You are listening to Your Secret Is Safe With Me, non-judgmental talk about infidelity with Dr. Marie Murphy. If you’re looking for new perspectives on complicated relationship issues, you’ve come to the right place.
Hi everyone, I’m Dr. Marie Murphy. If you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while, you’ve heard me say this a million times, but if you’re new to the show, welcome, and here’s the deal. I’m a relationship coach and I help people who are cheating on their partners or engaging in anything they think counts as infidelity to deal with their feelings and clarify what they want, and make decisions about what they’re going to do. No shame. No blame. No judgments.
So if you are in the midst of an infidelity situation and you’re ready to begin the process of resolving it in a way that’s truly right for you, let’s work together. You can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.
And you can learn about the coaching packages I currently offer new clients after that introductory session, and about my current pricing through the services page on my website. 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.
All right, I think it was in the episode that aired just last week, or actually a few days ago as I’m recording this, that I offered to answer listeners’ questions on a future podcast episode. I said that I would be creating an Ask Me Anything episode and that people could send me questions. And I had no idea whether anyone would take me up on that offer or not, but they did. You did.
The questions started coming in, it seems like pretty much right after that episode went live. And it’s been so much fun reading your questions that I decided that even though I had other episodes planned for the next few weeks, I wanted to start answering everyone’s questions on the podcast right now.
By the way, if this is the first you are hearing of this and you would like to ask me a question that I will answer or try to answer in a future episode, you can still submit one. Go to the contact tab on the top right hand corner of the homepage of my website and use the contact form to send me a question.
I will tell you that the more narrowly focused and clearly defined your question is, the better. If you send me a really long message with lots of details about your current situation and you say, “Well, my question is what should I do about all this?” It’s not possible for me to answer your question on the podcast.
If that’s the kind of question you have, you may want to consider working with me one-on-one and we can answer that broad question together. As today’s episode will indicate, if I answer your question on the show, your name will not be associated with your question in any way. So rest assured, your identity will not be revealed.
All right, without further ado, let’s get to the first question of the day. And I will tell you that I’ve chosen to answer this question first because it is a question that comes up a lot. So I’m going to read what this listener wrote in and then I’m going to tell you how I’ve kind of reconceptualized this question.
This listener writes, “I love thinking about how our feelings are created by our thoughts, and also about the most important relationship being the one we have with ourselves. I’ve been trying to be more reflective around this and notice when I’m placing expectations on others.
But I sometimes wonder if this means we can control our thoughts about a person, we could change our feelings, then why can’t I be happy with how my partner is, meaning not affectionate and not much sex life? I am an overthinker, but I imagine other people wonder this too.”
Yes, dear listener, other people wonder about this, too. So let me tell you how I’m interpreting this question. As you’ve heard me talk about on the podcast, our thinking, the specific thoughts we think, is what creates our feelings. We tend to think that circumstances in life dictate how we feel, but they don’t. And circumstances include other people and everything they do and don’t do or say and don’t say or whatever.
So it’s not how our partner behaves, per se, that makes us feel whatever feelings we experience. It’s what we think about our partner and their behavior that creates our feelings. And, moreover, as I’ve talked about on the podcast and as I do a lot of intensive work with my clients, we have the capacity to change our thinking.
All thoughts are optional. There’s always more than one thing that can be true about any given circumstance. There’s always more than one possible interpretation of any given fact, right? And so what we can do is look at our partner’s behavior and get really clear on what the circumstances of their behavior are and what we’re making the circumstances of their behavior mean. What do we think about their circumstances, right? The circumstances that are their behavior.
And sometimes when we start to do this, we recognize that we’re making our partner’s behavior mean things that make us feel terrible. Like when we think, “Oh, my partner isn’t affectionate with me,” we probably don’t feel good, especially if we want our partner to be affectionate with us, right? And we do have the option of changing our thinking about a given circumstance if we want to feel differently.
We can always change our thinking to feel a different emotion, right? This is always an opportunity that we have. And I would suggest that it really behooves us to be willing to change our thinking about our partner’s behavior if it’s a relationship that we want to be in. Because there are going to be things, if we’re involved with any human for any amount of time, that our human does that we don’t like, because we’re allowed to have preferences.
And this is where the paradox lies. On the one hand, we do have the power to change what we think about any given circumstance or any given aspect of our partner’s behavior. But on the other hand, it is not incumbent upon us to do this. We never have to change our thinking about anything, right?
So the question that we want to ask is, why might we want to change our thinking about something? Or in this case, why might we want to change our thinking about our partner’s behavior? You could try to convince yourself that, actually, your partner is affectionate with you. You could try to convince yourself that instead of not having much of a sex life, you actually have a great sex life.
But if you don’t believe this to be true, then you’re essentially going to be trying to brainwash yourself or gaslight yourself, or blow smoke up your own ass, if you prefer. And why would you want to do that to yourself? Although it’s true that you do have the capacity to change your thinking about anything, it’s also your prerogative to not want to change your thinking about anything.
So there are some things that I have zero interest in changing my thinking about. I have no interest in eating mayonnaise. I don’t want to eat mayonnaise and I don’t care that I don’t want to eat mayonnaise. That’s not a problem for me. It’s great to know that I don’t like mayonnaise and I’m not going to eat it, right? Why would I want to change my thinking about that?
On the other hand, there are some thoughts that I cling to that make me rather miserable at times. And I know that I could adjust my thinking to great advantage. For instance, I have a partner, I love him dearly. There are some things that he does that bug the living shit out of me. Now, I can’t get him to change. Believe me, I’ve tried. It doesn’t fucking work. And that’s fine. That’s the way it should be. It’s fine.
But there are times in life when we can’t change specific circumstances, but we don’t want to change the grander circumstance or the larger overarching circumstance. So, for instance, we may want to stay in a relationship with someone, but we can’t change the fact that they say, I don’t know, have out-of-control road rage or whatever, right? We can ask them to change, but they may not. That may just be the way it is. And we may not want to say, okay, because of this I’m going to let you go, right?
So if we are as certain as we can be that we want to stay in a relationship, it may be great to say, okay, how can I adjust my thinking about this one thing that they do that I just can’t stand? Or this list of things that they do that I just can’t stand? We may have really good reasons for wanting to change our thinking about specific things in a relationship.
But, on the other hand, sometimes the things that we don’t like within a relationship or within a particular person really matter to us. Like if you want a relationship that is full of what you consider to be reciprocally affectionate behavior, if you want to have what you consider to be a robust sex life, and by your estimation those things are not present in your current relationship, then why would you want to change your thinking about the level of affection in your relationship and the sex life in your relationship?
And I will tell you that different people have different answers for this kind of question. And I don’t know what this listener is getting at or where they’re coming from, but I can tell you that for a lot of folks the reason why they want to think differently about things they truly don’t like in their relationship, things they are sure they don’t like in their relationship is because they don’t want to have to deal with the difficulty associated with leaving the relationship.
They don’t want to deal with the inconvenience and the disruption associated with getting a divorce or leaving a long-term committed relationship. And it’s fair enough to not want to deal with getting a divorce or dealing with disentangling your life from someone who you’ve shared life with for a long time.
It’s fair to not like the idea of those things. But it’s not necessarily the case that wanting to avoid inconvenience or disruption or the discomfort that may come from ending a long-term relationship is a good reason for telling yourself to be happy with things that you are as sure as you can be that you simply are not happy with.
Just because we can change our thinking, just because we have the capacity to change our thinking does not mean we need to disavow our own preferences, right? Ain’t nobody going to convince me to like mayonnaise. There’s a lot of other things that people are not going to convince me to change my thinking about either.
And I don’t want to get into the list of political examples here, because that’s just not what I want this podcast to be about. But there are plenty of things that I have no desire to change my thoughts on. Maybe I could, but I’m not going to. I like the thoughts that I have about certain things. They point me towards what I believe is my own true north and towards actions that I believe are in the service of the greater good, shall we say.
So I hope this is helpful. Just because you have the capacity to change your thinking does not mean you need to convince yourself to be happy with things that you don’t like. If you have been trying to convince yourself to be happy with things that you don’t like, I want you to ask yourself why you have been doing that.
All right, on to the next question. The listener writes, “My two close girlfriends just let me know that they would like some space. They were both bridesmaids, my bridesmaids in my wedding, and they are not comfortable with my affair. And for the last five months, I have respected their discomfort and I had never brought up anything regarding my affair with them.
I have done everything I could do to still be there for them. Like when my friend’s mom passed away very recently, I still flew out to her and helped with a lot of the house cleanup just being there for her all day and all night through messages and calls when her anxiety skyrocketed. Anyway, they said it doesn’t matter what I do. It seems like my morals and values are not up to par with theirs, and therefore they’d like to step back from being as close to me as we have been.
I am now divorced but involved with a married man who is about to start his own separation process, or not, (I do not pressure him one way or another.) Although I do not show his face, whenever I post from our amazing travels and activities together on my Instagram stories it seems to have triggered my girlfriends and made them uncomfortable.
I even asked them if I should block them whenever I post stories from my time with him so that it doesn’t bother them. They answered first that it’s fine to just post whatever, but the last two times I have posted I have gotten attacked. I have now decided not to post anything about my life anymore. Is this a common occurrence to people who have affairs?”
Okay, so, so much to say in response to this one. This has actually been measured in scientific ways by social scientists, people’s attitudes towards infidelity are not very positive, generally speaking, right? And even anecdotally we can just observe that a lot of people are very freaked out by infidelity, right?
And I think a big part of the reason for this, and this is my thought. This isn’t like a statement of everyone’s truth or anything like that. But my opinion, based on lots of observations, is that people are really scared that infidelity could happen to them. Their partner could cheat on them and if that happened, it would be terrible. Like the worst thing in the world. Like, oh my God, I can’t imagine anything worse in my entire life.
And so when we talk about our infidelity experiences to other people, they may be incredibly agitated. They may feel all kinds of feelings, right? A lot of people think divorce is contagious. Well, a lot of people think infidelity is contagious too. A lot of people are like, “Oh God, if I even hear about this, it could happen to me.”
My suggestion is that we consider this a circumstance. We consider it a fact that a lot of people are freaked out by infidelity. We consider it a fact that a lot of people are scared of infidelity. We consider it a fact that a lot of people get really agitated in various different ways when they start to hear the details of ongoing infidelity situations.
And here’s the thing, we get to decide what we want to think about that fact, assuming that’s a fact, which I would argue that it is, right? And what I would suggest is that we don’t take it personally when people we care about get really freaked out by hearing about our infidelity situations.
Now, I’m not saying that it’s not reasonable to be hurt when people who we have close relationships with get freaked out by our infidelity situations and let us know this in all of the different ways that they do, right?
It can be really unpleasant when people we care about say things to us like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re doing this,” or just aren’t there and aren’t supportive of us when we’re in an infidelity situation, we want to talk about it and they act like we have the plague and want to get away from us. It sucks. It may be unpleasant for us that this happens, but what I want to suggest is that it’s not something that you want to take on as yours to solve for.
Let your friends have their feelings. They’re not alone. Fear of infidelity, feeling uncomfortable about infidelity is incredibly common, right? So if you can accept that this is just a thing that happens and mourn the loss of any support from your friends or feel the discomfort that may come from your friends being turkeys if you think they’re being turkeys. And then decide what boundaries you want to set, you may be in a better position here.
It’s not your job to make sure your friends aren’t uncomfortable. If they don’t want to talk to you about your infidelity situation, that’s their business and they can say, “I don’t want to talk about this,” and you can respect that. Or if you get the sense that they don’t want to talk about it, you can say fine, I’m just not going to talk to them anymore.
But here’s the deal, if we’re talking about Instagram stories here, social media is public, right? So if they want to follow you on social media, they get to look at or not look at whatever you post, that’s up to you. It’s not your responsibility to make all of your followers, whether they’re your friends or not, feel okay. They can unfollow you if they don’t want to see your stories, right?
And if people write nasty comments on your Instagram feed, guess what? You can block them. You can even block your friends on Instagram. You don’t have to deal with everything they say to you in every way they want to say it. It is not incumbent upon you to make their responses to your behavior or your Instagram posts your problem to solve for.
You get to decide what you want to post about your life. You get to decide what you feel good about posting about your current relationship. That’s your business, how they respond is their business. How you want to deal with whatever their responses are, that’s your job too. But you don’t have to try to make them feel okay. That’s not on you to do.
Again, though, just in conclusion, I will say that it sucks that, I mean, this is an opinion of course, I’m not stating a fact here. But my opinion is that it’s a real damn shame that so many people have such intensely negative thoughts about infidelity and such intensely negative responses to infidelity.
But to an extent that’s where we are right now. And we don’t have to let that fall on our shoulders entirely. We can deal with that one little step at a time, and one of the steps that we can take is by not making other people’s discomfort mean anything bad about us and not making other people’s discomfort our problem to solve for.
Okay, here comes the next question. “Is it reasonable to attempt a different pattern of relationship as you exit your marriage? Maybe not discard the ex-partner, but rather morph the relationship into more of a friendship, even with positive interactions between the ex-partner and the new partner, which might have been the affair partner in the past?
I’m not a fan of the idea that my relationship with my wife has to somehow “end.” I have so many memories with her and care about her deeply, even if our romantic compatibility may have shifted. Or is this too much to ask for? I’m asking from the perspective of relationship anarchy and polyamory where there is some fluidity to the typical hierarchy of romantic relationships. Or is such a transition after infidelity so unstable that something like this wouldn’t work?
I’m thinking of the episode of How Good Can You Imagine Having It. And for me, I would love nothing more than my current wife and current affair partner to not only tolerate but even care for each other. I don’t see a logical reason why I have to discard someone to love someone else in addition.”
Well, what if you don’t, right? What if it’s totally possible for your current wife and your current affair partner, who may become your non-affair partner, just your partner partner and your wife to become your ex-wife, to not only tolerate but even care for each other? What if that’s totally possible? Why not?
That long pause was totally intentional, I really want you all to think about this. This is so important. We don’t collectively, in general, I mean, some people think differently about this. But in general, we have a total failure of imagination for what relationships with an ex-partner can be like or an ex-spouse can be like. And when I talk to clients one on one, what I like to talk in terms of is transitioning out of a marital relationship or a partnership into a familial relationship, or into a friendship, or into a loving co-parenting relationship if there are kids involved.
It is totally possible for a romantic relationship to evolve into something else, to something that is still very caring but isn’t romantic. And the fact that the relationship was once romantic and isn’t any more doesn’t have to be conceived of as a problem, right? And there are plenty of people out there in this world who make these kinds of transitions, even when infidelity was a factor in the original romantic relationship coming to a conclusion, or transitioning the original romantic relationship into a non-romantic relationship.
We don’t have nearly enough examples of this in the mainstream view, that much is for sure. But these kinds of experiences are being lived by people all over the place right now. The more that you start to look for evidence that these kinds of options for relationship transitions are out there, the more that you’re likely to find examples of this.
But I don’t think that necessarily matters. I don’t think that you need to have an example or even a whole list of examples of what you want being possible in order for you to make it possible for yourself. So often we want to see other people doing the thing that we want to do or have or be before we think we can do it or have it or be it.
And I totally understand that and I’m going to give you guys an example of how that’s been true for me in just a moment. But for now, what I want to say is this, if you can imagine the kind of relationship you would like to have with your current spouse and your current affair partner after these relationships have transitioned to different types of relationships, you can work towards making this happen.
Now, I am not suggesting that you can guarantee whether or not other people involved in the equation will get on board with your vision or not. No way. We don’t know what anybody’s going to do. We don’t even know what we’re going to do until we do it. And so I’m not suggesting that just by envisioning this ideal scenario you will make it happen. But when you believe that your ideal scenario is possible, you can work towards making it happen. And thus you will give your vision a shot at becoming your reality.
If you don’t think that your vision of this ideal relationship of your current wife and your current affair partner tolerating and even caring for each other, if you don’t believe that that’s ever going to be a thing, you’re not going to take the steps that could make this a possibility.
So let me be a little more specific about what I mean by this. If you’re like, oh my God, this is never possible. They always say that adultery, or cheating, or infidelity, or whatever you want to call it, whenever that’s a factor in a marriage ending, then there’s so much animosity between the ex-spouses and there’s so much animosity within the rest of the family. And the affair partner is never accepted in the family and it’s just bound to be bad.
That kind of thinking usually, not usually, pretty much guarantees us to decline to take the kinds of actions that we might take in order to make the situation better or different. So for example, if we’re like, oh my God, there’s no way that my current wife and my current affair partner can ever get along we may not execute our breakup with our spouse, if we want to break up with them, in a way that could lead to a more, let’s just say, peaceful or tolerant relationship between the affair partner and the spouse. Or the ex-spouse and the ex-affair partner, if we will, right?
When we show leadership in a situation, for instance, if you are exiting a marriage because you want to have a shot at your relationship with your affair partner, and let’s say the spouse – This is all just one example here. Like we could talk about this one example all day and use different examples to talk about the theme we’re talking about.
But anyway, let’s just say that your spouse kind of knows that you’ve got another person on the side. If you tell your spouse all of the reasons why you have treasured your relationship with them. And you make it clear that you’re not leaving the relationship because you found them lacking, but rather that you’re just ready for different things in life and you want to maintain a respectful relationship with them no matter what. And that you also expect for them to be at least a courteous team player with your new partner, or your old new partner, then that sets the tone for what you’re willing to give and what you expect in your post-divorce life.
And there’s a lot more we can say about this. The basic point here is that you get to set the tone of how things are going to go. You are not a victim to other people’s behavior or bad behavior as the case may be. You get to work towards your vision by contributing to your relationships in a way that you feel good about, and making it clear what behavior you would like to see from other people and what behavior you will not tolerate from other people.
Moreover, there’s no limit to how good things can be. Even if it were true that everyone in society has a tough time in their relationship with their ex-spouse and ex-affair partner once the marriage is over and the affair is no longer an affair, that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t make your situation different. We’re inventing new things every day.
You can invent something new in terms of how you do these relationships. How you engage in these relationships. How you execute these relationships. You can do new things in terms of what you expect of your family members and what tone you set as a participant in your family. You can be the leader in this situation and show everyone else how good it can be.
Okay, now I’m going to tell you why I know, or one of the reasons I should say, why I know how hard it can be to imagine that what we want is totally legitimate to go after. When I was making the transition from a relationship coach who advertised myself as just a relationship coach to a relationship coach who helps people who are engaging in infidelity to figure their stuff out, as sometimes is the case I help people who are engaging in infidelity to engage in infidelity better.
Anyway, when I was making this transition, as a relationship coach, as someone who called themselves just a relationship coach I had clients who were very much like the clients I work with now. They were engaging in something that they thought counted as infidelity. And I was like, okay, I think this needs to be done so much better than it’s currently being done. I think that people who are engaging in anything they think counts as infidelity deserve far more and far better assistance than is widely available.
I was talking to marketing people and other kinds of professionals, I don’t know what you’d call it, like professional guidance, sales people and stuff like that. And I was like, okay, this is a total gap in the relationship advice realm, in the self-help personal development realm. This is a big gap in the discussion of infidelity. How can I best position myself so that people who need my help can find me?
Well, what a lot of people said was like, what you’re doing is way too stigmatized. No, I will not take a meeting with you. There’s no way you can do this. And, by the way, you’re really bad for helping cheaters cheat and stuff like that. And I was just like, whoa. I mean at times it was so awful.
And poor little me, I was going to these people wanting help. I was going to them from a place of relative vulnerability. And they were saying these things to me that really, I found hurtful and hard to hear. And also, I found it entirely unhelpful. But on the one hand, they were just speaking from what they knew to be true. They were just speaking from what they thought. And I can’t fault them for that.
And I knew, I knew deep within my being that what I wanted to do in terms of creating this podcast and in terms of branding myself as somebody who helps people who are currently engaging in infidelity, somebody who helps people in a totally non-judgmental way, no matter what they’re doing, I knew that was important. I knew in my bones that I had to figure out a way to do this.
So, I mean, I just kind of figured it out. Even though people told me that this podcast was a terrible idea, I just went ahead and did it. Finally, I was just like, screw it, I can’t find anyone who’s going to give me permission. So I guess I better just give myself permission and get on with it, right? All of this, I can’t even remember when this sort of evolution began, but I have a thriving coaching practice.
And what it took was me deciding that I was going to make something that nobody else knew of or could conceive of possible one step at a time. I was going to bring my vision forth, even if it wasn’t a thing that’s out there commonly, or maybe even at all, I don’t know.
I’m speaking to everybody here, by the way, not just the person who asked this question. Whatever vision of your post-infidelity life you have or whatever, I shouldn’t say post-infidelity, you may want to keep on engaging in infidelity and I get that too. But whatever vision for your future relationship life you want to have, it’s possible. The only thing that stands between you and some version of what you want, is your beliefs about not being able to have it.
Now, again, we can’t control what other people do and don’t do. That much is true. But you can still have a lot more of what you want than you think, even if other people don’t cooperate with your vision or subscribe to your vision in the way that you ideally might like them to. And believing that other people stand in your way is only going to prevent you from taking the steps that you could be taking right now to make your vision a reality.
All right, that is the last question I’m going to answer for today. I will answer more questions in the next episode, and you’re welcome to continue sending me questions. Once again, you can send them to the contact form on my website, mariemurphyphd.com. I can’t wait to read them. I can’t wait to respond to them on the show.
And if you are ready to get down to business and have me as your coach who helps you apply the things that I talk about on the podcast to the specifics of your unique infidelity situation, let’s get to work. You can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.
All right, everybody. Thanks so much for listening. Have an amazing week. Bye for now.
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