Your Secret is Safe with Me with Dr. Marie Murphy | Why I Do the Work I Do (Part 1)

185: Why I Do the Work I Do (Part 1)

Mar 20, 2024

When it comes to careers, interests can develop from a very early age. Some young kids are super interested in dinosaurs and grow up to be paleontologists. Some kids love art and grow up to become artists. And some kids are sensitive to the special significance of sex-related stuff and grow up to become a non-judgmental infidelity coach! 

As you may be aware, “non-judgmental infidelity coach” is not a job description that exists out there in the world, at least not to my knowledge. This thing I do and the angle I take is pretty unique, and I am dedicated to offering non-judgmental guidance to people actively engaging in any form of infidelity. But how did I get here? What exactly led me to do the work I do?

We don’t always get to see examples of other people having done the things we want to do before we try to do them. Sometimes, the only way to get what we want is to dare to want it, and to dare to believe it’s possible, then to be willing to take one brave step forward at a time.

In this week’s episode of Your Secret is Safe With Me, I share more about where my interest in all things sexuality and the stigma surrounding it came from, and how exactly I came to do the work I do today. I dive deeper into what enables me to conceptualize infidelity and help people in the ways that I do, and how my background and interests from a very young age inform my capacity to help people deal with their infidelity situations in a non-judgmental way.


Are you ready to resolve your infidelity situation in a way that you feel great about? There are two ways we can work together:

Why wait any longer to find some relief and a clear path forward?  Let’s get you the guidance and support you need today!


What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How my journey to becoming a non-judgmental infidelity coach can help you deal with your infidelity situation in a way that feels great to you.
  • What it will probably require of you to start giving yourself permission to make the changes you want in your life.
  • How I realized I was going to have to step up to the plate and take responsibility for configuring a professional life for myself that I loved.
  • Why you need to stop waiting for someone or something to give you permission to make the changes you want in your life.

Listen to the Full Episode:


Featured on the Show:

Are you ready to resolve your infidelity situation in a way that you feel great about? There are two ways we can work together:

Resolving your infidelity situation may take some effort. And it is also totally do-able. Why stay stuck for any longer?  Let’s find you some relief and a clear path forward, starting today.


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.  I know that your infidelity situation may seem like a complicated mess, but I promise you that if you are willing to learn new ways of approaching it, you can resolve your infidelity situation in a way that you feel great about.  And I can help you do that.  I am here to teach you concepts and tools that make dealing with your infidelity situation a whole lot simpler and a whole lot easier.  You do not have to stay stuck in your status quo for any longer.  Together we will find you some relief and a clear path forward, and we can get started on that TODAY. 


There are two ways we can work together.  You can work with me one-on-one, and if you’re interested in that, go to the services page of my website, and book yourself an introductory coaching session.  Or, you can purchase my self-guided course called You’re Not the Only One.  You’re Not the Only One contains teachings and assignments that are based on all of the expertise I’ve developed over the course of helping hundreds of clients deal with their infidelity situations, and these teachings are available to you in an online portal that you can access 24/7.  Head to the services page of my website to access You’re Not the Only One with just a few clicks of your mouse. 


Now, if you’re wondering what’s happened to the GROUP version of You’re Not the Only One that I’ve been talking about for the last several months now, the answer is, I killed it.  I put an end to it.  I totally killed my baby.  And I’m going to tell you all about why I decided to do this in a podcast episode in the not-too-distant future because the story of why I chose to shut down my group program so soon after launching it has MANY parallels to infidelity situations.  But as excited as I am to tell you that whole story, I’m not going to do that today.  For today’s purposes, just know that if you’re looking for my group program, it no longer exists, but you can learn about the two ways you can work with me on the services page of my website.


All right.  Today I’m going to tell you the first part of the story of how I came to do the work I do.  As you may be aware, “Non-judgmental infidelity coach” is not, like, a job description that exists out there in the world.  At least not to my knowledge.  As far as I know, this thing that I do is pretty unique.  I honestly do not know any other professionals – coaches or otherwise – who are dedicated to offering non-judgmental guidance to people who are actively cheating, or engaging in any kind of infidelity.  There are of course professionals who work with infidelity in other ways, such as, for example, helping couples repair their relationship after one person has cheated.  But as far as I know, my angle on infidelity is pretty unique.  Now, having said that, there are about eight billion people on this planet, these days, so I would not be at all surprised if there were in fact other people out there doing work that’s very similar to what I do.  But as of now, I don’t know any of them.  So my point is, it’s not like when I was five years old, somebody sat me down and said, “One day, when you grow up, you can be an astronaut, or a teacher, or plumber, or a chemist, or you can be a non-judgmental infidelity coach.”  That did NOT happen.  Nothing even REMOTELY like that ever happened.  This is a job that I created for myself, out of thin air, so to speak, and that’s part of the reason why I’m telling you the story of how I came to do what I do.  A lot of my clients are pretty sure that they’re going to have to make some big changes in their lives in order to resolve their infidelity situations in ways that they truly feel good about, and many of them are like, “I don’t know if the future that I want for myself is even POSSIBLE.  I don’t know anyone who has done what I want to do.  I don’t know if I’m ALLOWED to re-configure my life in the way that I want to.  And if I can even dare to make the changes that I would really love to make, I don’t if other people in my life will respond well to those changes.”


Here's the thing, people.  Sometimes nobody gives us a roadmap.  Sometimes we don’t get to see examples of other people having done the things we want to do.  Sometimes the only way to get what we want is to dare to want it, and to dare to believe it’s possible, and to be willing to take one brave step forward at a time.  And that’s more or less what I had to do to get to the point of doing the work I do today, and making a living out of it.


And that’s the main reason why I am going to tell you this story, because, quite honestly, I don’t love talking at great length about my history these days, especially not publicly.  And there are several reasons for that.  For one thing, I’m not a memoirist.  Skillfully telling a story of yourself requires some skill, and I don’t necessarily have those skills.  Or at least, I certainly don’t have any formal training in writing memoir.  I read of memoirs, but I don’t write ‘em.  Also, when you put any stories of yourself out there, they’re out there, and people get to interpret them however they want to.  And that’s fine and fair, and that’s just the way it works, but putting yourself out there and then being misinterpreted can be uncomfortable!  And that’s a discomfort I often try to avoid.


I’ve also been reluctant to put forth any sort of explanation of why I do what I do or how I got to doing what I do because, as Mary Karr writes at the outset of _Lit_, one of her memoirs, “any way I tell this story is a lie.”  


And what I think that speaks to is the fact that any story we tell about our lives is an act of creation, not a neutral reflection of a set of literal, absolute truths.  And even though I don’t think that’s a good reason to hold back on telling our stories, because stories give life richness and meaning, it has been a reason why I’ve held back on telling some of my own stories.  Because, for better or worse, I don’t particularly like being reduced to one version of my own narrative.  One version of the narrative is just one version of the narrative.  That doesn’t mean that one version of the narrative isn’t important, but it certainly isn’t the only truth, and being reduced to one version of your truth can be a very unpleasant thing indeed.  And on top of that, when it comes to the question of why I am the way I am, or why I do the work I do, I don’t think there NEED to be any definitive answers.  It’s kind of like eating a great pureed soup, a great blended soup.  When I’m eating a great blended soup, I don’t really care about each individual ingredient that went into it.  What I care about is the excellent soup that I get to eat that has turned into something that is far more than the sum of its parts through an alchemical process that I don’t fully understand and don’t need to fully understand.  I don’t need to know exactly how long the squash was roasted for in order to enjoy the hell out of eating the soup.  I don’t need to know exactly what spices went into the soup.  Because even if I did, what if it was the secret ingredient that was added to the stock that was used as the soup’s base that makes that soup so particularly delicious?


And I think about the work I do as the soup I’ve made out of a lot of different pieces of my personal history and my professional training and experience, and as I’m going about my business every day, I don’t feel much inclination to attempt to tell the story of how the soup got made.  My work is the soup I’ve made, and to me it seems like the final product is the point – not the ingredients that went into it, or the recipe I followed.  Spoiler alert: I definitely wasn’t following a recipe.


However.  Even though I’ve been – and still am – rather reluctant to attempt to put together a coherent narrative of how I got to doing the work I do, I am also fully aware that I shut myself off from being fully known when I withhold stories of who I am and why I do what I do.  Even if any story we tell is just one version of the truth, when we don’t allow ourselves to share ANY versions of our truths, we may not do ourselves any great favors.  And I say this because I think it's something important for all of us to keep in mind.  We all have our right to privacy.  It’s never incumbent upon us to tell any of our stories, or all of our stories.  I firmly believe that we are allowed to keep things to ourselves.


But of course, there’s always a “but.”  There’s always another side to the coin. 


If we don’t share of ourselves, then we may not have to deal getting our story wrong in the telling of it.  We may not have to deal with our stories being misinterpreted.  But we also may rob ourselves of the opportunity to be known and seen and understood.  When we don’t share of ourselves, we may not be able to connect with others in way we otherwise might.


Once upon a time when I lived in San Diego, I volunteered at this place called Being Alive, which was a support center for low-income people living with HIV and AIDS.  It was an absolutely marvelous place in so many ways, but the point is that when I volunteered there, doing bodywork, they had this big room devoted to the bodywork sessions, and in that room there was a poster on the wall that said, “He who conceals his disease cannot expect to be healed.”  And the poster called that an “African proverb” and didn’t get any more specific about the source of that quote or idea.  He who conceals his disease cannot expect to be healed.  It’s an interesting thing to consider. 


Of course, I firmly believe that we all get to decide how we strike the balance between sharing enough of ourselves and sharing too much of ourselves.  And it’s really interesting – for all of my talk about being reluctant to talk about how I got to doing the work I do, there was actually a time in my life when I LOVED to tell people about myself.  I’m pretty confident that at least some people would have considered me an over-sharer, at one point in time.  And then the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, and these days, I talk about myself a whole lot less than I used to.  And there’s a lot I could say about that, but the important point for our purposes is this: people sometimes ask me why I do the work I do, or how I got into this professional niche of mine, and I think that these are pretty reasonable questions!  And when people ask me these kinds questions, I am deeply embarrassed by the answers I give.  I nervously mumble my responses.  I was interviewed for this TV thing about infidelity a couple of years ago and I don’t think I’m supposed to say what it was, but at any rate, they didn’t use my interview in the finished product.  And when I found out that I was not going to be in the actual show, I was SO relieved because the interviewer had asked me how I got to doing the work I do and I don’t remember exactly how I answered the question but I remember thinking that the answer I gave was absolutely terrible, and if that segment of my interview had shown up on a television program that people could watch, I would have been really sad about presenting myself and my professional story in such an unsatisfying way.  Unsatisfying to me, I mean.


  1. That’s the second reason why I’m telling the story of how I got to do what I do. I think it’s totally reasonable for people to ask about why I do what I do, and I’d like really like to give a better answer to that question than I have in the past.    


The third reason why I’m telling you the story of how I got to doing this work I currently do is because it is fundamentally a story of me learning how to be faithful to myself, and learning how to create something that I wanted to exist, but didn’t yet exist.  And those aspects of my story are deeply relevant to many of my clients’ and my listeners’ experiences.


And now, with all of that said, let us begin at the beginning.


Once upon a time, I was little.  And from the time I was very young, it was abundantly clear to me that some people – such as my parents! – had pretty loaded ideas about anything related to sexuality and sex and relationships and people’s bodies.  There was some strange energy associated with these topics in my household, and this was very noticeable to me, even when I was really young.  And of course, the AIDS epidemic began when I was young, so it’s not like my parents were the only people who were kinda freaked out about anything related to sex or sexuality or relationships or bodies or the like. 


Whenever I tell people about these early understandings of mine, they always say, “How did you pick up on this stuff when you were so young?”  Why was I sensitive to the special significance associated with sex-related stuff when I was little?  Why did I pick up on the stigma in the air when, for example, anything related to gay people came up?  IMPORTANT SIDENOTE: remember people, this was decades ago.  In human years, I am in my mid-forties, so things were a little different when I was little.  Homophobia was alive and well when I was young.  “It’s okay to be gay” was NOT a thing when I was in elementary school.  There’s a lot more I could say about that, but I’ll end the sidenote right here. 


So why did I pick up on what I’m calling the “special significance” associated with sexuality when I was so young?  On the one hand, who knows?  Who cares?  Some young kids are super-interested in dinosaurs, and they grow up to be paleontologists.  Some little kids love art and they grow up and become artists.  Some kids develop an interest in space ships when they are like, three days old.  Some little kids start skiing before most kids can walk.  Right?  Little humans have the capacity to become attuned to all sorts of things, or become interested in all sorts of things.  And I just happened to become aware that stigma related to sexuality and all the things related to sexuality was a Thing when I was pretty young. 


But, having said that, there may be another answer to the question of why or how I was attuned to and interested in this kind of stuff from a very young age, and I’ll tell you more about that later.


And this theme continued as I grew up.  I noticed that a lot of people thought all things related to sex were a pretty big deal.  A big deal in different ways, and for different reasons, and this struck me as a little odd.  Later in life, in graduate school, I immersed myself in the sociology of sexuality, and one of the operating premises of the sociology of sexuality is that sexuality is an incredibly important aspect of social life, and very worthy of study, AND sexuality is also a very mundane aspect of human life.  In other words, of course sexuality is a big deal, because everything humans do can be considered a big deal, but it’s not an especially big deal.


Simultaneously, I was also getting a pretty good understanding of the various ways that sexuality and love and relationships and sex could be important aspects in people’s lives.  I read a lot when I was little, for one thing.  And I read a lot of things that I probably wasn’t supposed to be reading.  This was all before the internet, of course.  And when I was young I was interested in the nuances of adult life in a way that it didn’t seem like other kids were.  I’m speculating about that part, but I certainly did pick up on things.


Fast-forward to the first semester of my freshman year of high school.  That semester, I had to take a class called “Living Skills” or “Skills for Living” or something like that.  On the whole, it wasn’t a terrific experience.  But there was a rather lengthy sex education unit within that class, and strangely enough, it was pretty great.  Whoever devised the class had the good sense to bring in an array of teachers and guest speakers to talk about various sexuality-related things, so it wasn’t just one person delivering one sort of message to us.  I think the “regular teacher,” or the teacher that taught the class consistently over the semester, taught us some stuff, like maybe some basic physiology stuff, but we were exposed to other voices and perspectives, too.  We had peer educators – meaning, high school students who were just a few years older than we were – come and talk about safe sex and HIV prevention.  We had speakers who were living with AIDS come and talk to us about their experiences.  We had gay people come and say, basically, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”  This was the early nineties, and it was still pretty normal for people to be overtly homophobic.  I can CLEARLY remember the looks on some of my classmates’ faces when there was a gay man with AIDS sitting in front of us, telling us about how he and lovers found ways to have safer sex after his initial HIV diagnosis.  Some of the other students were TOTALLY freaked out, and made no attempt to hide that. 


But I loved it.  I loved these humans coming to our class and telling us about their sexual identities and their sex lives and being so willing to present a version of life beyond the heteronormative bulwark.  Something about it all felt normal and right to me.  I loved the man who was brave enough to show up in a room of homophobic high school students who were still afraid that you could get AIDS from a toilet seat and look us all in the eye without even a hint of shame or shyness.  There wasn’t a whole lot that I loved about high school, but I really fucking loved it that they managed to provide us with a varied and nuanced sex education. 


One day within the sex education unit of the “skills for living class” we had a substitute teacher who was this older European woman and I’m not sure what she was supposed to be teaching us about, but she ended up talking about sexual pleasure and somehow she got on the subject of women’s experiences of heterosexual sex, or penile penetration, more specifically, and she started talking about having that kind of sex while a woman was menstruating, and half the room just lost it.  At least half of the students were “OH MY GOD, THAT’S SO GROSS.”  And god bless this woman, she did not flinch.  She did not bat an eye.  She didn’t take these kids’ discomfort seriously at all.  She kind of looked at us like, what’s the big deal, and said, “Yes, some women even experience more pleasure from sexual intercourse when they’re menstruating, and if you put towels down, it’s no big deal.”  She was so matter of fact with us, and she treated us like little adults, even though at least half the class was not her wavelength AT ALL.


I felt such a profound sense of gratitude to her being willing and able to talk to us about sex as if we were just a bunch of reasonable people, talking about something that was simultaneously important and unremarkable.


The overall effect of the sex education segment of this skills for living class, or whatever it was called, was that I finally had concrete evidence that sex and sexuality and relationships and bodies could be talked about in a non-weird way.  I had living proof that it was possible to talk about all of this stuff as if it were important, but not loaded with taboo or stigma or a bunch of weirdness.  And I decided that I wanted to be a part of that effort.  I wanted to be on THESE people’s team.  A part of me was just like, all right, let me do this.  Let me be this.  This is so important, and I want to help with this. 


From there, sort of intentionally and sort of unintentionally, I became a resource for various sorts of information among my friends.  I became that person who people would come to and say, “I don’t know where my clitoris is,” “or I don’t know how to find someone else’s clitoris” or “I had unprotected sex last night, what should I do?”  Or “I think I’m gay and I don’t know what do with that.”  Or “I know I’m gay and I don’t know how to tell people that.”  Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  Remember people, you couldn’t just Google this stuff back then.  I had enough knowledge to actually be helpful in a lot of these cases, but what was really clear to me was that people didn’t just need information.  They needed information, sure, but they needed to be able to talk to someone who had the right kind of presence, and the right quality of approach to the subject matter at hand.  And I knew that was pretty rare.  And I had the sense that I might just be able to be something of an antidote to all of the weird gnarly stigma surrounding all things related to sexuality, and I took the opportunity to be helpful in this way very seriously.


Later in high school, I was formally trained as a peer sexual and reproductive health educator, and I went to high school classrooms in my school district and co-taught classes on safe sex.  I also did HIV prevention street outreach, which basically involved going up to complete strangers and asking them if they’d like to take a sex survey, and then talking to them about their sexual practices, and offering them materials and information and referrals if they wanted them.  As you might imagine, you learn a lot by talking to strangers about their sex lives.  Among other things, you learn how to help a diverse array of people quickly feel comfortable talking about something they might not ordinarily feel comfortable talking about.  You learn how to ask very direct questions in a respectful way.  You learn a lot about what stands in the way of people talking about sex, or getting condoms when they need them, or getting screened for sexually transmissible infections.  You learn a lot about what prevents people from having conversations with their partners about sex.  You learn a lot about why people don’t want to talk to their doctors about sex.  And over and over again, you learn how important it is to talk about sex and things related to sex in an open, non-judgmental way.  Or at least, that’s what I learned.  And of course, these experiences augmented my sense that it was really important to me to create these kinds of opportunities.


If I were a simpler person, I probably would have just gone off to college, set my sights on becoming a sexual health educator of some sort, found a job of that nature, and lived happily ever after.  But that’s not what I did.  I did double-major in sociology and human sexuality studies as an undergraduate.  Well, that’s partially true.  I found out a week before graduation that I had enough credits to quality for a double-major.  But the deadline for filling out the paper work to have my efforts officially count as a double-major had long passed, so my diploma says that I majored in sociology and minored in human sexuality studies.  But who cares.  Anyway, my studies certainly lined up with my interests, but for various reasons, I didn’t want to pursue what might have seemed like a pretty obvious career path as a sexual health educator or sex therapist or something like that.


Part of the reason was that I’d gotten bedazzled by academia.  In some ways, it sounds hilarious to say that about myself now, but at the time, my infatuation was very earnest and very sincere.  Going from doing sex education to the academic study of sexuality and related aspects of social life was intoxicating.  Even though I am REALLY glad that I eventually escaped academia, I don’t regret a moment of the time and energy I invested into it.  The rich traditions – sociological and otherwise – of studying sexuality and love and relationships and bodies and pleasures are compelling and brilliant, and I’m proud to have engaged with and contributed to those fields of study.  My engagement with the academic study of sexuality and related aspects of life informs my approach to coaching immeasurably. 


Anyway.  After I finished my undergraduate degree, I wanted more work experience in the realm of people’s experiences with sexuality and love and relationships and family, and I wanted more experience with dealing with the stigma that’s sometimes associated with love and sexuality and different kinds of relationships, and different ways of doing family.  I didn’t want to just work with people directly, as in, say, providing sexual health education to individuals or groups, although that was still of interest to me.  I wanted a deeper understanding of the broader social systems that enabled and constrained people to live out their romantic and sexual lives in ways that could be considered happy and healthy. 


And so that’s what I did.  I served in the Peace Corps in Zambia and although my work there was not exclusively devoted to sexual and reproductive health and HIV education, that was certainly part of it, and ALL of my work there gave me great insight into the ways in which social forces create stigma and silence around sexuality… and the consequences of that stigma and silence for individuals and communities.  And then after the Peace Corps I had a job in international reproductive health education and in that role I learned a LOT about how even people and organizations that are ostensibly dedicated to de-stigmatizing certain aspects of sexuality may also actively stigmatize other dimensions of sexuality.  When I had this job, our primary collaborators were in the Philippines, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, and Ethiopia.  And I will never forget this moment when I was at a conference, standing next to one of my colleagues from the Philippines, who had just finished speaking passionately about the importance of talking more publicly about different types of contraception for the sake of family planning.  I can’t remember how the subject got changed, but she went from saying “Yeah, we have to talk about contraception” to saying “Homosexuality is a sin and that’s just all there is to it.” 


And on the one hand, I understood – she was coming from the cultural context of a very Catholic country that had certain widely shared views on diversity of sexual orientation.  And on the other hand, I was a little crushed.  I was like, do you not see ANY irony here?  Do you not see how it might be beneficial to apply the same radical openness that you apply to birth control to expressions of sexuality other than heterosexuality?  I wasn’t blaming her specifically for anything.  She was just an example of a bigger issue.


And this concerned me a lot.  How do we, as professionals who are supposedly helping other people live out their sex lives in a way that makes sense for them, do right by others if we’re not willing to accept that humans do all kinds of things – including things we may personally find objectionable?  What exactly do we think we’re going to accomplish when we try to wish certain aspects of the human experience out of existence?  Or ignore certain aspects of the human experience out of existence.  These kinds of questions weighed on me a lot, and these are some of the questions that propelled me to pursue a PhD in sociology.


In a sense, what I got out of graduate school was great.  Studying and researching and teaching about sexuality and love and relationships and family from a sociological perspective is work that I believe this world really needs, and I think that having approached sexuality from a sociological perspective to the extent that I have is part of what enables me to conceptualize infidelity in the ways that I do.  And graduate school was also hell, in many ways, but more about that later. 


Some of the key insights and fundamental premises of the sociology of sexuality that I think it’s useful for everyone to know about are as follows:


One.  Sexuality is an important aspect of social life, but it isn’t especially important.  It is worthy of rigorous inquiry, just like any other aspect of social life.  But it isn’t inherently imbued with any special significance.


Two.  Even though sexuality isn’t inherently imbued with any special significance, humans HAVE indeed assigned special significance to all things related to sex and sexuality for centuries.  Put a little differently, sexuality and all related things have been considered loaded or taboo subjects by many cultures and societies, and of course, particular expressions of sexuality have been deemed especially taboo, or have been extra-stigmatized.  In other words, stigma associated with sexuality can be considered a social fact, even if it is not a fact that sexuality is inherently worthy of stigma.


Three.  Humans do all KINDS of things when it comes to their sex lives/romantic lives/relationship lives.  We may have ideas about what’s “normal” or “appropriate,” but these ideas about what people should or shouldn’t be doing are not reflections of what people actually do in these areas of their lives.  Quite simply, there is tremendous diversity in how people live out their sexuality and sex lives and romantic lives – and the historical record demonstrates that this has been the case for a long time. 


Four.  Our shared ideas about what is sexually normal or abnormal, appropriate or inappropriate, healthy or unhealthy, have tremendous consequences.  Collectively and individually, being on the receiving end of sexual stigma matters a lot.


Five.  Some of the ways that we collectively sanction people from departing from what is considered normal or appropriate expressions of sexuality or love or relationships are pretty overt and un-subtle, and may be pretty easy to spot.  And some of the ways we collectively sanction or denigrate so-called “abnormal” expressions of love and sexuality and relationships are really subtle and insidious. 


Six.  Our ideas about what count as normal or abnormal sexuality, healthy or unhealthy expressions of sexuality, or appropriate and inappropriate sexuality are social constructions.  Meaning that humans have come up with these ideas through social interactions and negotiations.  That’s not to say to say that all of our ideas about what counts as good and bad expressions of sexuality are totally useless.  Just because ideas are human constructions doesn’t mean they don’t have any value.  For instance, many people – not all people, but many people – share the idea that non-consensual sex is not okay, and we’ve set up laws to sanction non-consensual sex.  Or at least, we’ve attempted to.  And I’m all in favor of this!  I’m all in favor of saying that non-consensual sex is not okay, and that we collectively ought to do what we can to prevent and sanction it.  So the point of saying that our ideas about sexuality are socially constructed is not that because these ideas are constructed by humans, anything goes, or that anything and everything ought to be considered equally acceptable.  Rather, the point IS that we as humans are the ones making up what’s considered acceptable and unacceptable.  It’s not god or nature or any single or absolute source that dictates the rules about what’s okay within the realm of sexuality and love and relationships, and what isn’t.


There are many more important insights from the sociology of sexuality that I’d love to share with you, but these six are a pretty good start.


As far as I’m concerned, these are the kinds of operating assumptions we want to be working from if we are going to help humans figure out how they want to navigate their sexual/romantic/relationship lives.  And so in a sense, being immersed in these understandings of human sexuality within the context of graduate school was great for me insofar as they later informed my capacity to help people deal with their infidelity situations in a non-judgmental way.  But at the time, when I was in graduate school, the problem was that I was completely miserable.  Not just normal graduate school miserable.  I was abjectly, wretchedly miserable. 


I wasn’t using any of the insights I just shared with you in a way that I found deeply satisfying.  I was reading and writing and researching and teaching, and all of that was important to me in an abstract sense, but I didn’t love the actual doing of any of it.  I had thought that teaching undergraduate sociology was going to be deeply satisfying to me, but as it turned out, I kind of hated it.  I had thought that the practice of research was going to be deeply satisfying to me, but it really wasn’t.  I wanted to be utilizing the important insights from the sociology of sexuality in SOME way, but it was becoming increasingly clear that I didn’t want to do that through the usual academic channels of teaching and research.


And I didn’t have a clue what any viable alternatives would actually look like.  It WAS beginning to dawn on me that I wanted to engage with other humans as a practitioner of some kind, but as a practitioner of what, exactly?  I didn’t really know.  Even though I was still very much interested in human sexuality, I knew I still didn’t want to be a sex therapist.  I knew I still didn’t want to be a sex educator.  I wanted something that went beyond those kinds of roles, but I had no idea what that was.


So I had this predicament on my hands.  I knew I wanted something different, professionally, but I didn’t know what that was, and I didn’t have any clear sense of how I might go about figuring it out.


So I took the next best step I could come up with at the time. I stuck with my PhD program, and simultaneously embarked on the path of becoming a holistic health practitioner and a yoga instructor.  And the whole holistic health and yoga thing encompassed quite a lot, and gave me the opportunity to engage with humans in a very intimate, direct way.  The school where I received my holistic health practitioner training offered a very rich, multi-disciplinary approach to understanding the human condition, and although the primary emphasis of their teachings was on different massage and bodywork modalities, we really learned how to relate to people not just as masses of physical matter, but as biological-emotional-spiritual-energetic creatures. 


And this provided a really interesting contrast to the sociological work I was doing.  A few days a week, I was working with individuals and helping them work through discomfort in the context of touching their bodies through massage or yoga adjustments or some combination thereof.  I was talking to people about their qi, or their vital energy, and helping them explore the connections between their emotional experiences of life and their physical experiences of life.  And then on the other days of the week, I was dealing with the human experience at a very different level, by researching the ways in which knowledge about sexuality is created and transmitted. 


So within my two parallel lives, I was learning about the human experience from all of these different angles and approaches and orientations, and working with the human experience in a variety of different ways.  And I really wanted to integrate all of this somehow.  I didn’t want to be a sociologist AND a holistic health practitioner.  And I definitely didn’t want to be a sociologist OR a holistic health practitioner.  I wanted to put all of the parts together, but I kept telling myself that I didn’t know how. 


I wanted SO BADLY for someone to come along and see me and say, “Wow, you have such an interesting educational and professional background.  You have all of this training and expertise that could be put together in a really amazing way, and guess what, I see the perfect way to make use of your very unique combination of interests and expertise and passions and capacities.”  I wanted someone to come along and say, “Lucky you.  I’ve figured out exactly how to make use of your interests and expertise in a way that will be really satisfying for you, and really helpful for other people.  Here’s the job description and the salary.  Are you interested?”


It might sound funny now, but at the time, it was anything but funny.  I spent a really long time believing that this was something that someone had to come along and do for me.  I spent a really long time believing that I either didn’t have the power or the permission to create my own role for myself.  And I see my clients grappling with a version of this a LOT.  For example, a lot of folks I work with who are married want to retain some of the elements of the relationship they have with their spouse, and with their family – but they don’t want to be married to their spouse anymore.  And they know they really want that, and they have a very clear sense of what this new version of their family could be like, and they love the idea of it.  But they also don’t quite believe they can have it, because they don’t see many – or ANY – other people living out new versions of their family this way.  And they kind of think that some magical fairy has to come along and grant them permission to revise their family lives in the way they want to, before they can take any action to do so.


And I get it.  I totally get it.  Thinking that you need permission to create a new version of your life that deviates from all of the examples of what’s possible that you’ve seen is definitely a Thing.  And it’s okay to WANT that magical fairy to come along and sprinkle permission dust all over you.  But it’s another thing to WAIT for that to happen.  And that is part of the reason why I am telling you this story today.  I spent YEARS waiting for the magical fairy to come along and give me permission to create a previously unheard of job for myself.  It’s hard for me to say exactly how many years I spent waiting for this to happen because I’m not exactly sure how to define when I started waiting for this to happen and when I stopped waiting for this to happen, but by any measure, it was more than ten years.  I spent ten years of my grown-ass adult life waiting for someone to give me permission to become what I am.  I spent ten years of my life waiting for someone to come along and tell me, guess what, you just have to GO FOR IT.  I spent years not understanding that nobody was going to come along and give me the magic tap on the head, or the secret road map.  I spent years resisting the idea that I just had to fucking go for it.


I want to be really clear that I wasn’t _only_ sitting around on my ass waiting for someone to give me permission to create a previously unheard of job for myself for ten-plus years.  I was doing plenty of things.  But while I was waiting for permission to create a new thing for myself professionally, I wasn’t creating a new thing for myself professionally.   


Instead of waiting for someone or something to give you permission to change your life, you can get to work on giving yourself permission.  And this may take time and effort, and you may need some help.  You may have to change your long-held ways of thinking about yourself, and what’s possible.  You may have to contend with some pretty major self-imposed resistance.  You may have to deal with some intense emotions.  But, a) none of that is bad, b) I can help you do these things, and c) the discomfort that may come with becoming a fuller, truer version of who you are usually feels a lot better than the discomfort of staying stuck in a version of yourself that you know you’ve outgrown.


No matter how hard your infidelity situation seems to deal with, I promise you that taking the bull by the horns and beginning to deal with it one conscious step at a time is SO much better than waiting around for a magical fairy to give you permission to do what you want to do, or to TELL you what you want to do in the first place.  Waiting around and believing you are powerless feels terrible.  Actually starting to do what you want to do may feel terrible sometimes too, but it's a different kind of terrible, and at least you get to move forward while you’re feeling terrible.


Anyway, I continued my parallel lives in sociology and holistic health/yoga for years.  More than ten!  After I finished my PhD, I got jobs based on my sociological credentials because it seemed like the practical thing to do, because I was terrified of being an entrepreneur, for one thing, and because I still didn’t quite have a vision of what unique role I would fashion for myself, even if I had the power to create any job for myself that I could.  In case I haven’t already made this clear, all of this nonsense went on for a long time.


Finally, I got to this point where I had a job based on my sociological skills that I thought should be good enough for me to be happy enough with, and I had a bit of holistic health work going on the side, and I thought that should be enough to satisfy my professional desires, or my desires to be useful in the world in a particular way.  I thought, “Okay, well, this is probably as good as it gets, so I need to be happy with this.”


But the problem was, I was NOT happy with it at all.  I wasn’t happy in my sociological job, I wasn’t happy NOT doing work that I really wanted to do, and I just got to the point where it became abundantly clear to me that there was NO WAY I was going to be able to convince myself that I was “fine” with my professional life for any longer. 


I finally got to the point where I realized that I was going to have to take responsibility for figuring out a way for me to combine my passions and expertise into some sort of a job for myself that I truly loved.  Or else I was going to be completely fucked.  And by completely fucked I mean, I was going to be living a life in which I was miserable and spending all of my time and energy trying to convince myself that I wasn’t actually miserable.  And once THAT became clear to me, I couldn’t un-see that.  I knew I had to figure out how I was going to change my professional life if I wanted to effectively save my entire life.  I’d spent a long time trying to figure out how to weasel out of taking responsibility for doing the thing I didn’t think I could do, but it finally became clear to me that I really did have to do the thing I couldn’t do.  That’s a riff on an Eleanor Roosevelt quote, by the way.  She talks about how you must do the thing you think you cannot do.


And I finally got the point of accepting that I had to do the thing I thought I couldn’t do.  I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I finally accepted that I was either going to have to figure it out, or be miserable, and I knew the latter wasn’t an option I was interested in anymore. 


So I decided that I was going to open myself up to listening to new sorts of messages, and new sorts of ways of approaching life’s challenges.  And that was when I discovered life coaching.  I landed upon Martha Beck’s books, and I was like, “Oh.  The kinds of problems she describes other people having are exactly the kinds of problems I’M having.”  And some of the means of addressing life’s problems that she proposed made a lot of sense to me.  Some of them made more sense to me than anything I’d heard in a long time.  So that was pretty cool.  And then I learned that she, too, had been a sociologist, and had abandoned academia to create this totally non-traditional career path for herself.  And that was around the time when I realized, a) maybe there really is hope for me, maybe I really can leave my known professional world and step into something different that I really love, and b) maybe I want to be a life coach of some sort.


I’m going to conclude part one of this story here, because I have to conclude part one SOMEWHERE.  In next week’s episode, I’ll tell you part two of the story, which, I’m happy to say, is the story of how things got better.  It’s the story of how I went from having this tiny little idea that maybe I could be this weird thing called a life coach to doing what I do now.  Maybe more importantly, it’s a story of how I went from being miserable in my professional life to being in love with my professional life.  It’s a story of how I gave myself permission to have faith in myself, and how I gave myself permission to create something that I thought I needed someone else’s permission to create.  So tune in next week to hear all about that. 


And in the meantime, if you are ready to resolve your infidelity situation in a way that’s truly right for you and you want my help doing it, let’s work together.  We can work together intensively one-on-one, and if you want to do that, the first step is to schedule an introductory coaching session with me through the services page of my website,  Or if you want more of my teaching than I can deliver on this podcast, but you like working independently, you can purchase my self-guided course, You’re Not the Only One.  That’s available through the services page of my website, too.


All right everyone, thank you all so much for listening.  Have a great week!  Bye for now. 


Enjoy the Show?

Ready to talk?

Schedule your introductory coaching session with Marie.

Schedule Your Introductory Session

Want the answers to your questions?

Sign up to get the free guide to the podcast, which shares the exact episodes you need to tune into to get started answering the questions you have about your infidelity situation.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.