153: Your Questions Answered (Part 5)

Aug 08, 2023

After her recent appeal for inquiries from listeners about their infidelity situations and relationships, Dr. Marie Murphy received enough questions for another Q&A episode. Whether your questions are addressed specifically or not, if you're in the midst of infidelity or relationship drama, there will be something in here for you.

How can you remain friends after an intimate affair? Why do people cheat in the first place? How might the presence of children factor into your decision-making about leaving your relationship for your affair partner? Are you worried about the financial damage of leaving your marriage for your affair partner? Dr. Marie Murphy is answering these questions and more on today’s show.

Tune in this week to discover how to deal with other people’s opinions about your infidelity or your new relationship, how to navigate family dynamics after an infidelity-induced divorce, and how to unpack all of the factors that make decisions about your relationship even more difficult.

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 it’s totally possible to be friends with an ex-affair partner if you really want to.

  • How people seek connections outside of their relationship to feel good and avoid discomfort.

  • Why you can always choose to meet a cheating partner with compassion, even if their behavior is a relationship dealbreaker.

  • Some useful things you need to consider about the effect of divorce on children.

  • Why your family life can look any way you want it to.

  • Some thoughts about age difference in an affair.

  • How you can have both security and passion in your relationship.

Listen to the Full Episode:


Featured on the Show:

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.  I’m a relationship coach and I help people who are engaging anything they think counts as infidelity to deal with their feelings, clarify what they want, and make decisions about what they’re going to do.  No shame, no blame, no judgements.  If you are in the midst of an infidelity situation that you don’t know what to do about, I can help you sort it out in a way that’s truly right for you.  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 make choices and changes 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 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!  As the title of today’s episode would suggest, I’m going to answer more questions from listeners today.  This is going to be the last episode of this type, at least for now, so I thank everyone who submitted questions and I’m sorry I wasn’t able to answer them all.  Without further ado, let’s get started with our first question.

The short version of this person’s question is, how do you return to being friends after having an intimate affair?  I’m going to add a little more of the detail that this listener sent me because the context is so interesting.

I’m an actress, and my infidelity situation developed after doing a two-person show. We fell HARD for each other. There was a very real chemistry shared between us as our characters onstage, and we quickly began to realize how much we wanted to continue that with each other off-stage. I was reluctant to start a physical relationship at first, worrying that it would ruin our friendship and professional relationship as artists, BUT it didn’t take much persuading from him (my scene partner)—mostly due to the sexual stagnancy in my marriage, combined with the excitement I felt being physically intimate onstage—my hesitations quickly dissolved, and we began a sexual relationship in “real” life. Both of us have recognized that this situation is not sustainable (he is in a long-term monogamous relationship as well). And we both want to try and move forward in our own monogamous relationships. I am now just beginning couples therapy with my husband to address our stagnancy in the bedroom. I want to continue my relationship with my affair partner as friends. I respect and care for him, and I enjoy spending time with him. But we’re both pretty sure that each other’s respective primary partner’s suspicions are raised about our current “friendship” so I’m not quite sure how to proceed. My question is: How do you return to being friends after having an intimate affair?

Okay.  First, of all I addressed this topic to a certain extent in last week’s episode, which was about seeing your former affair partner in social settings, with your spouse present, so if you’re in a situation that’s anything like this one and you haven’t listened to last week’s episode yet, you might want to.  And the second thing I want to say is, it’s certainly POSSIBLE for some people to just be friends with their former affair partner.  It is certainly possible for you to shift your thinking about your former affair partner such that you actively relate to them as a friend, and just a friend, and you totally relegate the part of your relationship that went beyond friendship to the past, and it effectively becomes irrelevant.  This is a thing you can do, if you want to.  As I talked about in last week’s episode, it may take some very conscious, deliberate effort, but it is definitely POSSIBLE.

However, in response to this listener’s question, I want to talk about something else, and that’s the question of your intentions and priorities.  If you really want to end your affair – or keep your affair ended – and recommit to your primary relationship, and you think your primary partner has suspicions about you and your former affair partner, are you sure you want to prioritize figuring out a way to be friends with your former affair partner?

Here's a similar question to ask yourself: if you notice you are super interested in figuring out how to maintain a friendship with your former affair partner, are you sure you want to move forward in your primary relationship? 

I realize that by asking these questions it might sound like I’m implying that you can’t have your relationship with your primary partner AND a friendship with your former affair partner, and that’s not what I’m saying.  But what it sounds like in this message is that this person is pretty excited about their former affair partner, even if the affair is technically over.  And I’m not hearing the same enthusiasm for the question-asker’s primary relationship.  So what I’m wondering here is, is this person being completely honest with themselves about what they want?  Sometimes we tell ourselves what we SHOULD want, and what we should want may seem pretty logical.  

That said, if you’re in a situation like this, where you’ve ended an affair, and you ARE sure you want to recommit to your primary relationship, you might want to limit your engagement with your former affair partner if you think your primary partner is suspicious about them and your relationship with them.  If you don’t want your primary partner to know about your affair, and if you don’t want them to wonder about your “friendship” with your “friend,” you might want to take a step back from your former affair partner.  You might not really like the idea of doing that, because being friends with your former affair partner might be something that you really like!  It might feel really good to maintain that kind of connection with them.  And that is fair enough. 

Your opportunity lies in getting really clear about what your priorities are, and making choices in the service of those priorities.  If you’re sure you want to stay with your primary partner, and you know you still get a little googly-eyed every time you’re around your former affair partner, you may want to choose to limit your contact with them, even though you might not LIKE the idea of that.  If you want to stay in your marriage, and you don’t want to arouse any further suspicions, it might be worth it to cool it on your friendship with your former affair partner for the sake of making your life simpler.  And if distancing yourself from your former affair partner sounds like a terrible idea to you, well, you may want to ask yourself if you’re being completely honest with yourself about what you want in terms of the future of your marriage.

The last thing I’m going to say about this is that a semi-romantic friendship, or a flirtatious friendship doesn’t have to be a threat to a monogamous relationship!  The point here is not that you can only be friends with people in certain ways if you want to maintain your relationship with your primary partner.  But there is a difference between having a romantic-ish friendship with someone and this being okay within the terms and conditions of your primary relationship, and having a romantic-ish friendship with someone you cheated on your primary partner with.

Okay, moving on.  I got a bunch of questions about dealing with the shame and guilt associated with infidelity, and there is a lot I could say on the subject of guilt and shame, and how to deal with these feelings, but for today, I’ll say this:

If you are cheating, and you really don’t like what you are doing, and you’re feeling a lot of guilt and shame about what you’re doing and you don’t want to feel those feelings, you could decide to make some changes in your life so that you are behaving in a way that you feel better about.  That’s one option.

Another option is to change what you are thinking about your behavior.  If you’re telling yourself that cheating is terrible and you’re a horrible person for engaging in any kind of infidelity, you’re probably going to generate a fair amount of guilt and shame for yourself.  Our feelings are generated by our thinking, so if we don’t like what we’re feeling, we have the option of adjusting our thinking.  

Another option still is to learn how to relate to the emotions of guilt and shame in a different way.  If we want to, we can learn how to tolerate these feelings; we can learn how to feel them without making them into too big of a deal.  Fundamentally, feelings are just sensations in our bodies that are created through our thinking.  If we’re willing to deal with the sheer, immediate, physical experiences of an emotion, we can just feel it, and let the sensations flow through us without making a lot of meaning out of the fact that we’re experiencing those feelings.  In a sense, feeling guilt or shame is only a problem because we think it’s bad to feel guilt or shame.  We often think that if we’re feeling guilt or shame, that’s proof that we really are bad, or we really are doing something bad – and then we feel worse.  But that’s the result of what we THINK about our feelings, not the sheer, immediate experience of the feelings themselves.  The actual sensations we experience when we feel guilt or shame might not feel awesome, but they aren’t going to kill us.  So we could decide that feeling some guilt and shame is just going to be par for the course for us, and we’re going to learn how to tolerate these emotions, and think intentionally about what it means to experience these emotions.  

Now, for many of the folks I work with, the “solution” to dealing with guilt and shame requires a combination of three things, namely, getting really clear about what they choose to do and what they do not choose to do, infidelity-wise; managing their thinking about what they’re doing to the best of their ability; and learning to tolerate the emotions that come with their choices.  If you’re interested in hearing more about this, check out Episode 74, which is called “Dealing with guilt and shame,” and Episode 82, which is called “How to cheat and keep your sanity intact.”

Okay, here’s the next question:

I don’t think I’ve ever heard you dive into the role that mental health issues may play when a partner decides to be unfaithful. In my situation, my husband had a history of untreated depression and anxiety and his military service and law enforcement career have added PTSD to the mix. He had a long term secret affair that was very tangled up with those mental health challenges. We’ve made it through the surprise reveal of his affair and are doing very well now working on our relationship and he is working on his own individual issues too (as am I). I’ve found your podcast helpful, revealing, and occasionally infuriating as I am the “betrayed” partner (for lack of a better term) but like I said, I don’t recall you diving into how mental health issues complicate an infidelity situation. Would love to hear your perspective on this.

Okay.  There are two reasons why I don’t talk about mental health issues.  One is because as a coach, I am not licensed to treat mental health issues, as they are commonly conceptualized.  And that’s fine with me, because I prefer to approach the human condition from other angles anyway.  And that leads to the second reason why I don’t talk about mental health issues.  There are a lot of different conceptualizations of what “mental health issues” are or mean out there, and I don’t want to get embroiled in definitions of or debates about mental health, and what counts as mental health issue and what doesn’t, and how we appropriately regard or respond to mental health issues.  I will say, though, that whether we ever receive a particular mental health diagnosis from a particular type of provider or not, being a human is fucking hard.  I don’t want to minimize anyone’s challenges by saying this, but I think it’s worth considering the possibility that if mental health issues are a Thing, we’ve all got ‘em.  In some forms or others, to some degrees or others.  And there’s a lot more I could say about understandings of mental health that are dominant today, and alternative ways of conceptualizing mental health, but I’m going to stay out of that rabbit hole.

Instead I’ll say this.  One of the ways that we can understand experiencing anxiety or depression or PTSD is that the person experiencing any or all of these things is contending with discomfort.  Perhaps a LOT of discomfort.  Perhaps an excruciating amount of discomfort, which they may not have any idea how to deal with.  Whether we have any diagnosed mental health conditions or not, most of us don’t know how to deal with our discomfort, at all, because nobody teaches us how to!  So how COULD we know?  Discomfort is a ubiquitous element of the human experience, and yet no one really teaches us what on earth we should do when we feel it, which we inevitably do, whether we are ever diagnosed with a mental health condition or not.

So what do we do, if we’re feeling uncomfortable and we don’t know what to do about it?  We tend to look for ways to feel better – at least temporarily.  We tend to look for ways to not have to feel our discomfort.  And why wouldn’t we???  If we find the experience of discomfort to be unbearable, which we very well might, why wouldn’t we look for ways to not have to feel something that we don’t think we have the capacity to tolerate?  

Now, when we’re feeling a little discomfort, we might be inclined to seek out little distractions, or relatively inconsequential ways of avoiding our discomfort.  But when we’re feeling a LOT of discomfort, when we are overwhelmed with the amount of discomfort we feel, we may need bigger distractions.  We may need more compelling, and more sustained ways of distancing ourselves from the excruciating pain we’re feeling.  And some people find relief from discomfort by forming romantic relationships.  Maybe quick ones, maybe long ones.  Maybe above-board ones, where everybody knows what going on, or maybe secret relationships, that conflict with commitments that have been made to other people.  

It’s important to remember that some people use their non-affair relationships like other people use hard drugs.  It’s important to remember that we can use even our totally “legitimate” relationships as a means of distracting ourselves from the many forms of discomfort we may feel as part of our human existence.  Seeking out love and connection from another human can be totally great of course, but sometimes we over-rely on love and sex and connection as a means of feeling good and avoiding discomfort.  This of course could lead us into a discussion of sex and love addiction, but I’m not going to go there today, except to say that plenty of people who do not consider themselves sex or love addicts lean pretty heavily on romantic and sexual experiences to feel good and avoid feeling bad.  And if this has undesirable consequences for us, we may want to take a look at our tendencies and make some changes, and that’s fine and good, if we want to do that – but what I want to emphasize is that these kinds of behaviors or tendencies usually come from a very common source, i.e., a desire to feel less bad and feel more good. 

And then in addition to getting good feelings and relief from bad feelings out of romantic and sexual experiences in general, some people do get a particular thrill out of cheating, because it’s something they aren’t supposed to be doing.  Furthermore, sometimes infidelity can create a lot of drama in our lives, and that drama can serve as a pretty potent distraction.  And that’s on top of the love or intimacy or great sex or whatever other good stuff comes with the relationship that provides a pretty potent high in its own right.  

In other words, getting involved in an infidelity situation can serve as a pretty effective distraction from the discomfort of being human.  And in response to this listener’s question, this MAY be part of what is going on with your husband.  “May” is the most important word in that last sentence.  I am not telling you that I know for sure what’s happening with him.  I absolutely don’t.  But this sure could be a part of it. 

Thinking about your husband’s behavior this way might help you as the “betrayed partner” see your husband’s infidelity in slightly more neutral terms.  Sometimes it can be really helpful to consider all of the ways that our partner’s behavior really doesn’t have anything to do with us – even if, from our perspective, it also has everything to do with us.  

All of this said, if someone is cheating on us, and we have sense that they’re doing what they’re doing in part because they’re trying to escape the immense suffering they’re experiencing by any means necessary, we can have compassion for their behavior and still not like it very much.  It’s always your prerogative to say, I care about your suffering and I see your behaviors as completely human and worthy of compassion, but if you’re cheating on me, I just don’t want to be in a relationship with you. 

All right, here’s the next question:

Can you talk about the specific challenges of leaving a marriage for your affair partner when there are children involved? I want to be with my affair partner exclusively, as I've come to realize that I've never been in love with my husband and that my affair partner is offering me a more exhilarating and emotionally fulfilling life than I previously thought was possible. On the other hand, we each have two young children (5-12) and we worry about the effect divorce will have on them. We live in a VERY small community where everyone knows everyone! He thinks we should leave our marriages in 5-10 years and never mention the affair to our spouses. I think it's wishful thinking that they wouldn't figure it out when we both leave and then get together (we are next door neighbors and all good friends!) but maybe it would be best for the kids. It pains me to think about how divorce will effect them (shuttling between two houses, having a step-parent present, friends possibly shunning them) especially since my marriage is, on the surface, pretty good. We have a lot of fun as a family; there is no shouting, just not a lot of affection. How should my kids figure into this decision? I haven't heard you address it much on the podcast and would love to know your thinking. Thank you!

Okay.  Concerns about how choices about adult relationships will impact kids are really common.  And I think this is completely understandable, because as I’ve talked about in other episodes, there are a lot of really prevalent beliefs out there about divorce being this unequivocally bad thing for children.  And yes, I am well aware that there is research that claims to demonstrate scientifically that divorce is indeed really bad for children by certain measures.  But a lot of this research is problematic in a number of ways.  Some pretty normative assumptions have informed the studies on the effects of divorce on kids.  And even studies that haven’t been predicated on problematic assumptions have not been designed well.  And I could go on and on, but the point is that even though the notion that divorce is bad for kids is really common, we’ve got to question where these ideas come from, and we’ve got to question whether the idea that divorce is bad for children needs to be true in any absolute sense.  

And what I will tell you is that it doesn’t.  I’ve said this on at least one other episode, and right now I can’t think of which one it was, but even if there were a million studies that said that divorce was really bad for kids, and all of the studies were designed well and had really valid findings that were interpreted appropriately, that doesn’t mean that divorce has to be bad for children in general, or yours in particular.  All of those studies would be describing what has happened, not what HAS to happen.  And I DO think it’s fair to say that a lot of people have done divorce pretty badly, and that has been a tough experience for everyone involved in the equation, including the kids.  But just because some people have not executed their divorces well, that doesn’t mean that EVERYONE has done a “bad job” of getting divorced, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t divorce in a manner that is caring and respectful and ultimately okay for everybody in the family. 

You might want to consider that if you were to leave your current spouse and reconfigure your family, this might be a significant thing, it doesn’t have to be a terrible thing.  The process of getting divorced and reconfiguring your lives might be disruptive, and it might be difficult at times.  But it might not be awful.  In fact, you could even make it kind of great.  Even if what you currently have, in terms of a family life with your current marriage is good, that doesn’t mean your new family life can’t be good, too!  It could be even better!  And the question I want you to consider for yourself is, if I were to do this, how I could I make this as good as possible for everyone involved?  It’s not your job to control everyone’s emotions, and it isn’t possible for you to do that, but you do have the power to be a leader in the way that you want to be.  Let’s just take the whole business of shuttling the kids between two houses.  Does that have to be a bad thing?  It could be, but it doesn’t have to be.  I can think of a million things that could be great about kids going back and forth between two houses.  And I bet there are quite a few things that you can do to help make it great.

Similarly, although step parents sometimes get a bad rap, it can be wonderful to have step parent.  It can be wonderful to be a step parent.  It can be wonderful to have an expanded family, and more people in your life to love and be loved by.  You could think about your new family arrangements, should they occur, as an expansion of awesomeness.  Right?  Of course, this means you take responsibility for making things as awesome as you can, and filling your relationships with as much love as you can – but that’s something you can very intentionally do.

Now, to echo what I said a few moments ago, I know very well that a lot of people haven’t had great experiences of their parents divorcing, or of having step parents, or of being the divorcing parents, or being the step parents.  But we’re all working with the resources we’ve got.  And some of us never learned how to divorce well, or to be a person who believes that family life can be wonderful even if changes.  We create what we’re capable of creating, and sometimes we aren’t capable of creating anything great.  And that’s okay, but if you want to create a wonderful family life in a new form, I bet you can.  You might need some guidance along the way, but that kind of help is available to you.

So those are some of my thoughts, but you also might want to go back and listen to episode 53, which is called “Divorce and your relationship with your kids.”  In that episode I talk with parenting coach Abigail Wald, who is full of wise insights.

Now I want to speak to the matter of living in a small community where everyone knows everybody and your business may become well known to anyone or everyone.  On the one hand, I think it’s really important to acknowledge that humans can be mighty vicious and cruel sometimes.  Humans can get mighty interested in other people’s business, and sometimes think it is their right to turn other humans’ business into a public spectacle.  And my personal opinion is that this can make for some really fucked up situations.  Personally, I wish we could all respect each other’s privacy to a greater degree, and I wish we collectively felt less entitled to turn other people’s lives into our entertainment.  But these are just my wishes, and as we all know, my wishes do not rule the universe, and there are plenty of times when people take it upon themselves to publicly and repeatedly judge other people for their real or imagined misdeeds.

So.  If you think you run the risk of being subjected to unimaginable harassment in your small town if you leave your marriage for your affair partner, or that your children’s safety will be at risk, or you think that something really dire will happen if you make the life changes you’re considering making, you have every right to opt out of having to deal with that.  That is fair enough.

But on the other hand, if you’re pretty sure that the situation in your community wouldn’t be quite that extreme, what if it’s okay if your leave your marriage for your affair partner and shack up with them, everyone knows it?  What if you could show people that this sort of thing can happen, and although it might be interesting, it doesn’t have to be that big of a deal?  What if you could keep calm and carry on, even if people do take quite an interest in your business for a while? 

Even if your decisions created a bit of a stir in your community for a while, you have the option of living your life boldly and proudly.  Yeah, it might be annoying to deal with the community chatter.  It might be more than annoying.  But you get to choose how of big of a deal you want that to be for you.  You could decide that dealing with a bit of other people’s nonsense is a small price to pay for going after the life that you really want to live.

And in doing so, you might end up teaching your kids a few powerful lessons.  You might show them that it’s possible to cultivate courage in the face of judgement from others.  You might show them that it’s possible to live your truth, even if other people have things to say about that.  You might show them that other people’s disapproval doesn’t have to crush us or define us.  You might show your kids that it’s okay to do things differently.  You might show your kids how to go through life transitions with resilience.  You also might show them that it’s possible to reconfigure a family without the world coming to an end.   

Doing any or all of these things may require you to be a trailblazer in ways you never planned on being.  And what if that’s okay?

This next question, too, speaks to some very common concerns:

I have managed to keep my affair a secret and have seized the "window of golden opportunity" to announce to my wife that I am no longer interested in a romantic relationship with her and I wish to separate. I have moved into the spare room and our finances have been separated. This is a working progress. I have spoken to my son and daughter separately. They don't understand, upset at first but supportive, our relationship and love has not changed. I need my affair partner in my life and in many ways I already consider her to be my primary partner. My feelings are like a rollercoaster at times but the severity of the ups and downs seem to be levelling. Doubt creeps in occasionally but I am working on being happy with my decision. My concerns and fears: At age 59 I feel I shouldn't be doing this. I am closer to retirement. Financially this is going to be tough. My affair partner is age 31. A significant age difference. How will people react, although this does not bother us when we are out in public or on holiday. Reactions of friends and family will be a concern particular of my family as my affair partner is younger than my son and daughter.

This set of concerns and fears presents us with an opportunity to get a whole lot more specific.  For instance, what does it mean to say that “financially this is going to be tough?”  I know we love to say things like this all the time, but it’s really important go get clear on exactly what we mean when we say, “financially, this is going to be tough.”  It’s entirely possible that whatever changes you’re thinking of making or are in the process of making may come with some financial changes, and it’s fair enough if you don’t like the changes in the math of your financial life.  But there’s a big difference between saying, “I have X fewer dollars than I did before, and that means I need to make Y changes in my spending habits” – or something like that – and saying, “financially, this is going to be tough.”  To me, that sounds pretty vague and scary, and keeping things vague and scary keeps things vague and scary.  Making things specific enables us to make clear choices about what we want, and what we’re going to do about it.  

So whenever we’re thinking that some financial thing is going to be tough, it’s important to take a look at the actual numbers.  Interestingly, telling ourselves that things are going to be tough often scares us away from looking at the actual numbers.  Once we have a clear sense of the math of our lives, we can then make decisions about what we want to do with the resources we have.  We can also, if we want to, start to think intentionally and perhaps differently about what it means to have a certain amount of money, or what our financial circumstances mean to us.  And there’s a lot more I could say about that, but without knowing more about what specifically this person was concerned about, my primary encouragement is to get really specific about what it means for your situation to be financially tough.

This question-asker also brings up the matter of age differences in relationships, which is a topic I’ve been meaning to devote an entire podcast episode to for a while now.  And I may still do that, but for now, I’ll say this.  Collectively, we make age mean a LOT in our society.  And collectively, we make age differences in relationships mean a LOT.  But that doesn’t mean any of us as individuals have to buy into common understandings about what age means, and what age differences in relationships mean.  So my first recommendation, on the matter of the age difference in this relationship, is to get really clear on what the age difference means to you.  What do you think about it?  Does it present a challenge or a problem to you, beyond what other people might think about it?  If so, what are those challenges or problems?  Once you are clear on what those challenges or problems are, you can address them systematically – and that might mean that you adjust your thinking about the age difference, or it might mean you do things differently.  Sometimes I work with people who have what they consider to be a significant age difference from their partner’s age, and they ultimately decide that they don’t want to be with someone who is however much younger or older their partner is.  And if you like your reasons, that’s a great choice to make.  And of course, on the other hand, sometimes people examine their thinking and come to the conclusion that they don’t need to think of the age difference in their relationship as a problem at all.

Once you are clear on what you think about the age difference in your relationship, dealing with other people’s opinions will be a different endeavor.  When we’re afraid of what we think of ourselves, or our relationship, or some aspect of our life situation, we’re a lot more likely to be afraid of what other people think – and feel hurt by other people’s judgements or criticisms.  When we know what we think about our relationship, and we feel good about what we think about our relationship, dealing with other people’s judgments gets easier.  If people say things to us that we consider unkind we may not like it, and that’s fair enough, but when we aren’t depending on their approval to feel okay about ourselves, the whole thing is different. 

Finally, on the matter of age differences, I do want to mention that none of us know how long we’ve got.  I could walk outside and get hit by a bus later today.  I sure hope I don’t, but it could happen.  We tend to think that for sure if there’s an age difference between two people that seems “significant,” the younger person is going to have to care for the older person as they age, and then live a lonely life without them.  But isn’t a guaranteed outcome.  And if you want a beautiful and heart-wrenching tale of what this can look like, look up a piece by Francisco Goldman in The New Yorker that’s called “The Wave.”  It appeared in the magazine in February 2011.  It is both tragic and a really good read, and I highly recommend it even if you aren’t contending with an age difference in a relationship.

Okay, moving on.  Here’s our next question:

Do we need to accept that long term relationships are paradoxical because humans crave passion and security but passion diminishes as security increases?

This question reflects a way of thinking has become very popular.  We’ve kind of come to accept that the premises within this question are essential truths of the human experience.  Humans crave security and passion!  And passion diminishes as security increases!  I think Esther Perel gets a lot of credit for popularizing these ways of thinking – but I’m not sure if she deserves ALL of the credit, or all of the blame for that matter.  And to be fair, I think that one of the reasons why these lines of thinking have become so popular is because a lot of people find them to be accurate reflections of their own experiences.  They got into a relationship, and at first it was exciting and passionate!  Then over time, the relationship because more established and familiar, and it may have started to seem stable and secure, but the passion diminished!  I fully understand that a lot of people think about their experiences of their relationships this way, and I can understand how appealing it can be to have someone tell us that our experiences are “normal” or common, or even, just the way things inevitably develop in relationships.  And I know that there can be a lot of value in the reassurance that comes from hearing that our experiences are common and understandable.

However,  I do think it’s really important for us to critically examine the operating premises here.  It is not a fact that all humans crave passion, or security.  And not all humans crave passion AND security!  Some do, for sure, but I think we can quickly get ourselves into trouble when we say that everybody wants the same things.  It’s fine to make generalizations, sometimes, but it’s also really important to remember that there is great diversity in what humans want out of life in general and romantic relationships in particular.

And as for the relationship between passion and security, although a lot of us have completely bought into the idea that passion and security are inversely related, or are fundamentally at odds with each other, this isn’t an inescapable law of physics.  As I said earlier, a lot of people observe that in their own relationships, passion went down as security went up – but even if a lot of people experience their relationships this way, this doesn’t mean that this has to be the way relationships work.  This doesn’t have to be the way that passion and security operate.

I don’t think there is a fundamental tension between passion and security.  You can experience both at the same time if you want to, and some people absolutely do.  Both of these experiences are created through your thinking, and if you want to experience these two things in conjunction with each other, you can.  I think this supposed conflict between passion and security reflects the extent to which we do not recognize that it’s thinking about our relationship or our partner that creates our experience of the relationship – and the extent to which we experience passion and/or security in the relationship.  

As strange as this might sound, the experience of feeling passion is created through our thinking.  Security, or the feeling of being secure, is also created through our thinking.  We often create these kinds of experiences for ourselves through thinking unintentionally, but it’s still our thinking that creates the experiences.  Here’s what I mean by this.  When we’ve just met someone new that we’re excited about, we often think things like, “This person is so interesting.  I’m excited to get to know them better.  I want to spend more time with them.  It was amazing when we kissed for the first time.  It was amazing when we had sex for the first time.  I want to experience more of this.”  And if we’re thinking those kinds of things, we’re going to feel feelings like excitement, or desire, or arousal, or interest, or curiosity, or passion.  We may be thinking those kinds of thoughts without putting any deliberate effort into thinking them, but these are still our thoughts – and it’s our thoughts that generate our feelings.  

Of course, most people walking around out there don’t know that our thinking creates our feelings.  Most of us assume that passion is this thing that happens to us, and can un-happen to us.  For instance, a lot of people think that when a relationship is new, there’s bound to be a lot of passion BECAUSE of the newness.  In other words, we think that novelty causes passion.  But that’s not exactly how it works.  Your curiosity about someone and your excitement about someone may create your passion, but newness alone doesn’t create curiosity or excitement.  You can meet someone new and not be curious or excited about them at all.  And, you can have known someone for decades and still be interested in learning new things about them, and be curious about who they are, and be excited about them.  It may take a little more effort, and there are various reasons for this, but it’s still possible.  This is something I’ve talked about in other episodes so I’m not going to say too much more about that now.

Similarly, security is a product of our thinking.  Sometimes people tell me that because a relationship is committed, it is by definition, secure.  But that, my friends, is a testament to the power of your thinking.  We know, somewhere in our minds, that people in committed relationships break up all the time.  We know that people who are married get divorced all the time.  We know that people in supposedly monogamous relationships cheat on their partners all the time.  But yet we choose to think that our committed relationships are secure.  

I’m not saying this to suggest that relationships are by definition INSECURE.  That isn’t the point.  The point is that it’s never a fact that a relationship is fundamentally secure or insecure.  If you’re legally married, that’s a fact.  But that doesn’t mean that your relationship is “secure.”  

And, moreover, even if you want to think of your relationship as secure – which you very well might – that doesn’t mean that passion has to go down the drain.  We are capable of thinking thoughts that create the feelings of both security and passion.  The former doesn’t have to cancel out the latter.   Often, approximately what happens is that people get into an exciting new relationship.  And they like the excitement, they like their new person – but the excitement is also a little scary.  They have this amazing new person, and they don’t want to lose them!  So they find a way to keep them, and then they go, oh my god, now I can relax.  I’m not saying everyone is literally thinking this.  But this is a fair approximation of some people’s experiences.  And when we relax in our relationships, we sometimes check out a little bit.  Or a lot.  Or a whole lot.  And when we’re checked out and disengaged, it’s pretty hard to find someone exciting.  Desire requires our active engagement, after all.  Appreciation and enjoyment of someone requires us to actually be present with them.  And being present and engaged with someone is a choice.  Similarly, we can choose to be interested in someone and intrigued by them, or we can choose to believe that we’ve known them for a while, and we know everything about them already.

The thing is, though, a lot of us don’t know how to do this stuff.  A lot of us don’t know how to choose to be present and engaged in our relationships.  A lot of us really do believe that if we’ve been with someone for a while, the passion is by definition gone – or at least diminished – and that’s just the way it is.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  If we are willing to take responsibility for what we’re thinking in our relationships and about our relationships, we can experience as much passion or security or passion AND security as we want to.  And if you want to learn how to do this, one-on-one coaching can be incredibly helpful.  This is where you need to be highly attuned to the specifics of your own thinking, and it be very helpful to have someone else who is highly attuned to the specifics of your thinking to help you learn how to do this.

Having said all of this, I must emphasize that even though in theory we can create as much passion and security as we want to, no matter how long a relationship has been going for, that doesn’t mean we have to want to do that within the context of any particular relationship.  If you’re not excited about being in a particular relationship, the solution is not necessarily to change your thinking about the person you’re currently committed to.  It may be that your preference is to leave that relationship, and that’s legitimate! 

There’s so much more I could say about all of this but for today’s purposes, I’m going to sum this one up by saying that passion and security are not experiences that are handed to us by forces beyond our control.  They’re created through our thinking.  And they are not fundamentally at odds with each other.

One important implication of this is that you get to create whatever experience of passion and security in your love life that you want to have.  If you have accepted what some people say is true about passion and security in relationships, and have subsequently been feeling resigned to a fate that you don’t like very much, I encourage you to get clear on what you want to experience in a relationship, and commit to finding ways of creating that for yourself.  

Okay people, that is it for today.  If you would like to talk to me directly about the questions you have about your unique infidelity situation, what are you waiting for?  Head on over to my website and schedule an introductory coaching session with me today.  Mariemurphyphd.com.  One of the things I hear from new clients all the time is “I wish I’d reached out to you sooner.  I wish I’d started talking to you sooner.”  I know that there are so many reasons why it can be scary and weird to seek out help and actually start addressing your infidelity situation, but the reward for having the courage to start working with me is that you get to start experiencing relief.  Relief to be able to talk about what’s going on with you – with someone who actually gets it.  Relief that comes from gaining a different perspective on your situation.  Relief from having someone help you approach your situation in a way that’s actually manageable… instead of trying to eat an elephant in one bite.  If you’re ready for some relief, why make yourself wait for that any longer?  Head on over to mariemurphyphd.com and book yourself an appointment.  It’s going to be good!

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


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