161: How Do I Know if I’m Being Reckless?

Oct 03, 2023

There is a common perception that infidelity is reckless. Each infidelity situation is unique, but especially if you’re considering leaving your primary partner to pursue a relationship with your affair partner, you will probably find yourself considering the recklessness of your behavior. Which begs the question: how do you determine whether your cheating is actually reckless?

The problem with dismissing your desires because of potentially reckless outcomes is not going to help you decide what you really want. If you are faced with wanting to make a decision about your infidelity and you’re worried that it may lead to a reckless outcome, this episode is for you.

If you are cheating and wondering whether your behavior is reckless, tune in this week to discover why questions about recklessness come up in infidelity situations. Dr. Marie Murphy is helping you see your thoughts about your behavior being reckless, sharing why there is no real defined criteria for recklessness, and showing you how to start working through your thoughts about your perceived reckless behavior.

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 infidelity, especially within a strong relationship, is fraught with worries of being reckless.

  • The common circumstances that motivate concerns over whether their decisions are reckless.

  • Why nothing has gone wrong if you decide you want something radically different in your life.

  • The important differences between recklessness and risk.

  • Why whether or not you’re being reckless might not actually matter all that much.

  • What to keep in mind if you’re struggling with the idea that you’re being reckless.

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 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 resolve your infidelity situation in a way that’s truly right for you, I can help you do it.  When you’re ready to get to work, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.  You can also learn more about the packages I offer new clients after that initial session, and find my current pricing on the services page of my website.  

All right.  Today we are going to talk about being reckless, and how to determine whether or not you are being reckless within your infidelity situation, or some aspect thereof.

The reason why we’re talking about this is because the questions “Am I being reckless?” or “How do I know if I’m being reckless?” are questions a lot of my clients entertain.  And these questions come up in all kinds of different contexts, or within infidelity situations that are very different in some key respects, but these kinds of questions are quite commonly asked by people who are married and are cheating on their spouses with one specific person, and they’re considering leaving their marriage, primarily for the sake of pursuing a relationship with their affair partner.  And the folks who wonder if doing this would be reckless are often not terribly dissatisfied with their spouses.  They often care a lot about their spouse, and appreciate many things about them, and they often really like their family life, and they are often at least reasonably satisfied with the status quo.  Folks in this sort of situation, often tell me, “Well, if I’d never met my affair partner, I would have been perfectly content.”  And there’s a lot I could say about that remark.  When people tell me that, I know they may really MEAN it, but even if were true in some absolute sense, it’s not a line of thinking that’s going to help you AT ALL if you are at the point where you are considering leaving your marriage in great part because you want to pursue a relationship with your affair partner.

Anyway, that’s a bit of a digression.  The important point is that a lot of the folks who are cheating on their spouse and are wondering if they’re being reckless think they would be giving up something pretty good if they were to leave their marriage.  They think they would be giving up a relationship with their spouse that is at least okay, or maybe very good in some respects, they think they would be giving up their family unit as they know it, and they think they would potentially be compromising their relationships with people they really care about – such as their kids – and maybe forever.  And so the idea of giving all of this up seems kind of reckless.  Why would anyone willingly give up something pretty good, they sometimes ask themselves.  Surely that’s crazy, they sometimes think.  

So that’s one of the common reasons why the “am I being reckless?” questions come up.  People think they have a pretty good thing, and they think there must be something wrong with willingly giving up that bird in the hand.  Another thing that motivates concerns about recklessness is that we as a society have a normative bias towards staying married.  Put differently, we generally believe that if you get married, it’s better to stay married than to not stay married.  And we believe this for LOTS of reasons.  We have collectively come up with all sorts of explanations for why it is fundamentally better to stay married than to get divorced.  And a lot of us have absorbed this way of thinking, to one degree or another.  

In addition to that, we collectively have a general suspicion of relationships that begin as affairs.  I can’t tell you how many people tell me, “Oh, I know there’s very little chance of my relationship with my affair partner working out in the long run, I’ve read all these studies about these kinds of relationships and the statistics aren’t good.”  There’s a lot I could say about that, and about the so-called research on the fate of relationships that begin as affairs, and why you might not want to look at any of it, or take it seriously if you do, but let’s save that for another day.  For now, the point is that just as we collectively tend to believe that it’s better to stay married than to get divorced, we also tend to believe that relationships that begin as affairs are working against the odds, at best, and at worst, are doomed to fail.  And if we buy into this kind of thinking, even if only partially, it can start to seem like a pretty bad idea to leave a stable marriage for the sake a pursuing an affair relationship that might be doomed, for reasons we don’t think we have the power to control.  

FURTHERMORE, we tend to think new relationship energy itself is suspect.  If you’re familiar with the term new relationship energy, that’s great, but if you’re not, I’m talking about the intense excitement people often feel when they begin a relationship with someone new.  As I’ve talked about in other episodes, including episode 49 which is called “In defense of new relationship energy,” new relationship energy sometimes gets a really bad rap.  And I think there’s good reason to be very conscious of new relationship energy, and very conscious of the decisions we make about our relationships when we’re experiencing it, but that doesn’t mean that we need to be overly suspicious of new relationship energy.  And we don’t need to dismiss a great new connection with someone as new relationship energy that is bound to run out at some point, with nothing left within the relationship.  But this is exactly what some people do!  They say, “Oh, what I’ve got going on with my affair partner is good, but it’s only good because it's new.  It can’t possibly be good forever.”  And when we believe this, it can of course also seem like pursuing a newer relationship and leaving behind an older one is a really big, bad mistake.

In addition to all of this, many folks place a premium on stability and certainty and predictability.  Sticking with the known seems like an inherently better choice to many of us, at least in certain contexts.  

So these are all reasons why it can seem like choosing to leave your marriage for the sake of pursuing a relationship with your affair partner might seem like an inherently risky thing to do, and therefore, a RECKLESS thing to do, or to consider doing.

But here’s the interesting thing.  One definition of reckless is “acting without thinking about or caring about the consequences of an action.”  I will tell you that most, if not all of the people I’ve worked with who wonder if they’re being reckless have thought AT GREAT LENGTH about the possible consequences of their actions.  And they care very much about the possible consequences of their actions.  So by this definition, anyway, they probably would NOT be considered reckless by any reasonable measures.  

My observation is that what people often really mean when they say they’re afraid of doing something reckless is that they’re afraid of doing something that’s SO incredibly different from what they’ve been doing for a long time.  Or they mean that they’re considering doing something that would totally take them off the trajectory of how they thought their life was going to unfold.  And often, the embedded assumption is that doing something radically different is fundamentally problematic.  Other definitions equate recklessness with irresponsibility – and I see a lot of people grappling with the question of whether or not making changes in our lives might be an irresponsible thing to do.  

I want to suggest that doing something DIFFERENT – even something radically different – does not have to mean that we’re doing something irresponsible.  I’ll say more about that later.  Doing something different does not mean that we haven’t truly considered all of the possible consequences of our actions, and thus, are doing something reckless.  Even if change is disruptive, it doesn’t have to be a problem.

However, we may not believe that.  Both on conscious and less-than-conscious levels, the idea of doing something really different may seem terrifying.  On a primal, knee-jerk level, it’s very easy for us to interpret change as a threat to ourselves, or to others, or to life as we know it.  The prospect of change and unfamiliarity may occasion a lot of discomfort for us.  And if it feels really wild and crazy and weird to do something very different from what we’ve been doing – or even to consider doing something really different from what we’ve been doing – we may interpret the weirdness of the unfamiliar as a sign that something is very, very wrong.  And then our good ole’ brains may step in and say, “Aha!  You’re considering doing something unfamiliar, and that feels uncomfortable, and that means you shouldn’t do the thing!  It would be totally reckless for you to do the different thing you’re considering doing!  Why on earth would you rock the boat when your life is stable and comfortable and pretty good as it is?”

And it’s sort of fair enough for us to have this response to the prospect of change because at the most basic level, we tend gravitate to stability and familiarity and comfort.  At the most basic level, change can seem really threatening – even if it’s a change we know we want.  But the very intense weirdness that may come with stepping into the realm of the unfamiliar is not necessarily a sign that anything is wrong. 

So all of this is important to be aware of.  If you’ve been asking yourself if what you’re doing might be reckless, you may be contending with any or all of the things I’ve just mentioned.  And simply being aware of this may be enough for you to say, hey, maybe I’m not being reckless at all.  Or maybe the question of whether I’m being reckless or not is totally irrelevant!

But for some folks, the question of “Am I being reckless?” is one that begs for a little more attention.  And that’s okay.

If you are wondering if you’re being reckless, here’s the deal.  There are no objective criteria for what counts as being reckless, both in general, and in regards to infidelity situations more specifically, and in regards to your unique infidelity situation even more specifically.  So if you want to answer the question of whether or not you’re being reckless, you have got to DECIDE what it means to be reckless, and how you would know if you were being reckless or not.

Now let me make it absolutely clear that if you are asking yourself if you’re being reckless, and you can’t seem to put that question down, I absolutely, completely, one hundred and twenty million percent want you to answer this question for yourself.  I’ve said this on other episodes, but it bears repeating.  Endlessly entertaining questions and treating them as if they are unanswerable is not going to do anything great for you.  Endlessly entertaining questions and treating them as if they are unanswerable is definitely going to take up a lot of your time and energy, and is probably going to lead to a lot of unnecessary suffering.

So if you think you might be being reckless in relation to your infidelity situation, ask yourself these questions:

What does it mean to me to be reckless?  What counts as recklessness, in my estimation?  You might need to think about your answers for a little while, and that’s fine, but don’t think about them for TOO long!  If you need to, give yourself an hour to decide what you think it means to be reckless.  Or a day, maximum.  Don’t let this turn into a long-term project.  Google a few definitions, consult your wisest friend, get yourself a coaching call with me to discuss it, or whatever.  Take the questions seriously, but don’t take too much time to answer them.

Then, once you have decided what it means to you to be reckless, ask yourself how you would know if you were being reckless.  What would the specific indicators be?  What would it take for you to say, “Yup, I am definitely being reckless,” OR, “No, this behavior of mine does not actually count as recklessness.”  What would have to happen for you to know for sure if you were being reckless or not? 

This is something I help clients think through all the time, and when I help people do this, one of two things tends to happen.  Sometimes people go, okay, here’s how I define recklessness, here’s how I would know it in myself if I saw it, and then they decide if they see it or not.  Now, a lot of people need HELP doing this, and clarifying what recklessness means to them and determining whether or not they are being reckless takes a bit of time and effort.  I’m summarizing what happens very quickly here, but it usually doesn’t happen INSTANTLY.  And that’s not a problem at all, we all need help clarifying our thinking and assessing our own motivations and behavior, and I’m here to help you with that.  But the point is that some people are willing to actually decide what recklessness means to them, and willing to decide whether they want to view their choices or their behavior as such.  And then they decide, and they use their decision as a basis for moving forward.

On the other hand, some people are sure that no matter how much they think it through, and no matter how many clarifying questions I ask them, and no matter how much they believe that they really are the one and only person who can determine whether they’re being reckless or not, they still cannot decide whether they are being reckless or not.

And I’m sympathetic to this, to a point.  So many of us have gotten the idea that being reckless is really bad, and have decided that we need to be very concerned about the possibility that we might be being reckless.  And on top of that, many of us have gotten the message, over and over, in all kinds of different ways, that we aren’t REALLY the authority in our own lives, or even AN authority.  So many of us believe that we need someone else to come along and tell us if we’re being reckless or not.  So many of us believe that we really can’t give ourselves permission to do anything that’s different from what we’ve been doing.  And I know that this can be tough stuff to change our thinking about.  But that’s not a problem.  If you need to work on your beliefs about your authority, and what’s possible for you, and what you have the ability to give yourself permission for, that’s an opportunity, and you can get to work on that, and I can help you do it.

But on the other hand, if you are just asking yourself over and over again if you’re being reckless, and you aren’t answering the question in any definitive way, and you aren’t doing anything to address your resistance to answering this question in any definitive way, I want you to consider that effectively, what you’re doing is stalling.

And I am not going to scold you for stalling!  That is not the point here at all.  Rather, the point is that I don’t want you to tell yourself that you’re doing something productive by continuing to ask yourself questions that you aren’t answering.  Even if the questions you’re asking yourself seem HARD to answer, you can get to work and start answering them, one little piece at a time.  You can start building clarity and certainty, bit by bit, instead of telling yourself that you don’t know if you’re being reckless and you don’t know how you’ll ever know if you’re being reckless, but you have to find out if you’re being reckless before you move forward.  Right?!

That brings me to a very important question.  What if you are being reckless?  If that is something that you have established, what are the implications of that?

It’s going to be hard to answer those questions if you haven’t answered the previous two questions, which were, what does it mean to you to be reckless, and how do you know if you’re being reckless or not.  Once you’ve answered those questions, you get to decide what comes next.

Let’s say you decide that in your estimation, being reckless means being irresponsible.  And you decide that you’re being irresponsible if you don’t continue to do the things you’ve been doing for your family.

If those are your answers to the questions I just posed, that’s fair enough.  But here’s where we need to go from there.  If it’s important to you to do certain things for your family, you get to ask yourself if you could do those things even if you made some changes in your family configuration.  So for instance, a lot of people will say, “Well, it’s really important to me to be a responsible parent, and that means being there for my kids.”  And that’s great!  But it might be possible that you don’t have to stay married to your spouse in order to “be there” for your kids.  If you decide to leave your marriage, you might not do things with your family members in the same way you have in the past, but that doesn’t mean that the only alternative is to abandon them completely.  So for example, you might decide you don’t want to be married to your spouse anymore.  But if you do make that decision, you can still be a co-parent with them.  You can still support them in any number of ways.  You can still be friends with them, if you want to.  You can still be a family member to them and with them, if you want to.  Sometimes we get locked into a really specific vision of what it means to “be responsible,” but when we look closely, we can usually see that we can fulfill our desire to be responsible to others or take care of others in a variety of different ways.  We may not have to adhere to our original vision of how things were going to go in order to “be responsible.”

Furthermore, if we’re concerned about being irresponsible, we also need to ask ourselves what or who it’s important for us to be responsible to.  A lot of us place a lot of emphasis on being responsible to others, or for others.  We often think that being responsible means doing the things we promised others we would do, or perhaps, doing the things that other people expect us to do.  And that’s fine, to a point.  Being responsible to others is terrific, but so often, we prioritize being responsible to others at the expense of being responsible to ourselves.  And that’s not always a terrible thing.  A little self-sacrifice is all fine and good.  But if we abnegate our responsibilities to and for ourselves for too long, or in ways that are too significant, things can get pretty funny pretty quickly.  Relationships with others that are predicted on us neglecting ourselves do not tend to get us the kinds of experiences we most want to have.

Also, there is real potential for us to weaponize the notion of responsibility, or irresponsibility.  When we say that someone is being irresponsible, we often mean that they aren’t doing what we want them to do, or what we think they should do.  When we tell ourselves we’re being irresponsible, we may mean that we aren’t doing what we think we should do, or what we think other people think we should do.

Here's the thing: sometimes we have to do the so-called irresponsible things in order to be fully responsible to and for ourselves.  Sometimes we have to say “fuck it” to conventional notions of responsibility in order to honor our deepest desires and highest priorities and truest needs.

Or, put a little differently, sometimes we have to accept that in order to be the fullest version of who we are, and do the things that are most important to us to do, we may have to do things that could be considered reckless.  Maybe by ourselves, maybe by others.  Because some of the things we might really need to do if we’re going to make the most of our human existence might look like a version of irresponsibility, depending on your definition of it.  But in being irresponsible in some ways, we may be being profoundly responsible in other ways.

It's also worth considering that even if we define recklessness in a way that really resonates with us, and even if we don’t think that recklessness is a good thing, on the whole, there may be times in life where we’d rather err on the side of recklessness than something else.  For instance, if the choice is between recklessness and stagnation, there might well be times when you prefer recklessness to stagnation, or inaction.  If the choice is between recklessness and perpetuating an already-long phase of indecision, you might prefer recklessness over indecision.

In conclusion, I’m going to leave you with this.  Sometimes we say that we’re afraid of being reckless when we don’t know how something is going to turn out, and we think that not-knowing is a problem.  We think that it would be reckless, and therefore bad, for us to choose to do something and not know in advance what might happen as a result of us making that choice.  I have news for you, people.  We don’t know how ANYTHING is going to turn out.  And I want to suggest that not knowing how something is going to turn out is not a great reason to decide not to do something.

Rather than wondering how things are going to turn out, or using not knowing how things will turn out into a reason to do or not do certain things, we have the opportunity to decide what we want to invest our effort into making the best of.  So, to return to our example du jour, if you’re considering leaving your marriage for the sake of pursuing a relationship with your affair partner, but you’re hesitating, because your marriage isn’t all that bad, and the idea of making a big change sounds crazy and overwhelming, and yes, reckless, here’s the question for you: which path would you rather invest your energy into making AWESOME?  You could invest your energy into enjoying what is GREAT about staying in your marriage, and to enjoying all the things you love about maintaining the status quo.  Or you could invest your energy into making a big change and enjoying a whole set of new experiences.  If you wanted to, you could make the best of either option.  So which option do you want to make the best of?

You may not have control over a lot of things in life, but you do have control over where you put your energy, and the quality of energy you bring to any endeavor.  And I think that knowing this, not just intellectually, but really deeply believing this can really change your understanding of what constitutes recklessness.  If you have the capacity to do your best to make any path you choose great – and you DO have that capacity, of course – what’s the fuss about recklessness all about?

All right, people.  That is it for today.  If you would like my help taking a clear look at your infidelity situation and making decisions about what you want to do about it, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website.  I offer compassionate, confidential coaching via Zoom, so we can work together no matter where you’re located.  I can’t wait to meet you.

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


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