I honestly wasn’t anticipating the fallout of asking Noni whether something was bothering her after grocery shopping. Sure she was quiet but I still didn’t think it had anything to do with me, I really wasn’t expecting it.
Only when she queried what was going on back at the store did I realise that my wandering eye had been noticed. My gut immediately churned with the stinging deep conviction of wrongdoing. Unfortunately, rather than compelling me to humility and restitution, my spirit morphed quickly from conviction to condemnation, shame, and the desperate need to avoid this current sensation of discomfort.
Waves of nausea enveloped me while I pieced together the significant impact my thoughtlessness had on us and how easy it was for me to dismiss Noni’s heart, a heart and space I truly want to protect.
Unaware I was slipping into the tired old cycle of control and manipulation only served to drive Noni away. After transferring the groceries from the boot of the car to the kitchen, Noni asked me to put them away and then walked out the front door.
I was left to work this out over the next few hours.
Fear had to make way for courage. I knew that I could easily welcome and nurse the poor me victim I was so familiar with—but we’ve done too much work for that option to be as enticing as I once thought. I know far too well how that cycle goes—it leads nowhere.
I needed to confront myself with raw courage even though it scared me to death.
Read on for a glimpse into the process for me during this event…
We probably passed the tall active wear woman mentioned in last weeks blog post, about 4 times before arriving in the dairy section, I sensed then that I was feeling a little awkward inside. I knew it wasn’t right to repeatedly let my eyes linger longer than normal, gazing at any woman other than my wife, yet I continued to do so. I was embarrassed for myself without even beginning to consider how this incident might make Noni feel. This behaviour has been a painfully common occurrance through the course of our relationship and a habit that I thought—was no longer a thorn in my side.
My ego was consoled with a bunch of half baked truths such as—I know in my heart there was no lusting—I wasn’t looking for her she was just kind of there over and over! At this point I failed to acknowledge that it was MY choice to keep on looking and of course Noni would notice, how could she not!
My next big mistake without any thought was my reflex response to Noni’s question. I shared what I believed were rational explanations—rationalisations. I desperately wanted Noni to believe what I wanted to believe; I was sure I could make her understand it wasn’t such a big deal. The harder I tried—the more it felt like I was struggling in quicksand. GASLIGHTING!
Noni was right to leave the house.
Once she got home I still had the overwhelming urge to point out all the times over the last months I had taken steps to remove myself from these types of situations, it was an effort to demonstrate I am not as bad as I seemed at the moment. Proving to her that it was simply a momentary lapse, not an uncontrollable compulsion. As soon as I gave the accounts of my ‘good behaviours’, a light flicked on for me and I realised – wow Dave are you really expecting praise for being respectful or not doing wrong? Why should I expect Noni to applaud me for doing what should have always been an acceptable standard of committment? This is the depth of self deception I can live with.
Eventually, I just shut up and watched and listened to how Noni felt, laying aside my discomfort with the situation momentarily. She was wounded by my efforts to minimise as much as I hurt her with my actions. It took me quite a few attempts to hear Noni completely—that is—without adding context to what she was saying, filtering what I was hearing, or offering what I thought was a helpful explanation/qualification or correction. I needed to put aside my shame to really recognise and empathise with Noni’s grief. After hearing the detail of how humiliated Noni felt, my apathy also set off an avalanche of fear and pain, I was gutted. It then dawned on me the significance of my thoughtless glances, this was a huge red flag.
In another place and time in my life not so long ago, my decision to hold the gaze of another woman would not have been so thoughtless. It would be me grasping a brief moment of gratification, a gesture that may or may not be reciprocated, if that look or gesture was acknowledged or returned there would be further gratification, it may even have led to a verbal exchange—polite yet with an undercurrent of flattery, and even more gratification. From that verbal exchange, the idea of other possibilities may be held in the back of my mind (a fantasy perhaps) which might even result in further contact by chance or design. It could end anywhere, and most likely would end nowhere, yet this cascade of decisions pursuing momentary selfish gratification is at the heart of betrayal. Infidelity begins with a thought, not an action and after a series of thoughts, the wheels are in motion.
In isolation, my action and choices may seem like a minor lapse of concentration, frought with danger though, if such a lapse goes unchecked and I allow myself to explain away the decision, then what next? Our partners are right to challenge our behaviours, us unfaithful may judge our recovery on our intentions but the hearts we’ve shattered are wise to gauge differently.
It might take years but if these moments are left unchecked they inevitably increase in frequency and scale, eventually corroding the boundaries I’ve established to keep me and my marriage safe.
Like a fence that isn’t maintained, if a series of small breaches are not repaired and fortified, the fence is weakened and eventually, one day when it is tested, it offers little resistance…
Noni will wrap up part 3 of Real Time Recovery next week, this sinkhole has been another massive training session for the marathon effort needed to change my lifetime of faulty thinking.