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 – or have been – 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. A lot of the so-called “help” that’s out there for people who are cheating is little more than thinly veiled judgment, but that is not what I provide. I provide support and guidance that respects the fullness of your humanity, and the complexity of your situation. The point of working with me is to resolve your infidelity situation in a way that you feel great about, so that you can love your love life, AND you can love your whole life as well. Infidelity situations can be pretty exciting and life-affirming, but they can also become really stressful and exhausting. At some point, you probably want to make some choices and changes so that you can have the love life you want to have, instead of dealing with all of the drama in your love life and having that drama take up a huge portion of your precious time and energy. Right?!
I offer one-on-one coaching that is tailored to your specific needs, and if you’re interested in working with me in that way you can head right on over to my website, mariemurphyphd.com, and schedule an introductory coaching session with me. Also, I’m very happy to announce that starting in January I will be offering two new ways that you can have me as your coach – I’ll be offering a group coaching program called “You’re Not the Only One” that will include teachings that go beyond what I offer on the podcast, as well as anonymous group coaching calls. And I’ll be offering a self-study course that includes JUST my teachings and assignments, without the group coaching calls, for those of you who want a DIY approach. I have a new website, and you can go to that new website and sign yourself up on the list to be notified when these new programs become available for you to join. The web address is mariemurphyphd.com, and you can go to the services page for more info on all of the ways you can work with me.
All right! Onward. The title of this episode doesn’t fully convey what we’re going to talk about today. We’re going to talk about integrating your FORMER affair partner, who is now just your partner, into your family, or into your community of friends and family and acquaintances, and we’re going to talk about doing this during the holidays.
So let me paint the picture for you. You and your current partner, who got together within the context of some sort of infidelity thing happening, are going into your first holiday season as an above-board couple. And for the purposes of this episode, we’re going to assume that the holidays are really important to you, and integrating your former affair partner who is now just your partner into your family, and into your community of peoples is really important to you, and it’s really important to you that you successfully integrate your person into your family during THIS holiday season. For the purposes of today’s episode, we’re going to assume that your hopes are pretty high. You don’t just want your partner to be accepted by the people who are important to you, you don’t just want the holidays to be tolerable, you want your people to make it very obvious that your new partner is welcome, and you the holidays to be perfect. Or magical. Or if not magical or perfect, then at least really really good. You want the holidays to go so well that you feel like you have PROOF that your new partner is accepted, and your relationship with them is accepted, and all is right in the world.
Before I go any further, let me tell you that I’m not going to keep on saying “your former affair who is now just your partner.” I’m just going to say, “your partner,” or “your new partner.” And I’m going refer to your “new” partner and your “new” relationship, even though your relationship with your person might not actually be all that new. But we’ll assume that it’s new to some people in your life. Or it’s new in the sense that the relationship has become public knowledge fairly recently, like, maybe since the last holiday season.
First, let’s speak in general terms about how you can handle the holidays with your new partner, and then we’ll talk about how you might deal with two specific holiday situations.
Perhaps most importantly, you have every right to decide that your new relationship is not that big of a deal. You have every right to decide that no matter how your relationship began, what matters now is that you and your partner are happy with each other. You have every right to decide that even if people are aggressively curious about the details of the context in which your relationship with your new person began, the origins of your relationship aren’t really anyone else’s business. You can decide that you EXPECT other people to welcome your new partner, and embrace your relationship with them. So WHAT if your relationship began in the context of some sort of infidelity happening? You can decide that that simply does not matter, and that if other people think that matters, that’s their business and their problem.
Does setting your expectations COMPEL people to behave in the way you’d like them to? No, certainly not. But to an extent, we show people how we wanted be treated through how we treat ourselves. You have the power and the prerogative to set the tone for how your new relationship is going to be regarded. And that starts with deciding what you think about your relationship, and how you’re going to act in relation to your relationship.
You can just act as if your relationship is a thing to be embraced, and expect everyone around you to follow suit. You don’t have to wait for other people’s approval. You don’t have to worry that you might not get other people’s approval. You don’t have to freak out about what other people might think about your new relationship. You don’t have to walk around wearing a Scarlet letter A, or walk around as IF you are wearing a Scarlet letter A on you. That doesn’t mean you have to overdo it, and make a big show out of your new relationship. You can just act like it’s totally normal for the two of you to be together.
Now I know some of you will say, but how can I do that? Don’t I need to make sure other people – or more specifically, my family members – are okay with my relationship? Here’s the deal: it’s fair enough to want your new partner to be integrated into your family. It’s fair enough to want your relationship to be accepted by people you care about. But you don’t have to wait for other people’s approval or acceptance to signal to other people that you and your partner and your relationship are worthy of other people’s acceptance. You do not have to make your own well-being conditional upon other people’s approval. And, interestingly enough, when you show other people that you don’t think your new relationship is a particularly big deal, they’re likely to follow suit. If you are afraid that other people might not approve of your new relationship, or if you believe that your new relationship and how it began is a thing of fascination, well, other people may follow your lead. In both subtle and unsubtle ways, we can exert leadership and show other people how we want to be treated. So we want to be very clear about how we’re leading people, or what tone we’re setting.
So set the tone you want to set, and assume that there is a very good chance that other people will follow your lead. There is also a good chance that other people won’t even need to follow your lead – they’ll just be happy to welcome your new partner with open arms. Yes, plenty of people out there think poorly of infidelity, and those who engage in it, and plenty of people out there love to sling a little mud, and disparage relationships that began in the context of infidelity. BUT there are also plenty of people out there who are understanding of the fact that human relationships can be nuanced and complex and complicated and messy. Plenty of people out there are happy when someone they care about finds themselves in a loving relationship – no matter how that relationship began. Plenty of people out there are willing to change their minds about things. So it’s entirely possible that integrating your new partner into your community, and introducing them to your holiday traditions won’t be terribly difficult or awkward – or won’t be difficult or awkward at ALL. It’s important to allow yourself to embrace the possibility that this doesn’t have to be hard. Integrating your new partner into your circle of loved ones doesn’t have to be a big deal. The origins of your relationship, no matter WHAT they were, don’t have to be a big deal to anybody.
That said, it is possible that people will be total stinkers about your new relationship. It is possible that people will be VERY fixated on the origins of your new relationship. It is possible that people will be total jerks to you. I have a podcast episode on this very topic, in fact, and it is episode number 122. And if your loved ones respond to your new relationship in a jerk-ish manner, it may hurt like hell. And if that happens, your pain is legitimate – but you probably don’t want to let it get the better of you. You probably do not want to put yourself at the mercy of other people’s opinions, or other people’s statements, or behaviors.
So if you know you’re in a situation where someone or some people who are important to you disapprove of your new relationship – like, for instance, if some member of your family has told you that they never want to meet your new partner, and will never accept them into their life, or something to that effect – or if that’s the situation that you think you have good reason to imagine you will find yourself in, here’s what I want to suggest to you.
You are playing a long game.
Yes, you may want your person and your relationship to be accepted by the people you care about, and you may want it to happen right now, or during THIS holiday season. You may want that very badly.
And that’s fair to want, but you might not get exactly what you want now. You might not get the sort of inclusion or acceptance or approval you might want right now. And that might hurt a lot.
BUT. Even if you do not get what you want from other people in terms of responses to your new person or your new relationship during THIS holiday season, that does not mean that all is lost. It may take some folks a while to embrace your new relationship, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get there eventually.
Is it possible that some people will NEVER get there? Yes, of course it’s POSSIBLE. But that’s not the possibility that I encourage you to focus on right now. Right now, I encourage you to focus on the possibility that things CAN change to your liking. I want you to consider that even if people you care about are total doo doo heads about your new relationship now, that doesn’t mean they will be forever. And if what you ultimately want is to have good relationships with these people who are currently being stinkers, and want your partner to be accepted as part of your family, you may want to give people a pass on their less-than-great behavior for a little while, and that may mean through the holidays this year.
Remember. Lots of people have very strong feelings about how the holidays are supposed to be. Some people will get it in their head that having adulterers like you and your partner in their house will SPOIL THEIR HOLIDAYS and DEFILE THEIR HOME and make everything in their life horrible.
You know what we say to that? Bless their little hearts.
You do not have to agree with their perspectives. You don’t have to worry about what they think. Sure, it might sting to not have them welcome you and your partner warmly to their holiday function, but you don’t have to believe that they are right about you, and you don’t have to be defined by their unfortunate behavior. If they don’t want you coming over for the holiday fiesta they’re hosting, you don’t have to let that be the end of the world. Go and create your own fun with your partner.
And then, you can always circle back to the issue at a less-charged time of year. Let people have their strong ideas about how the holidays are supposed to be, let people have their strong opinions about your relationship, and then figure out how you want to deal with the issue of their stance towards you when less seems to be at stake, and everyone’s emotions are running a little lower.
Remember, your happiness, your contentment, your positive self-regard does not have to be dependent on what other people do and don’t do. You can want your new relationship to be embraced by people you care about, and you can also be okay if it isn’t. You CAN hold those experiences simultaneously. Disappointment that other people aren’t regarding you in the way that you would like, and a sense of your own okay-ness that isn’t dependent upon other people.
AND you can work towards creating the kind of situation with your community and your new partner that you want in the long run.
Okay, now let’s get a little more specific, and talk about how the general suggestions I’ve just given you can be applied or adjusted in two kinds of situations – someone else hosting a holiday event, or you and your partner hosting a holiday event.
If you are dealing with an event that someone else is hosting, and you are nervous about how you and your partner are going to be received, you could get in touch with the host and have a frank discussion about your concerns. You could say something to the effect of, “Hey, as you may be aware, there have been some changes in my life, and I want to check in and make sure that my partner and I are welcome at your holiday event this year.” Depending on your relationship with this person, and depending on their current thoughts about your relationship, this conversation could provide a great opportunity for you to communicate openly with someone you care about, get on the same page, and officially garner the support you’d like to have. The host might make it absolutely clear that OF COURSE your partner will be more than welcome in their home, and learning that may help you feel like a million bucks. And, that moment of communication might augment your relationship with the host in ways that are pretty awesome, and your love for your community may swell, and the conversation could foster a strengthening of ties. How lovely!
But here’s the thing. If you’re going to potentially get the benefits from having a conversation like that, you have to be brave enough to have a conversation like that. And you have to be willing to tolerate the possibility that the host may not respond favorably to what you have to say. They might say something pretty awful, like “There’s no way you and that horrible person who broke up your marriage will ever be welcome in my home.” That might not be very fun to hear. Or they might say something lukewarm, like “Yeah, I GUESS it’s fine if they come.” If what you were hoping for was a strong statement of approval and inclusion, that sort of faint acceptance might send you reeling.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Having an honest talk with a host of an event about your new relationship could bring you everything you want in terms of reassurance. But it might not. If it doesn’t, at least you know what cards you’re playing with, and you can decide how you want to proceed from there.
One other option that’s worth mentioning is having an emissary do this kind of communicating for you. Depending on the norms of your context, your family, your community, your holiday traditions, you MIGHT deem it appropriate to have someone you trust talk to the host of the holiday event in question. “Might” and “appropriate” were the two key words in that last sentence. I don’t recommend that you try and get someone else to try to talk to the host of a holiday event just because you’re uncomfortable with talking to them. That might not be a great reason to try to get someone else to be your emissary. BUT, if the norms of your culture in general or your family in particular hold that this is a better way to address family issues, that’s fair enough. If that’s how you communicate about sensitive matters or important matters in your realm, and it works for everybody involved, then by all means, send someone you trust to talk to your host and let them make the case for your new relationship to be embraced and respected.
And again, to echo what I said earlier, if none of this works out to your liking, remember that you are playing the long game. This holiday season may be important to you, but if it doesn’t go as you want to it to, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any hope for you getting more of what you want in the future.
Now let’s talk about how things might be different if you are the one hosting a holiday event. You have quite a bit of tone-setting power as a host. You’re on your turf. You and your new partner get to say hey, we’re here, we exist, please come to our holiday event. We can’t wait to share this time with you. Again, to echo something I said earlier, you can act as if everything is totally cool, and you can expect others to follow your lead. Acting like everything’s cool doesn’t mean you act like nothing has happened, necessarily – but you can acknowledge that your relationship is a new thing – or a “new” thing – without buying into the idea that it needs to be an object of other people’s fascination, or excessive interest. You can invite people to your event as if there is nothing to be explained, and let everyone know that this is the new normal. How they get used to that is up to them, but you get to dictate parts of this new reality.
What if some of your likely guests have already made it clear that they don’t like the idea of spending the holidays – even if only a few hours thereof - with you and your new partner? Here’s the really important thing to be aware of, that you may have to remind yourself of many times. You can make your wishes known to other people. You have every right to tell other people what you want and what you expect. They still get to do whatever they’re going to do, and you probably do not want to make your emotions dependent on their choices. But you have the power and right to set the table, literally and figuratively.
Let’s say that you were married, and you have kids, and you had an affair, and your spouse found out about the affair, and you and your spouse got divorced, and it wasn’t terribly pleasant, and now you and your former affair partner are living together. And your kids are really mad at you, for “breaking up the family,” for cheating on their other parent. And let’s say they have been threatening to not come to any holiday events at which your new partner is present.
You have every right to sit your kids down and say, “Look. I know you don’t like what happened. I can understand why you might be uncomfortable with me being in the relationship that I’m in. But this is part of my life now. And you and I are part of each other’s lives, and I would appreciate it if you could start to embrace this new aspect of our shared reality, even if only to a limited extent. I’m not asking you to become best friends with my new partner. But I am asking you to spend some time around this person with an open heart and an open mind. I’m asking you to participate and be courteous and respectful. I’m asking you to be a team player.”
Of course you can tailor this to what’s appropriate for your relationship with your kids. If you wanted to you, you could tell your kids, “Look, I EXPECT you to come to this holiday event that my partner and I are hosting together. This person is part of our family now, and I expect you to begin to accommodate that.” That might not fly in some families, but in others, that sort of approach might be exactly right.
It is your prerogative to tell other people what you expect of them. It’s probably going to work out better if you do this in a loving and respectful manner, of course, but you have the right to say, “This is what I expect from you, in the context of our relationship.” Now, it is the other person’s prerogative to not do what you tell them you expect. The point of telling someone what you expect of them is not to try to MAKE them do what you want. Or at least, if that’s what you’re hoping will happen, you may be very disappointed. Rather, by telling someone what you expect of them, you’re giving them the opportunity to choose to think differently about what they want to do, knowing what they now know about what’s important to you.
Sometimes people think it’s really important to get all worked up about infidelity, or to blame cheaters for being bad people, and to shun relationships that started within the context of infidelity. This is a feature of our cultural landscape, for better or worse. If it’s a failing, it’s more of a social failing than an individual failing. So we can, at least to an extent, realize that when people get all worked up about relationships that started with an infidelity factor, they’re just buying into ideas that are widely shared. In a sense, their beliefs and actions are about you insofar as they may be directed towards you, but in another sense, they aren’t really about you.
So. When you tell someone, in so many words, I don’t care that my relationship started in the context of an infidelity situation. This is my relationship now. When you tell someone, I expect you to accept this, or at least politely tolerate it, you may be prompting someone to think differently. You can’t force them to think differently, but you can ASK them to consider thinking differently. And your request, or your setting of your expectation, may indeed inspire people to start thinking differently! And they may ultimately be better off for that, and you may ultimately get more of what you want, and everyone may win. But in order for that to happen, you have to have to courage to be your own advocate. You have to have to courage to believe that your relationship is perfectly okay, even if other people don’t think that yet. Or even if you just don’t know what other people think yet. You have to have the courage to believe that you have the right to have expectations, and the right to communicate your expectations.
Okay. If you are very much hoping that your family or your community will embrace your new relationship this holiday season, and you’re also pretty concerned that they might not, I encourage you to remember that the entire future will not be determined by this holiday season. If things don’t go the way you want, that may be tough for you, but that doesn’t mean that the future will only be more of the same. Have faith in what is possible.
ALSO, if you’re concerned about variables beyond your control, see what you can do to create the kinds of holiday experiences you want to have that are not dependent upon other people. If the holidays are important to you, how can you make them special for you NO MATTER WHAT anybody else does? And, on a different but related note, what can you and your partner do together that will be special for you, even if other people in your life aren’t being cool about your relationship? How can you create the kinds of holiday experiences you want to have with them, no matter what? Take responsibility for what you have the power to control. Even if some things aren’t going the way you’d like, you can ensure that some things are to your liking. Use that power to your advantage.
All right everyone, that’s it for today. I invite you to check out my new website, mariemurphyphd.com and sign up to be notified about when my new coaching offerings will be ready for your participation – or, if you’re ready to talk about your infidelity situation ASAP, you can schedule yourself an introductory coaching session with me. 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.
Thank you all so much for listening! Have a great week. Bye for now.