The choice to create relationships built on a hidden non-monogamy created a conflict without the skills to navigate the storms and tides of life. And frankly, infidelity isn’t an insurmountable issue; however, it was for me. The skills and stories I carried limited my ability to imagine more constructive solutions to my discomfort.
In other words, I had an affair. To cover my mistake, I relied on lies and secrets.
Those were not my best moments.
Frankly, we all struggle with dark shadows of one kind or another that leave us stuck. Some of these shadows are institutional and cultural, while others are professional or personal.
Infidelity is a conflict between honesty and truthfulness, intention and impact, connection and identity. A conflict crossing all of the lines of integrity and identity.
I invested many hours a day trying to figure out how I ended up betraying my life and the lives of others–wondering how to get out and avoid my discomfort. I told lies and kept secrets in a self-serving and morbid attempt to protect Painter and Beatrix from discomfort. After all, I alone caused this conflict, and I should solve it alone. Asking for help is an act of the weak.
I also never trusted Painter or Beatrix loved me or the relationship enough to help me, or the relationship, grow up. In a patronizing way, I never believed it was the job of a Queen or a wife to help me. I imagined myself wholly responsible for their emotional, mental, sexual, and financial well-being.
All of these imaginings were trauma-informed stories at the root of my approaches to masculinity, manliness, and love. Stories full of overt and covert misogyny, grandiosity, sexism, trauma, romanticism, mythology, feelings of shame, and stories of worthiness.
In reality, once the bell of infidelity is struck, it cannot be silenced. It forever reverberates across lives, causing a change in life trajectories.
Of course, we often don’t talk about changes because, frankly, if we knew how to talk about feelings, fears, needs, and wants, we probably wouldn’t have created this exact situation.
For myself, part of my solution was to lie and keep secrets betraying others and myself.
We are experts in our situation, leaving us unconscious of our blind spots and unskillful at navigating the things we see.
As emotional agility expert, Dr. Susan David writes, “Expert bias happens when high-level employees fail to successfully solve problems within their field due to their wealth of knowledge and lack of open-minded curiosity.”
To paraphrase David, “How do you stay humble and curious within the” relationship?
Auditing this to my experience with infidelity, secret-keeping, and the escalating series of lies I told, I realized I was stuck trying to protect what I knew, my pride, and the status quo. I was living in a silo, looking up and seeing only a tiny sliver of the possibilities.
One of the many benefits of that moment in my life is it forced me out of the silo I unskillfully tried to maintain. I loved my life in YoYo Town, but I was stuck with a mind that created a problem and struggled alone to find solutions.
Living in a mental or emotional silo creates difficulty in recognizing choices. We become hooked by habitualization. We do things because it is the only way we know how to do it, or within the context of the experience, we do what makes sense even if it doesn’t.
For example, we live in a culture with great religious polarization.
We make assumptions about not just the religion but the people, culture, and communities within what we know about the religion. We embrace the echo chamber of our ignorance instead of inviting people of other faiths for dinner, a meet and greet, or making an effort to visit their church, temple, synagogue, or mosque.
We become comfortable in our contempt.
People assume they know without knowing. New things make people uncomfortable. Better to remain with what we know even when it is probably wrong.
For example, I recently helped a company complete their ISO Audit and, in the process, was reminded how curiosity becomes limited as we grow comfortable with what we already know.
Since a college internship in 1990, the Company President has spent thirty consecutive years in this industry, working in this building. The ISO Audit revealed how attached he is to the comfort zone of what he knows.
For example, almost all plant processes are paper-based or from a DOS-driven database developed in the 1990s. All the company’s forms are essentially the same forms they designed between 1995 and 2008.
In practice, the lab results are hand-written and then hand-carried to the office three floors up, where someone else eventually types them into a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is sent to a third person who puts them into a Certificate of Analysis and then forwarded to another person who converts it to a PDF and then emails the document to customers.
It is expensive and time-consuming, but it is what the Company President knows.
During the post-audit autopsy, the management team discussed how the Company President’s resistance to change cost the company time and money. As an organization, we recognize he struggles with adapting to opportunities to use technology and networks to move information from one department to another, improving efficiencies, communication, and creating opportunities.
The Company President struggles not because he is stupid but because he doesn’t have experience with change. In an industry where he is recognized, he has become an expert in what he has done and not what he could do. He doesn’t have the bandwidth to practice new approaches, learn new skills, or drive improved efficiencies to tasks he has already mastered.
The Company President is stuck in a story, and as a result, the company is also stuck.
Infidelity is like that.
I was stuck in a story, and as a result, my personal and romantic relationships were also stuck.
I became stuck with the skills I practiced. I chose my responses based on what I knew. Such a catastrophic failure of judgment resulted in me diving into the silo of my experience as I sought to avoid the discomfort of shame, fear, anxiety, loneliness, grief, and hopelessness. The choices I made in response to the stories I imagined about my feelings of discomfort defined my relationship with others. In the process, I betrayed myself and others.
Regardless of how you experience the intention and impact of infidelity, we all are manipulated by the stories, expectations, promises, ideals, traumas, and fears we bring to the experience. We are the fictional Everyman seeking to protect the imagined safety of the stories, even as the stories eat up our lives.