When her affair started, Mary thought, “This is it! This is the answer. I have to leave my husband for this man… because this is what makes me feel alive!”
But I say, “Not so fast!” It’s not so simple. (It’s not that easy.)
In this episode, we’ll discover the real reason an affair can make you feel alive, why it might not be the “simple” solution you imagine, and what to consider instead.
Listen to the Full Episode:
What You’ll Learn In This Episode:
- How to develop your “essential self” (before it’s too late)
- How to get out of the realm of “duty” and into the realm of “desire”
- Why your affair isn’t the ANSWER (but how it can lead to your next step)
Featured On The Show:
Struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage and you’re serious about finding that answer?
Book a Truth & Clarity Session with a member of my team. We’ll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there’s a fit for you and I to work together so you can make - and execute - the RIGHT decision for YOU and your marriage.
Welcome to The Loving Truth podcast, where it's all about finding clarity, confidence, and peace in the face of marriage challenges. And now, your host, relationship expert and certified master life coach, Sharon Pope.
Hey there, this is Sharon Pope, and this is The Loving Truth. Today, I want to talk to you about something that I hear a lot with my clients, which is some version of “my affair made me feel alive.” And I completely understand why we feel this way. I want to share with you the story of a client of mine who I'll refer to as Mary. It's obviously not her name, but Mary had been feeling numb and lonely and disconnected in her marriage for more than 10 years.
So when she got involved in an affair, it came into her life almost like a drug. The way that she described it is that she said, “It made me feel alive again.” And look, if you've been feeling numb and disconnected and just existing day to day, and something comes along to change all of that, then of course you're going to associate the new feeling of aliveness with the change that brought that about.
Now as human beings, we gravitate towards answers that are simple and straightforward. And the reason we do that is because it's easy to understand. So then what we make of this situation is, oh, the affair makes me feel alive. My marriage makes me feel numb and lonely and disconnected and alive is better than numb. So I should be with this other man. I should end my marriage. Go be with this other man. End of story.
Oh, not so fast. Not so fast. Slow it all down, because the answers are not that simple and they're not that straightforward. So the simple and straightforward answer is not always the truth of what's happening, it's just the quickest way that our minds can wrap around the situation.
So as human beings, we love to snorkel on the surface. You know why? It's quick and easy to snorkel on the surface. You don't need any training. You need hardly any equipment. You can just sort of float. And if you have some goggles and maybe even a little breathing tube, you can sort of see what you need to see when you want to snorkel.
But my friends, when it comes to relationships, when it comes to marriage, where there are affairs, there's no snorkeling. We’ve got to get scuba gear. We’ve got to dive into the deep end to really understand what's going on, because it's very rarely simple and straightforward, and this binary decision of, “Oh, he makes me feel good. This makes me feel bad. That's the right answer,” it's not always that simple.
All right, scuba dive with me here for a few minutes. Let's take Mary as an example. Mary had always done what she was supposed to do. She was a good wife; she was a good mother; she was a successful college professor. She had two teenage boys that she made sure had everything that they need. So she was a good mother. She did whatever was needed to take care of the home, to take care of the dog, to make sure that dinner was on the table at least several nights a week.
And her life looked kind of like a storybook; from the outside looking in, you would look at it and go, oh, she's got it all going on. Her life is probably perfect. But she didn't feel that way. Go back. She was feeling numb and lonely and disconnected in her marriage. And so this is a concept that I want to teach to you that came from my mentor, Martha Beck, who is absolutely brilliant. But it's the idea of the social self and the essential self.
So let's just talk about those two things for a second. The social self is what we let others see about us. It goes through the lens of, what am I willing to show the world? The social self is how I want others to perceive me. And so in Mary's world, what she wanted was to be perceived as the good woman, the good wife, the good mother. She was nice and she was smart, and she was reliable, but that's not the totality of her story, and that is what she was reaching for.
So it's not social self or essential self, it's both. We have a social self, but we also have an essential self. And so an essential self is more about who you really are at your core authentically. And many times we hide who we really are because it creates upset in our lives. Actually, most people don't like to know the real part of us. They like to know the part of us that works for them, that helps them appear as their social self, what makes them comfortable.
And for many, many women who are also wives and mothers, the wife and mother particularly, the mother card is something that we want to be perceived in a certain way, but we forget and we neglect that part of us that is also a woman with desires, a woman with dreams, a woman who wants to create her life experience, not just take care of everyone else. Not that that's not important, but at least nowadays, women want something more than just taking care of everybody else.
So in Mary's case, she was tired. She didn't want to admit it, but she was tired of worrying about what everyone else wanted, needed, or expected of her. She had basically given her life up to whatever; if it wasn't her husband, it was her kids. If it wasn't her kids, it was her work. It was what everyone else needed, wanted, or expected from her. Eventually, that got old.
So the part that came out of her inside that affair was the woman, the woman who was asking, what is it that I want? When is it my turn? What do I need? And she was getting out of this realm of duty and into the realm of desire because she had been so submerged in duty and obligation for so many years, it felt a little rebellious to cultivate or feed that part of her that was related to her desire as a woman.
So she's both, and it's not social self or essential self; it's both. She was both. But the problem was she was suppressing the essential self only to portray the social self. And along the way, it felt like a self-betrayal. You see, we can stuff down and avoid the essential self for a long time. I think literally, I'll speak from my own personal experience, but that has to be coupled in my brain with the experience of so many of my clients.
We can disregard and deny our essential self for years, a decade, maybe max, two decades. We can ignore that part of us and put it aside because of the noble calling to be a nurturing mother. We can cut off and deny that part of ourselves knowing that it will be there for us later. The problem is, some of us never get to later. We form habits that are all about taking care of everybody else. Even when we get a glimpse of being an empty nester, when we get a glimpse of teenagers who don't really need us as much as they did 10 years ago, we start to get a little bit uncomfortable with the parts of ourselves that we have now denied for years or decades.
Once we get in our forties, that essential self is knocking on our door, right? It's like, “Hey, I really need to be heard here. I need space in my life for myself.” And at that point, we'll still hear the voices in the back of our head going, “Yeah, that's so selfish. Who do you think you are? That's not what you're supposed to be doing. That's not what a good girl does,” right? All of those things.
Then by the time we hit our fifties, it just looks downright rebellious. It's undeniable that women need space for us to be a woman in our own lives. And our whole lives cannot be built around just duty and obligation to everybody else. It's not that those are not lovely things. Sometimes when you give, we all know what it feels like to give from a place of abundance and something that we want to do that feels amazing, but that's not what I'm talking about.
I'm talking about just duty and obligation without any line of sight into desire and what you want to cultivate and create in your life. I'm going to bring it back to the story of Mary, okay? Because Mary needed to honor her essential self. She had built her whole life around her social self, around what she wanted others to see about her life.
That's why her life looked so good from the outside looking in, it looked like a storybook, but it didn't express the totality of who she was. So she had allowed herself to open up to her essential self inside the context of an affair. And then she made it all about the man, all about the dude on the other side of that, and gave him all the power.
“You made me feel alive. Now I'm addicted to you now. Now you're like a drug for me.” That is a hundred percent giving up your power and not realizing what's really going on inside of you, which is just an unexpressed part of yourself that is no longer willing to sit there and wait and be the good girl. Because oftentimes what we are chasing inside of our affairs is how we feel inside of that affair. Which, by the way, it's not all about the guy.
The context really matters. The context of an affair, it's forbidden. It's in secret, it's risky, it's dangerous. It brings up all these emotions. It brings up all these emotions that press all the desire buttons. It's hitting those hard. And then we look at our marriage and we're like, oh, I'm numb and I'm lonely and I'm disconnected. Part of the problem with that, and this could be a whole ‘nother episode, which I'll do at some point, is because we didn't really pay attention to it. We thought it would just self-sustain. We didn't know that.
Look, if you don't pay attention to desire in your marriage, if you don't make an active and engaged consistent effort to maintain desire in your marriage, it will be lost. Then the reality of that is you can pick up a life with this new partner, but eventually if you don't do something different than what you did in the first relationship, you're just going to recreate it.
Because that is the nature of relationships. When everything is new, everything is exciting, and when you're in an affair, the context of it creates excitement and fear and danger and risk and all the things that really light us up and make us feel alive, because danger for sure will make us feel alive. You can jump out of an airplane, a perfectly good airplane, which people do. I don't understand it, but people do. And that can feel risky and dangerous, and it can make you feel alive in the same way that you can get involved in an affair.
My thing, I'm speaking particularly to you ladies here, is don't give up all your power to that guy. Don't say to yourself, “Oh, the reason I feel alive is because of him.” No, it's him and the context, and you finally giving yourself permission to show up as your essential self, to show up as a woman that has desires to show up as someone who is more than just her duties and obligations. So there's a whole bunch of stuff that's going on in there that is really important, but we are chasing the feeling that we create for ourselves inside of that affair more than we are chasing the affair and the dude on the other side of that affair.
When you associate everything with that person, the reason I say you're giving up so much of your power is because we will think to ourselves, “Well, if I never have him, I will never feel this way again.” And that is not true, because what that person brought up in you, what they brought to the surface, thank you very much, was in you. So those are your feelings. Those are your dreams. Those are your desires. Those are your wants and needs, and you were able to express them when you gave yourself permission in a certain context.
And if you felt that way with someone, because they're your feelings, you can feel that way again with someone else. I'm not suggesting you can feel that way with anyone else, but I'm saying you can feel it with someone else. So own those feelings. Don't just skim the surface. Don't just snorkel and go, oh, I feel alive, so, therefore, I need to be with him. No, no, no. Understand that long-term, committed relationships are going to go through a waning. They're going to go through a bit of a lull, and that is normal, but we also have control over that. We can intentionally focus on it so that we get to be our whole selves in our most intimate relationship.
Yes, I'm a good woman, and I'm a good professor, and I'm a good wife, and I'm a good mother, and I make sure that the kids have everything that they need. And I can be a woman with desires. I can enjoy sex. I can feel things, I can want adventure and spontaneity in my life, right? You get to be your whole self, and, my friends, I bet your partner wants you to be your full self. We just have to start giving ourselves permission to show up as that in all parts of our lives.
All right? I hope that was helpful for you. Until next time, take really good care.
If you're listening to this podcast because you're struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage and you're serious about finding that answer, it's time to book a Truth and Clarity session with a member of my team. On the call, we'll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there's a fit for you and I to work together so you can make and execute the right decision for you and your marriage.
Go to clarityformymarriage.com to fill out an application now. That's clarityformymarriage.com.