Hi everyone, I’m Dr. Marie Murphy. I’m a relationship coach and I help people who are engaging in anything they think counts as infidelity to deal with their feelings, clarify what they want, and make decisions about what they’re going to do. No shame, no blame, no judgments. If you are ready to begin the process of resolving your infidelity situation in a way that’s truly right for you, I can help you do it. There are three ways we can work together. You can join my secret society/group coaching program called “You’re Not the Only One” which includes group coaching calls that are held in a way that protects your privacy, and a library of my teachings on how to resolve your infidelity situation in a way that you feel great about. The teachings are available through an online portal that you can access anytime, anywhere. There’s also the self-guided, DIY version of “You’re Not the Only One,” which includes all of the online teachings, but does not include access to the group coaching calls. Last but not least, we can work together one-on-one. To learn more about all of these options, go to the services page of my website – mariemurphyphd.com/services.
I read a quote earlier today that I really liked, and it goes like this: “The transformational work of human evolution is both super hard, and super-doable.” I don’t know the source of that line. The person who sent it to me didn’t attribute it to anyone specific, and when I googled it, nothing came up. Anyway, even if I don’t know who gets credit for putting those words together, I want to suggest that this is a lovely, productive, helpful way to think about any aspects of your life that you find challenging to grapple with. Including, of course, your infidelity situation.
Today we’re going to talk about fear, which is, whether we recognize it or not, one of the things that make our infidelity situations seem so hard to deal with. And we’re going to talk about how when we learn how to relate to fear, that makes the work of dealing with our infidelity situations in a way that we actually like a lot more do-able. I want to encourage you to keep on listening to this episode even if you don’t think that you feel a lot of fear in relation to your infidelity situation. Or maybe even ESPECIALLY if you don’t think you feel a lot of fear in relation to your infidelity situation.
I’m going to say this in a number of different ways today, but I want to make it clear from the start that fear is a normal – that’s a word I have some issues with, but I think it actually fits in this case – human emotion. It’s a naturally occurring human emotion. And it can be really helpful to consider it an inevitable, UNPROBLEMATIC feature of the human experience.
And with that, it’s pretty normal – “normal” – and natural and perhaps inevitable to have fears related to your infidelity situation. There are a LOT of things people tend to fear in relation to their infidelity situations. Lots of folks are very afraid of making the “wrong decision.” Many people are downright terrified of hurting other people’s feelings. Lots of us are afraid of what other people might think of us if we were to make certain choices in relation to our infidelity situation, or certain changes in our lives. Many of us are afraid of how our relationships with others might change if we pursue the changes in our love lives that we want to make – for instance, a lot of people who have kids are pretty darn afraid of what might happen to their relationship with their kids if they were to make certain decisions about their infidelity situation. And then there’s just the good ‘ole fear of change in general. There’s the fear of the unknown, or the fear of the uncertainty that might come with making changes in your life.
And that’s just a short list of things that people are often afraid of in relation to their infidelity situations.
It’s not UNREASONABLE to be afraid of these things.
And it isn’t bad to feel fear.
BUT, we do want to develop a conscious relationship with fear, because when we don’t relate consciously to fear, things tend to happen that we don’t like – and we often don’t recognize the role fear is playing in what’s going on. When I say “things tend to happen that we don’t like,” what I really mean is, we tend to behave in ways that do not help us get more of what we truly want. Our actions – or inactions – are informed by our emotional state. And when we don’t relate to fear in an intentional, deliberate way, we often end up doing some pretty weird shit. To use the most technical terminology possible.
What I see in my work with my clients is that some people are really aware that they’re feeling fear about various aspects of their infidelity situation. They’re like, I am totally terrified of making the wrong decision. I’m terrified my kids will hate me if I leave their other parent to be with someone else. I’m terrified that if I leave my partner, I might give up on the best thing I could have had, and I’ll be alone forever. Or whatever. These are just a few examples.
On the other hand, some of my clients will tell me that they are really scared about various things happening in relation to their infidelity situation, but then they’ll walk it back and say something like, “Well, I’m not really afraid of that. It’s just something that I think about sometimes.” Like, for example, people will say things like, “I am SO afraid of having to go through an awful divorce,” and I’ll say, “Yeah, I get it, tell me more about what specifically you’re afraid might be awful about a divorce” and they’ll say, “Oh, I’m not really that worried about getting a divorce, I know I’d get through it.”
My sense is that when we say these kinds of things, or think these kinds of things, part of what’s going on is that we’re trying to deny our experience of fear. That may not always be the only thing that’s going on, but methinks it’s often a part of it. My observation is that a lot of us really don’t want to feel fear. My observation is that a lot of us don’t want to admit that we’re feeling fear when we notice that we are indeed feeling it. And my opinion is that this is sort of reasonable, in a way, because most of us don’t LIKE the feeling of fear. We don’t like the sheer physical experience of that emotion, so we try to avoid having to feel it, and we try to deny its presence when we know we are feeling it. And in addition to not liking how fear FEELS, we also tend to think that fear means something. We sometimes think that if we’re afraid something is going to happen, that’s an indication that it will actually happen. We think fear is an indicator that we indeed ought to be afraid. And, we may also think that feeling fear means something about US. There’s this vague but powerful idea out there that fear is bad – or at least, that it’s not a good feeling to feel, and sometimes we make it mean that there’s something wrong with us if we’re feeling it.
As I’ve talked about before on this podcast, we’ve collectively done ourselves a tremendous disservice by valorizing a certain set of emotions, and pathologizing a certain set of emotions. We think it’s good to feel happy, and bad to feel sad, for instance. And fear is one of those emotions that we don’t tend to valorize! We don’t tend to think that feeling fear is a good thing, or even an okay thing, or maybe just a routine part of the human experience, that we can learn to relate to. We collectively tend to regard fear as something to be feared. Right?
Given all of that, I don’t think it’s surprising at all that sometimes we try to minimize our downplay or completely deny our own experiences of fear.
But I also want to suggest that it is SO much more helpful to learn how to acknowledge and allow fear, rather than trying to deny or resist or avoid it.
And before you start to protest and say, “Well, I don’t try to deny or resist or avoid fear,” I want to suggest that the ways we do this are often pretty sneaky. For instance, if you are trying to talk yourself out of your fear by telling yourself that your fear is irrational, or that the thing you’re afraid of isn’t something you should be afraid of, I want you to consider that even though those sorts of lines might SOUND rational or helpful or logical, it may be a lot more appropriate to regard this kind of self-talk as attempts to deny or resist or avoid your fear.
If you’re doing this, if you’re attempting to deny or resist or avoid feeling fear, there isn’t anything wrong with you. If you’re like, “Oh yeah, I totally do that,” you don’t have to scold yourself or give yourself a hard time. But, you may want to bring your awareness to your tendency to do this, and consider making an active effort to shift your relationship to fear. And although I can pretty much guarantee that being willing to be more aware of your fear and being willing to feel your fear instead of attempting to NOT feel it will be uncomfortable at first, I can also promise you that relating to your fear in a different way will ultimately be worth it. In regards to dealing with your infidelity situation in a way that you feel great about, AND in regards to other areas of your life as well.
This might not sound very appealing! But it’s actually great stuff – it just requires us to contend with our own humanity.
So how can we develop a different relationship with fear? The first thing we want to remember is that fundamentally, our emotions are sensations in our body that are generated by our thinking. We tend to make feelings, or emotions, into something more complex and complicated. But when we relate to feelings with the understanding that they are sensations, or vibrations in our body that are created by our thinking, it becomes much simpler to relate to them. So fear, like any other emotion, when we treat it as a discrete unit of experience, is just a set of physical sensations. Crazy, right? I know. Now, the physical sensations that comprise the experience of fear may not be ones we consider comfortable, but we can learn how to skillfully tolerate discomfort. To echo what I said earlier, we tend to think that feeling fear means something bad is happening, or something bad is going to happen. We tend to think that fear is an indicator that we SHOULD be afraid, but it really isn’t. Fear is created through our thinking. It’s the product of thoughts we have already thought. It’s not necessarily an indicator that anything has gone wrong or will go wrong.
Now, just to be clear, sometimes we feel fear, and it’s because we are registering that something IS very much amiss, and we need to react immediately. If we see a bus hurdling towards us as we are crossing the street, we may quickly think “oh my god, it could hit me” and then we’ll feel fear. If that’s what’s happening, we probably want to get out of the way of the bus as fast as we can.
But our brains are also capable of thinking thoughts that produce the emotion of fear even when there isn’t an actual threat of any kind in front of us. Our brains are capable of thinking thoughts about things that might never happen that can produce a LOT of fear for us in the present moment. And this matters, because our emotional state gives us the capacity, or the propensity, to act in particular ways, or to refrain from acting in particular ways. When we’re feeling fear, we have the tendency to do things that can generally be described as fighting, fleeing, freezing, or fawning. And sometimes, we really DO need to do those kinds of things. If someone attacks us, we may want to fight back. If we’re crossing the street and a bus is speeding towards us, we may want to flee as fast as we can.
But sometimes those kinds of actions aren’t warranted. Sometimes there really isn’t much HAPPENING when we feel fear. Sometimes we’re just sitting around thinking about what MIGHT happen. But when that’s what’s going on, if our thoughts are producing fear, we may still take actions that constitute fleeing or fighting or freezing or fawning within our infidelity situation.
And in the short term, those kinds of actions may indeed help us avoid or minimize our experience of fear. But taking these kinds of actions will not solve for feeling fear more generally, and probably will not generate outcomes that we like in the medium term or long term. So for example, if we’re terrified to tell our spouse that we want a divorce because we’re afraid that if we do, they might ask us, “Are you having an affair?” feeling that fear may lead us to avoid having a conversation with our spouse in which we tell them, hey, I don’t want to be married to you anymore. And not having that conversation will indeed allow us to temporarily avoid doing something we’re afraid to do… but it also means we stay in a marriage we don’t want to stay in. It also means we don’t get to pursue an above-board relationship with our affair partner – if that’s what we want to do.
And in the short term, that might not seem like the end of the world. We may tell ourselves things like, “Oh, my marriage isn’t that bad. If it weren’t for my affair partner, I’d probably be happy enough in my marriage, or at least I wouldn’t feel this pull to leave my marriage. I wouldn’t be thinking about leaving at all.” I know some of you are nodding in recognition of your own tendencies as you hear me say this.
Here’s the thing: if you want to stay in your marriage, you can choose to stay in your marriage! For whatever reasons you want to. It helps a lot to have reasons that you LIKE for making that decision, but you can choose to stay in your marriage even if you’re having an affair and theoretically, you might like to leave your marriage so that you can pursue a relationship with your affair partner. You can make choices that contradict some of your own preferences, in other words.
BUT. Consciously and deliberately CHOOSING to stay married is very different from being afraid to leave your marriage, and coming up with reasons why it’s okay for you to stay married because you’re too scared to leave. What you’re doing in the latter scenario is looking for ways to avoid fear. That’s very different from intentionally choosing to stay married because you actually want to.
I want you to consider that sometimes – not all the time, but sometimes – the reason you don’t want to do something is because you think doing it will be scary, and you don’t want to have to feel fear, or feel scared. I’m not saying that’s happening ALL THE TIME, but I want you to consider that it may well be a thing that happens with you sometimes. And this may be an important factor in how you are relating to your infidelity situation.
When we understand that the essence of the challenge we’re facing is that we’re feeling fear, or we’re afraid of feeling fear, the challenge becomes simpler to deal with. When we think that the objective nature of the challenge itself is the problem, we confuse ourselves and keep ourselves stuck.
So going back to my previous example, if you want to tell your spouse that you want a divorce, but you’re afraid to do so, in part because you’re afraid they’ll ask you if you’ve been having an affair, it’s fair enough to find that scary. You are allowed to find ANYTHING scary. Humans are capable of being scared of anything. Nothing is objectively scary or not scary. It’s our individual thinking that makes something scary to us or not scary to us, and it’s okay to think in ways that create fear. No fear is inherently rational or irrational. And that’s ONE of the many reasons why telling yourself that you shouldn’t feel fear because it’s irrational to be afraid of whatever you’re afraid of is NOT HELPFUL AT ALL. NOT AT ALL!
Anyway, the steps you would need to take to tell your spouse you want a divorce are not that complicated. You could simply sit them down and say, “I want a divorce.” We usually think it has to be more complicated than that, but it really doesn’t have to be. It is of course fair enough to want to say something OTHER THAN simply “I want a divorce,” but even so, it doesn’t HAVE to be difficult or complicated to come up with what you want to say and then say it. Those actions, in and of themselves, are pretty straightforward. It’s our fear that makes them seem anything but straightforward.
And when we don’t recognize that, when we don’t recognize that we are feeling fear, and we don’t like what we’re feeling, and we don’t recognize that it’s FEAR that is making life so complicated, not the circumstances we’re contending with in and of themselves, we dig ourselves into a deeper hole. And life gets harder. Or at least, life SEEMS harder.
So we need to be able to consciously relate to the experience of feeling fear. There are three major components to this.
The first is being able to recognize and acknowledge when we’re feeling fear. This is really simple, but it isn’t necessarily easy at first. If we’re at all resistant to the idea of feeling fear, or to the experience of feeling it in our bodies, or both, acknowledging that we are feeling fear and then allowing the sensations of fear to be present in our bodies is a pretty big deal. Simple, and do-able, but a significant change from what most of us are in the habit of doing. The good news is, we can change our habits.
The second thing we need to be able to do is manage our THINKING about what feeling fear means in the moment we’re feeling it. When we notice ourselves feeling fear, we can ask ourselves, am I in danger right now? Is there anything I need to do right this minute to keep myself safe from harm? Maybe there IS something you need to do right that moment to protect yourself or others. If there is, do that thing! If the bus is coming at you at a speed you don’t like, get out of the way.
But if you recognize that there really isn’t any imminent danger to you in the moment, it’s time to take a look at what you’re thinking. Your thoughts are creating the feeling of fear, so if you want to feel less fear, you’ve got to get clear on what you’re thinking, and be willing to negotiate with your own thoughts.
So to stick with the example I’ve been using, if we’re afraid of telling our spouse that we want a divorce because we’re afraid they’re going to ask us if we’re having an affair, and we ARE having an affair, and we are terrified of having to admit that and we don’t really love the idea of lying about that – or we don’t think that we could get away with lying about it even if we tried our hardest – we may reasonably feel some fear! And by that I mean, this kind of thinking is probably going to generate fear! Fear is the likely product of thoughts like those. If we want to feel less fear, we’re going to have to shift our thinking. But that may be hard to do when we’re already feeling a lot of fear.
When emotion is high, intelligence is low. When we’re pretty emotionally agitated, like we are when we’re feeling a lot of fear, it’s pretty hard to slow down and say hey, okay, here’s what’s going on. I’m feeling a lot of fear, and I know that fear is created by my thinking, so maybe I want to adjust my thinking so I can feel less fear. We just don’t have the capacity to do that when our emotions are cranked up to maximum volume, or maximum intensity.
So, interestingly, if we want to think our way out of our fear, we first have to be able to digest the emotion of fear enough to think clearly. And that’s the third component of consciously relating to our experience of fear. We have to be willing to allow ourselves to feel it when it arises. Rather than attempting to avoid it or deny it or distract ourselves from it or numb ourselves to it. This may not be immediately comfortable! Feeling fear can be pretty darn uncomfortable. But when we’re willing to allow it instead of resisting it, it passes through us more quickly. And then we feel better sooner! We’re free from fear a lot sooner if we allow ourselves to feel it than we are if we keep on trying to resist it.
Once you’ve allowed the fear to move through you and you feel less fearful, you’re THEN able to think about how you want to handle a situation that seems scary to you, and actually handle it – instead of running away from it.
So if the situation is that you’re afraid to tell your spouse you want to leave your marriage because you’re afraid they’ll ask if you’re having an affair, how might you actually handle that if you aren’t paralyzed with fear? Well, you could decide that you’re willing to talk to your spouse even though you feel fear, and you’re just going to see how the conversation goes after you deliver your essential message. You could do that! When you recognize that the conversation itself isn’t nearly as much of an issue as your fear is, this option may seem a lot more viable. But that’s only one of the options available to you. You could also think seriously about how you want to handle the “Are you having an affair?” question if it comes up. You could decide ahead of having the conversation how you will respond if you are indeed asked that question. And then you can decide that you’re as prepared as you can possibly be for a conversation that will probably be scary no matter how prepared you are. And then you can go through with having the conversation, and you can be WILLING to feel scared as you do so. Because you know that fear is a normal part of the human experience, you know it’s not a PROBLEM to feel fear, and you know that you can tolerate feeling the sensations of fear when you feel them in your body. And, you can also decide that it’s WORTH IT to do something you find scary, even if the fear feels really intense!
Our so-called lower brain wants to panic when we feel fear, which is a totally human thing, but is not super fun to experience. Fear feels bad enough, but panic on top of fear doesn’t feel all that great. Our lower brain, or our “lizard brain” wants to just freak out when we feel fear, without questioning why we’re feeling fear in the first place, or without asking ourselves whether or not we can handle feeling the fear.
But we can use the so-called higher brain to respond to what’s going on within our so-called lower brain. We can say hey, okay, I see what’s happening… I’m feeling fear and I’m REACTING to feeling fear. We can say hey, I’m feeling fear, and I know fear is generated from my thinking, so let me see if I can identify the thoughts that generated my fear, and deal with them in a considered way. We can say, hey, I may truly not like the idea of my spouse asking me if I’m having an affair if I ask them for a divorce, but I don’t have to let the fear I feel stop me in my tracks. I can digest enough of my fear to think clearly, and then I can decide, with my higher brain, how I want to handle the situation.
Here's a funny thing about how our minds work, though. Sometimes we’d rather feel certain in thinking that something really bad is going to happen and feel scared about it happening than recognize that the thing we fear might not end up happening at all. Sometimes that sort of uncertainty seems scarier than being sure that something scary might happen.
The things that you’re scared will happen and you’re sure will happen might not happen. And if they did, you might be able to handle them – even if you feel some fear as you do so. Thinking this way is very different from thinking, “I’m sure this really bad thing will happen, and if it does, it will be so so awful and I won’t be able to handle it.”
Anais Nin is quoted as having said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” I think this sounds really nice, and I think that many people may find this to be their experience at times. But I also want to point out that although some definitions of courage emphasize that courage doesn’t imply an absence of fear, it means that you are brave enough to do something even when you feel fear, other definitions of courage suggest that it means you triumph over fear. And I want to suggest that sometimes we don’t exactly triumph over fear, or conquer fear. Sometimes we learn how to coexist with fear. I think this is a really important distinction. Sometimes we learn how to deal with feeling a lot of fear. And that could mean triumphing over fear, perhaps. I may be splitting hairs a little bit, but sometimes subtle adjustments in how we use language can be really helpful. What I really want to emphasize is that sometimes we feel fear, and there’s never a magic moment where the fear subsides, and we feel totally confident and great, and thus we have conquered fear, and can THEN do the thing that we once thought was scary, but now are no longer afraid of. That sort of thing can happen, but it doesn’t always happen. And we don’t have to wait to be free of fear before we can take action. You can be afraid to tell your spouse you want a divorce, and you can still tell your spouse you want a divorce. You don’t have to try and get yourself into a state of no fear. Some coaches I’ve collaborated with like to say that fear can come along for the ride, but it doesn’t get to drive the car.
So instead of saying that life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage, we might say that life shrinks or expands in proportion to your willingness to consciously relate to your fear. I suggest that we learn to relate to fear as something that’s probably going to show up and stick around for a while, every now and then. Or maybe more often than that. Some of us lean towards fear more than others do. Some of us are in the habit of thinking thoughts that generate fear more than others are.
But whether you experience what you consider to be a lot of fear in relation to your infidelity situation, or only a little fear, I can assure you that learning how to deal with that fear consciously is going to make resolving your infidelity situation a lot simpler and a lot easier. So often our unacknowledged fears keep us stuck. The more that we are willing to say, okay, fear is a normal thing, and oh gee whiz, I think I’m feeling some fear myself, the more we can work ourselves out of unproductive patterns of behavior that keep us stuck in our infidelity situations. The more we can consciously relate to our fear, the easier it gets to take action in relation to our infidelity situations that actually helps us make changes that we LIKE.
If you’re ready to learn more about how to consciously relate to the fear you may feel in regards to your infidelity situation, please join me in in “You’re Not the Only One.” There are two ways you can do this: you can join the self-guided course version, which contains my teachings in the form of videos and worksheets delivered to you in an online portal which you can access anytime, anywhere. Or, you can join the group coaching program version of “You’re Not the Only One,” which includes all of my teachings in the online portal, as well as group coaching calls which you can participate in anonymously. To learn more about these ways you can work with me, go to the services page of my website, mariemurphyphd.com/services.
All right everyone! Thank you all so much for listening. Have a great week. Bye for now.