married! Have the kids! Send them to the best schools! Get the fancy degree, get the job, make the money, buy the bigger and better house! Live a life that other people think is perfect! And so on.
Just to be clear, sometimes we do these kinds of things because our soul wants to do these things, or the truest part of ourselves wants to do these things. For some people, getting married and having kids and driving them to soccer practice and getting the job and getting the promotion is totally an expression of who you know yourself to be, in your truest form. I’m not trying to suggest that there are certain things that by definition a soul can want, and a soul cannot want. Other people might try to make that argument, but that’s not my position.
HOWEVER, a lot of us get into doing these the kind of things I mentioned a moment ago, or keep doing those kinds of things not because our soul wants them, but for other reasons. Like, because we think we have to. Or because we think we should. Or because we think we don’t really have a choice. Or because we think doing things differently would be too hard, or too scary. Or because we think other people will shun us if we do the weird things. And so we do things we don’t really want to be doing, and then we find ourselves slightly to extremely miserable, and we wonder why.
Well, here’s why:
Your soul does not give a fuck about convenience.
Your soul does not care how much money you have in your bank account, or how much debt you have, or how big your house is, or what kind of car you drive, or whether or not you own zero cars or ten cars.
Your soul does not give a fuck about what other people think of you or expect of you.
Your soul does not care how prestigious your job is. Your soul does not care how fancy your job title is.
Your soul knows that the point of being alive is not to be “perfect,” whatever the hell that might mean.
Your soul knows that pain and challenges – even in their most extreme forms – aren’t problems, per se. Your soul knows that those parts of the human experience don’t need to be feared.
Your soul – or your spirit – is not afraid to experiment. I’m just using both words now for the sake of mixing things up. Your spirit knows that the road less traveled is not a dangerous place.
Your spirit knows that living a life that’s truly right for you is a make it up as you go along endeavor, and that it can’t really be any other way.
Your soul knows that conventional definitions of good and bad and right and wrong aren’t necessarily the point. Your spirit knows that it’s possible for you to do well by others without getting fixated on what is commonly considered right or wrong.
Your soul knows that uncertainty is not a problem. Your spirit trusts that uncertainty is the birthplace of creation.
I want you to consider that your infidelity situation is your soul yelling at you, or your spirit yelling at you and saying, hey, we need to make some adjustments around here. We have some deeper desires that are not being fulfilled, and that actually kind of matters.
So if you’re in the midst of an infidelity situation, I encourage you to try something out. See if you can step away from the specific details of your situation for a moment. And try asking yourself these questions:
What does your soul want in your life right now?
What does your spirit want these days?
I encourage you to think broadly as you answer those questions. You can think about what your soul wants specifically in relation to your infidelity situation or some aspect of it, but you don’t have to think exclusively about that. I think there is great value in regularly asking ourselves to consider what our spirits want, without placing any constraints on how we answer.
Part of the reason why I think it’s important to ask ourselves these kinds of questions regularly is because it can be hard to answer these kinds of questions! Many of us have invested a tremendous amount of time and energy figuring out how to un-hear the desires of our souls, or spirts, so that we may more successfully live up to societal expectations. But even if it’s hard to answer these kinds of questions, you can still give it a try. That might be a great REASON to try.
And if you don’t like the language of “souls” and “spirits,” that’s totally fine by me. Try asking yourself this instead: what does the you that trusts that living up to societal expectations isn’t the most important thing you can do with your life want to do at this stage of your human experience? Martha Beck, who is a big famous life coach who I have formally learned from, as a paying student of her life coach training program, and informally learned from through reading some of her books, talks about the difference between the social self and the authentic self. And I don’t use this distinction often myself because I take issue with it in a few ways, but never mind that right now. Right now, the point is that if you don’t want to think about having a soul or a spirit, you can try using Martha’s distinction between the social self and the authentic self, and ask yourself what the part of you that doesn’t care about societal expectations wants right now.
Now some of you may have gotten to this point and said to yourself, okay fine, I’m with you, and I think I know exactly what my soul wants, or my authentic self wants, but if I act on that, life as I know it is going to fall apart and that’s going to be craaaazzzzy. So what do I do about that?
Well, I want you to consider that your one wild and precious life does not have to be free from all challenges. In fact, it might be that the challenges are a particularly rich part of your one wild and precious life. Sometimes we need to make our way through certain challenges in order to become the person we most need or want to become.
What if we could consider our gnarliest challenges, or our most seemingly difficult life projects, as perfectly designed life lessons that have landed in our lap as opportunities to grow and evolve in exactly the ways we need to at any given moment in time?
That’s an optional way of thinking, of course. You can decide if you find this kind of perspective helpful or not.
This all points to the greater question of what it means to be alive, and what the point of being alive is, for humans collectively and for each of us as individuals. And of course, there are many answers to that question out there, circulating in the cultural fog, and I don’t care to prescribe any answers to you or for you. But I do recommend that you ask the questions.
Paul Beatty in his novel The Sellout, which is a great fucking book by the way, has a character who sometimes say this to other characters in the novel:
“You’ve got to ask yourself two questions: Who am I? And how may I become myself?”
These kinds of questions can serve as a useful backdrop fom considering your questions about what you want to do about your infidelity situation. If we decide the point – or one of the points - of our existence is to continuously be faithful to who we are becoming, we may decide that we really WANT to figure out how to do the so-called “hard things” in the service of honoring what our soul wants, or becoming who we know ourselves to be. We may decide that we’re willing to take on some rather gnarly challenges because we’d rather be the person who takes them on than the person who tries to avoid them.
So for instance, if we know that we want to experience all of the opportunities in life that are available to us outside of the container of our marriage, our karmic work may be to bring our marriage to as loving of a conclusion as possible. Learning how to do this may be a bit of a life project! But we can take it on as a do-able life project, AND we can choose to believe that in taking on this project, difficult though we may find it, we are becoming more of the person we need or want to become.
Here's another example. If right now, the main karmic task in front of us is learning how to enjoy sexuality and intimacy and connection in a way that we consider enjoyable but also ethical and respectful of others, we might decide that we don’t want to go to the strip club and get a lap dance every day at lunch time if we’re in a monogamous relationship and our partner thinks that this behavior counts as cheating. We might decide that we want to stop sexting with people we meet on dating apps, if we’re in a relationship that’s supposed to be monogamous and our partner considers this cheating. We might decide that we want to stop going home with people we meet at bars and then calling our significant other to say we’re staying at a friend’s house because we’re too drunk to drive. We might decide that we want to learn how to manage our enjoyment of sexuality and eroticism and connection and that kind of excitement, and keep it within the bounds of our committed relationship. Not because it’s fundamentally BETTER to do that, but because we really want to rein that aspect of our lives in a little bit for our own sake, and we because we genuinely don’t want to be doing things without our partner’s knowledge that we know they wouldn’t like. That doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily EXCITED about giving up our lunchtime lap dances, but we may also KNOW in our bones that it’s worth it take on the project of channeling our energies in a different way than we’ve been doing. That might be a project that strikes us as annoying or challenging – why shouldn’t we be able to have our cake and eat it too, after all? – but it might still be a project we want to take on.
Or, on the other side of the coin of this example, we might decide that at this point in our lives, what we most need to do for our spirits is to let ourselves have the freedom to do whatever the hell we want, sexually – but we do want to do that as honestly and ethically as possible. And that might mean we decide to break up with our primary partner so that we can get ourselves a lap dance whenever we feel like it.
Getting clear on what your soul wants is one thing. Rearranging your life so that you can have what you want, or more of what you want, is another thing. Both pieces of the puzzle can be projects in their own right. Both pieces of the puzzle can be “hard,” quote-unquote – to solve. And what if that’s okay?
What if it’s in the solving of life’s most demanding challenges that we become ourselves, or more of ourselves, or the fullest expression of ourselves? To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, every time we do something that we think we cannot do, we gain strength, courage, and confidence – and we learn that we can do things that seem impossible and live through the fear we may feel. And then we realize that we can do the next things that life presents us with as life projects, too. And when we do this, we gain the freedom to live as who we really are. And that’s not a small thing.
Now, some people love to tell me that if we all prioritized living as who we truly are, society would fall apart. Instantly. And some people don’t say it quite so dramatically, but some people do, and the underlying concern is that if we aren’t all doing things for other people as individuals and other people in the collective sense, the social fabric will disintegrate. And to that I say, who says that living as you truly are means you won’t do things for other people? I would argue that when we claim the freedom to live as we truly are, we’re able to do a lot MORE for other people, by many different measures. Ever heard the expression “people are assholes because they suffer?” You may have heard it on this podcast before! I think the converse of that is also true. People who have figured out how to relieve themselves of unnecessary suffering can be pretty wonderful to be around, and are much better able to NOT be assholes to other people. If you reflect on your own life, you may find that this is true in your own experiences. I know for sure that I am a lot better able to be wonderful to be around, or at least, not be totally unpleasant to be around, is when I’m not suffering excessively. I know that when I allow myself to listen to my spirit, I suffer a lot less than when I try to ignore it because I think what it’s telling me sounds inconvenient. And this definitely has an impact on how I engage with others. So many of us are so worried about being “selfish,” but I think we may need to worry more about not being selfish ENOUGH. And I’m running the risk of going off on a major tangent here, so let me just briefly sum up my point by saying that the consequences of NOT allowing yourself to be who you truly are and live in accordance with your deepest desires may be WAY WORSE for those around you than you think the consequences of listening to your soul would be.
ANOTHER thing that people love to tell me that I think is very relevant here is all of the reasons why they would probably be pretty content in their lives if only their infidelity situation had never happened. Sometimes people even tell me things like, “If I could only go back to before the affair started, I would” or “If I could have only never started doing the things I’m doing on the side of my committed relationship,” I would. People. Why on earth would you spend your precious time and energy thinking this way? Unless you have a time travel machine, you cannot go back in time and change things. And you cannot go back to the way things were. And what if that isn’t even a problem?
What if your infidelity situation presented itself to you as a gift from your soul, or a kick in the ass from your spirit? What if your infidelity situation is offering you the opportunity to get real with yourself, and offering you the opportunity to get really clear on what you want to do with your one wild and precious life?
And if that is what’s happening – or at least, if that is a way that you could choose to think about your infidelity situation – isn’t that a project worth taking on?
Obviously, my answer is yes. But as usual, I will tell you that I think it’s perfectly legitimate for your answer to that question to be no. If you don’t want to think about what you want to do with your one wild and precious life, if you won’t want to think about your life as wild and precious, if you don’t want to think about what your soul wants or you don’t want to think about what the truest part of you wants, that’s okay with me. But as usual, my recommendation is that you make this choice consciously.
All right everyone, that is it for today. If you would like my help considering what you want to do with your one wild and precious life, and dealing with your infidelity situation in a way that allows you to live as the truest, fullest version of yourself, 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.
Thank you all so much for listening! Have a great week. Bye for now.