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. When you’re ready to resolve your infidelity situation in a way that’s truly right for you, I can help you do that. When you’re ready to talk, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.
Starting early next year, I am going to be offering additional ways that you can have me as your coach. In January I will be ready to welcome you to my anonymous group coaching program called “You’re Not the Only One.” This program will include teachings I’ve distilled from working with hundreds of clients, and it will include group coaching calls, which will give you the opportunity to be coached by me and hear me coach other people who are dealing with their own infidelity situations. The group coaching calls will be held in a way that protects your privacy, so we’ll be creating a secret society in which folks who are engaging in some kind of infidelity can come together and learn from each other’s experiences, while remaining anonymous. I’m super excited about this, and I’m looking forward to welcoming you into this group.
I will also be offering a self-study package of my teachings, without the group coaching calls, for those of you who want to learn more from me than I can teach you on the podcast, but also want the simplicity of a DIY approach. I’ll announce more details about these programs in the coming weeks, and if you want details delivered to your inbox, head on over to my website and sign up for my mailing list.
I will still be offering one-on-one coaching in the new year, but I’ll be doing so on a more limited basis, so if you’ve been thinking you’d like to get individual attention from me but you’ve been holding off on booking an introductory session, now is a great time to schedule that appointment so that we can get to work. One of the things I hear from new clients all the time is, “I wish I’d scheduled this coaching session with you sooner. I don’t know why I waited so long.” If you’ve been holding off on booking your first appointment with me for one reason or another, I encourage you to seize the day and schedule it. The rest of your life is waiting for you. The whole point of dealing with your infidelity situation is to be able to live out the love life that you most want to be living, instead of staying stuck in situations that aren’t what you really want. Let’s get you out of limbo, so that you can get on with the business of living the rest of your life. You can schedule an appointment with me at mariemurphyphd.com.
Today we are going to talk more about how to deal with a relationship ending. In last week’s episode we talked about the intense discomfort you may feel if a relationship ends as a result of someone else’s choice. Or put differently, we talked about how awful it can be feel to be broken up with. Today we’re going to talk about how we can start to move beyond a breakup, or begin anew after a breakup, or begin to replant the garden of our lives after a relationship has ended.
But before we get into any of this, I want to stress that sometimes we have to let ourselves fall apart before we can put ourselves back together. We have to let ourselves go through winter before we can get to spring. So if you’ve been broken up with, and you’ve been thinking, “I’ve just got to get over it” or “I’ve just got to move on,” I encourage you to listen to last week’s episode if you haven’t already.
When you’ve made it through the worst of your desolation, and you’re able to find your sense of aliveness amidst whatever pain you’re still experiencing, and you’re starting to feel the stirrings of desire to begin anew, what you have in front of you is an amazing opportunity to redefine yourself and re-start. You get to rise from the ashes of your loss like a Phoenix. Today we are going to talk about some of the things you can do to facilitate this process, but before we do that, I want to alert you to the possibility that your rebirth or renewal may come slowly. It may not happen instantaneously. And beginning again, or stepping into a new chapter of your life may not look or feel all that glamorous at first. It might eventually, but it might not in the early days. When you are recalibrating after being broken up with, some days you may feel like a wobbly baby animal that has literally just been born. That’s okay.
I want to suggest that these moments in life when we’re in the midst of a big transition and all we can really do is take life one moment at a time are precious. The moments in which you are re-learning what it means to be yourself and be in the world and relate to other people are beautiful, even when it feels like you don’t yet have your sea legs back. Perhaps ESPECIALLY when you feel like you don’t have your sea legs back.
We don’t honor these transitional moments in life to the extent that we could – we celebrate the big victories, and the successes. We don’t celebrate the early stages of change, when everything is still shifting but just beginning to take on new forms. But we COULD celebrate these liminal moments. And I think we really should.
Sometimes we implicitly or explicitly suggest that we’ve only successfully gotten over an old relationship once we’ve formed a new one, and once that new one has achieved some sort of official status. A little more bluntly, sometimes we think we’ve only gotten over being broken up with when we’re getting married to someone else, or when we’re officially dating someone else, or when we’ve moved in with someone else.
I want to suggest that you do not have to see getting over a breakup in those terms, and I want to suggest that the early stages of coming back into your own after a breakup – especially if it counted to you as a big breakup, or a significant life event – don’t have to look like victories. Or what a lot of people might think of as victories, anyway.
Rather, I would suggest you think about “getting over a breakup,” or “healing your broken heart,” or “moving forward after a relationship ends” in terms of shifts in three areas.
First, how are you framing what happened?
You get to tell yourself – and others – whatever story of your relationship that has ended, and how that relationship ended that you want to. There are MANY different things that could be true about these aspects of your life experience. If you’re telling yourself a story of the relationship that ended that makes you feel terrible, you don’t have to keep doing that!
I encourage you to frame your experience of your relationship and your breakup in a way that helps you feel excited about the future. Or if EXCITED about the future seems a little out of reach, see if you can tell a story that allows you to be somewhat enthusiastic about the future. Or hopeful about the future, or optimistic about the future – even if only mildly so!
And you can do this in conjunction with feeling sad. You can feel sad, and you can start to take responsibility for thinking about your relationship ending in a way that helps you start to move forward.
You can tell yourself a story that emphasizes what you gained from the experience – without dismissing what you lost. You can tell yourself a story of how your experience helped and is helping you become more of the YOU you want to be. You can emphasize, to yourself, what you learned from this relationship. You can tell yourself a story that emphasizes your own power and agency – even if you didn’t and don’t have total control over everything that happened.
For instance, sometimes a relationship ends and we tell ourselves, oh my god, I can’t believe how much time I wasted with that person. I should have known that things were going to turn out this way. I should have known better.
Telling ourselves these kinds of things usually feels pretty terrible – and this sort of storyline is never as true as it might seem. Time is only wasted if we say it is. And, interestingly, the more time we spend believing that we wasted time on someone or with someone, the more time we waste on them! It may be a lot more helpful to recognize all of the reasons why you CHOSE to devote the time you did to your person. You had reasons for devoting the time you did to them that were good enough for a while, and it’s important to acknowledge that. You can honor the reasons why you made the choices that you did, even if you didn’t end up getting what you wanted from those choices in the end. You can honor the part of yourself that was willing to devote yourself to someone, AND you can also consider the ways you might want to use your discretion differently in the future.
You can honor your sadness about the relationship ending, you can honor your anger or resentment or bewilderment or whatever else, AND you can start to tell a story of what happened that allows you to be the hero of your own journey! And you can do this little by little. One step at a time. One thought at a time. One day at a time.
The second thing I encourage you to be attuned to if you’re trying to move beyond a breakup is how you are fostering connection.
At first, if you’re in the early throes of your post-breakup life, you may not feel like connecting with anybody – or you may only feel like connecting with people for the purpose of howling about the loss you’ve just experienced. That’s okay. When we’re fresh off the heels of a development we’re unhappy about, the best thing we may be able to do for ourselves is to allow ourselves to be where we are.
But at some point, you may want to start to allow yourself to connect in different ways. You may have been in the habit of devoting all – or a lot of – the energy you spend connecting with people towards the person who broke up with you. And you might have been in that habit for a long time. You may have kind of forgotten what it’s like to connect in meaningful ways with other people, and forgotten what it’s like to connect with yourself, or what it’s like to enjoy your own company. Or you may have never really learned how to connect with yourself in the first place! A lot of us have not. A lot of us have never consciously cultivated a relationship with ourselves. That’s okay. You can start now.
I want to suggest that cultivating connection – with yourself or anyone else – starts with being willing to be present. Simply being present is such a big deal. So often, we’re anything BUT present. And after we’re willing to be present, can we be willing to be curious, and interested? This might sound like a pretty simple thing, and it is, but it can also seem like a really tall order! If we have been in the habit of looking to one person for our primary source of connection and all of the good feelings that come with that, orienting ourselves to different forms of connection can really be a process of recalibration!
This will be especially true if our relationship with the person who broke up with was characterized by limited access to them, and by significant ups and downs. So for instance, let’s say we were involved with someone who was married, or committed to someone else – and the time they could spend with us was limited, and they kept promising they were going to leave their marriage for us. While we were in our relationship with this person, we may have really valued the time we did get with them – and we might have even over-valued the time we got with them. The time we got with them, or the attention we got from them, may have been something that we placed a tremendous amount of significance on, and may have kind of been our drug of choice, or THE thing we needed to feel good. Along with that, we may have been living in a constant state of anticipation. When would we hear from them again? When would we get to spend time with them again? Not knowing when we were going to get our fix may have heightened the excitement associated with getting it. And even though we may have kind of hated the roller coaster ride of not knowing when they would be available, and not knowing when we’d get more of the connection with them that we craved, that uncertainty provided us with a certain form of entertainment. And even if it felt like torturous entertainment at times, we may have grown to consider that state of stimulation normal.
Going from the intensity and drama of that sort of a connection to less exciting forms of connection may seem boring at first. Less dramatic forms of connection may not seem as fulfilling. And we may need to detox a little bit, and recalibrate our sense of what connecting means. And that’s okay. We just have to be willing to go through that recalibration process.
One of the ways we can recalibrate is to intentionally connect with ourselves. And we can start to connect with ourselves by simply being interested in ourselves. What do we think, and how do we feel? Sometimes we think that we can only share our thoughts and feelings with another person, or that we can only find satisfying connection by sharing our thoughts and feelings with another person, but that doesn’t have to be the case. We can find satisfaction by being present with our own experience, and being interested in our own experience. We don’t have to rely on others being present with us, or being interested in us to feel good. Put differently, we can give ourselves attention. We don’t always have to seek it out from others.
Now that said, connections with other people are wonderful. And as you emerge from the emotional wreckage of your breakup, one of the amazing things you have the opportunity to do is forge the kinds of connections with others that you most want to experience now.
And for some people, that means looking for a new relationship. They get on the dating apps, or they ask their friends to set them up, or they get involved in a bunch of new activities specifically for the purpose of trying to find a new partner.
On the one hand, it’s fair enough to want a partner, and it’s fair enough to begin your search for a new partner whenever you want to.
BUT. Sometimes we start looking for a new partner for reasons that might not be great reasons. Sometimes we start looking for a new partner because we think that will help us get over our breakup. Sometimes we start looking for a new partner because we think that will help us forget our old one. Sometimes we start looking for a new partner because we’re lonely and sad and we want someone to come along and make us feel better. My opinion is that these are not great reasons to get out there and try to meet someone. For one thing, meeting someone new is not going to be the solution to any of the aforementioned problems, or wishes – at least not in a sustainable way. And for another thing, if these are the kinds of expectations you’re bringing to the process of meeting new people, you’re probably not going to like the experiences you have when you meet new people!
What I’m about to tell you is my opinion, not a law of the universe or anything like that, but I think it’s an opinion worth considering. If you aren’t ready to have a good time going out and meeting new people no matter what happens, then you might not want to bother dating. If you’re not ready to MAKE any date you go on fun, then you may want to hold off for a while. I don’t mean you have to have the best time of your life with every single person you go out with. I mean that you are willing to have fun with anyone you meet, and you’re willing to take responsibility for having a good time, rather than expecting the person you go out with to make you have a good time.
Another indication that you might want to hold off on dating is that you’re actively longing for the person who broke up with you. Or if you’re comparing everyone you go on a date with to that person. Again, this isn’t like a law of the universe. But it’s worth asking yourself how you expect to meet someone new and get to know them and give yourself the chance to enjoy them if you’re actively thinking about someone else, instead of focusing on the person who’s right in front of you?
This isn’t to suggest that you shouldn’t want a new relationship, or shouldn’t want to go out and meet new people. Not at all. The point is just that if a new relationship is your goal, or meeting new people and actually being present with them when you’re with them is your goal, you have to be fully available to those experiences if you’re going to really get what you want. There’s a difference between going out and meeting new people and looking for a new relationship because you’re really ready to participate in those experiences, and doing those things because you’re trying to distract yourself from your pain, or you’re hoping that you’ll meet someone new who will make everything better for you.
There are so many other ways to feel good aside from going on dates and looking for a new partner. You may want to explore those avenues for connection, too. A romantic relationship, or romantic connections can be great, but there are other great things in life. If you’re putting ALL of your eggs in the dating basket, or the relationship basket, you might want to consider redistributing your energies a little bit. There’s no rush to meet new potential partners. There’s no rush to find a new partner.
Sometimes people say, “Well, actually, there IS a rush! I wasted so much time in a relationship that didn’t work out! I’ve got to get started on this dating thing if I want to find a new partner before I’m a hundred years old!” If this is where you are, you may want to adjust your thinking a bit before you try to find a new relationship. Believing that you’ve wasted your time can create some pretty terrible feelings, and believing that there IS a rush to find a new partner is probably going to create some feelings like desperation, or neediness, or panic. And from those feeling states, it’s going to be harder for you to engage with other people in a manner that helps you create connections that could lead somewhere interesting.
Whether you’re dating new people or not, you may also want to prioritize cultivating other kinds of connections. Sometimes we think that a romantic partnership is the most important relationship we can have, or that life doesn’t really count unless we’re in a romantic relationship. I am all in favor of you valuing romantic relationships, and wanting to be in a romantic relationship. But there are so many other sorts of connections you can foster, and all of these other kinds of connections can bring richness and meaning to your life.
The third thing you can do to help you move beyond a breakup is look for ways to actively cultivate joy. And right now, I’m talking about DOING things that you enjoy.
Most of the guidance I give on this podcast focuses on your mindset, or what you are thinking, and how you deal with your emotions, and that’s because it is your thinking and your emotions that give you the capacity to take particular types of actions, or refrain from taking particular types of actions. So often, when we want change, we focus on changing our actions, or our behavior. And that’s an important ingredient of change, for SURE. But before we can successfully change our actions, we need to make sure that our thinking and our emotions are in line with the kinds of actions we want to take. Otherwise, the actions we take won’t be very successful. It’s like going on dates and attempting to meet a new partner when we’re feeling terrible. Your attempts to meet someone new who you like are going to be a lot more successful if you deal with feeling terrible first.
That said, the point of dealing with our thoughts and feelings is not to just sit at home all day and deal with our thoughts and feelings. It is our actions that create our lives, and although there is certainly a time and place for not doing very much of anything, there is also a time and place to get out there in the world and do stuff. Life offers us amazing opportunities to do things that we find meaningful and enjoyable and we may want to take advantage of those opportunities.
So whenever something that was significant to us leaves our lives, or more specifically, whenever a significant relationship ends, we often find that a big void exists in our lives, and – when we’re ready – we get to choose how we fill that void. We get to choose how we replant the garden of our life. Put differently, we have an opportunity to behold the world around us anew, and take interest in new things. Or renew our interest in old things. We get to find ways of engaging in the world around us that we find rewarding and worthwhile. And this can look like a lot of different things. You might return to old practices, or old pleasures that you’ve stepped away from for a while. You might try out new things. These don’t have to be big dramatic things. You CAN do big dramatic things, if you want – if you’ve always wanted to travel around the world by yourself and you now have the inclination to do it, by all means, go for it. But trying something new might just mean checking out a new exercise class, or spending an evening at a local bookstore or the pub down the street instead of staying home alone. Taking new interest in the world around you might mean you allow yourself to enjoy a moment of interaction with the barista when you get your morning latte, instead of being totally checked out. It also could mean something completely different – maybe you take up a really compelling new hobby. Maybe you start volunteering in support of a cause that means a lot to you. You can go as big as you want, but you can also start really small. Simple practices, done consistently, can have a tremendous impact on our experience of being alive.
Now I want to make it clear that you can do all of these things – you can reframe the story of your relationship and your breakup, you can forge new connections, and you can look for ways to engage in life and find joy in life – even if you are still feeling a lot of mixed emotions about your breakup. If your breakup was a really big deal to you, you may feel some pretty uncomfortable emotions in relation to that experience for a while. But they don’t have to take over your entire life experience. Your experience of your breakup may hurt, but it doesn’t have to define you.
Beginning a new chapter or a new cycle of your life is a sacred act of fidelity to yourself and to life’s possibilities. Having the courage to begin anew after you’ve been knocked down is a really profound act of self-love.
Even if new beginnings might not look like much at their outset, you can still trust that the tiniest seeds of possibility can grow into beautiful things. Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow. You can intentionally allow yourself to alchemize your old hurts into compost that serves as fertilizer for your next chapter. You can choose to have faith in yourself and in the future.
I want to share a little update on my doggie situation that’s related to what I’ve been talking about today. If you’re new to this podcast, you might have no idea what I mean by my doggie situation, but if you’ve been listening for a while, some of these details may be familiar to you. Last year, last summer, my beloved dog died suddenly. He was thirteen, so it’s not like death snatched him from the blush of youth or anything like that, but he’d been pretty healthy and my spouse and I had been very boldly assuming that he was going to live until he was at least a hundred, so his sudden death was quite heartbreaking. And then after that, for a while, we couldn’t imagine EVER getting another dog, but then we decided that we HAD to get another dog, and then there was this agonizing search for a puppy, and then we found one, and then we actually got him.
And in a sense, that was exactly what I wanted. Except having a new puppy was hard. On the one hand, I think I’d forgotten how difficult having a puppy can be, and on the other hand, I swear this puppy was more difficult than our first dog was when he was a puppy. But at any rate, having a puppy turned out to be hell, kind of. I was mad at the puppy for being a puppy, and I was mad at the puppy for not being my old dog. And, in some moments, I took all of this in stride. In some moments I was like, of course this is what it’s like. How could it be any other way? It’s a weird transition, and that’s okay! And in other moments I was like, goddamnit, this sucks.
But then, things changed. The puppy got more mature by the day. We settled into life with him. And he turned out to be a rather sweet and wonderful creature. If we’re speaking in harsh, objective terms, he really was and is a better dog than my old dog was. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my old dog immeasurably, and nothing will ever change that. But my old dog was kind of a jerk, and this new guy is sweet as pie. Very different temperments. And, as I got to know this new dog, and as I made it through the challenges of dealing with his newness, I had moments of appreciating him so profoundly. His name is Julius, by the way. Julius is the puppy, and Seymour was my old dog. I even had moments of being grateful that Seymour had died when he did so that we were able to get Julius. And those moments felt kinda great, kind of BEYOND great, AND they also kind of felt like betrayals of Seymour, or of my love for Seymour. And then those moments would pass, and I would have days of missing Seymour like crazy and not appreciating Julius all that much. And then things would change again, and again, and again. It was this interesting mash-up of love and loss and grief and joy and appreciation and irritation and a whole bunch of other flavors, too.
Then at some point, the scale sorta tipped. We’ve had Julius for about ten months, as I’m recording this, and at some point in the last few months it really started to seem like he was just IT. He was my dog. He is my dog. I was no longer going around thinking about how he wasn’t Seymour. I became too busy loving him for being Julius. That doesn’t mean I’m not still sad about Seymour when I think about him. I am sometimes. But I’m also more focused on what’s in front of me right now, and more interested in enjoying this precious little dog who is still very much a puppy than I am in thinking about what has already come and gone. That transition took TIME. And it’s felt weird at times. But my heart is so much fuller for having been willing to go through that weirdness. Allowing myself to love Julius has been a real gift. But doing that really did require me to move through a whole lot of grief and some resistance to feeling love for a new dog, and doing that felt mighty strange at times. But it was SO worth it. So insanely worth it. But I wouldn’t have gotten to experience this part without having been willing to experience the other parts.
So embrace your grief! And embrace the process of moving through grief, and eventually, into a new chapter of your life. Allow the fullness of your human experience to be all the things.
Okay. That is it for today. If you would like my help resolving your infidelity situation 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. I offer confidential, compassionate coaching via Zoom, which means we can work together no matter where you’re located. Together we will help you find relief, and a clear path forward. I can’t wait to meet you.
Thank you all so much for listening! Have a great week. Bye for now.