Only a fraction of an iceberg is visible while 80-90% remains hidden under the waterline.
The Titanic crew discovered this when frantic orders for a hard turn to veer away from an ill-fated ice mass came moments too late. While she barely missed the protruding peak, Titanic still collided with the iceberg’s enormous bulk below sea level, ripping up the side of the ship and puncturing its water-tight compartments.
Icebergs: it’s what you can’t see that can hurt you.
I remember getting a sinking feeling that something was going on with my husband of 20 years. Upon confronting him, he confessed to an affair sparked during an out-of-town business trip. I suspected that it merely scratched the surface of the truth. I knew that he’d had what he called an “emotional affair” with a different colleague 10 years previous, but he went to counselling and recommitted to our marriage. If he had been remorseful about this latest fling, I would have been willing to work it out too.
But, of course, that was just the tip of the iceberg.
What it really was (at least to the best of my knowledge) added up to numerous one night stands, short-lived flings and at least one multi-year affair, along with an online porn addiction, regular visits to a gentlemen’s club and an overall inability to remain faithful to any woman since the age of 14. He was a serial cheater and, in his own words, “not a good husband.”
I’m certain that he admitted only to an abbreviated version of events in order to appease his guilt – which makes the unedited story simply unknowable. I believe that the total iceberg is even larger, darker and more sordid. I will never get to the bottom of it. The unexplained trips, strange hours and manipulative behavior – it all remains beyond my grasp, still floating around in my subconscious like menacing chunks of ice.
The infidelity iceberg will ram your hull, buckle your equilibrium and leave you feeling foolish as you decode what was real and what was deception (“How could I have been so stupid?”). It scrapes your ego, distorts your perspective and punctures your water-tight, unconditional trust – not only in the individual who wronged you, but in almost everyone around you: past, present and especially future. And yet, you fight your way back to recover from it.
A seasoned ship captain offered his advice about avoiding disaster at sea. “The thing you need most in iceberg-infested waters is fear,” he said, adding, “and don’t talk about the fact that you’ve been lucky. When you do that, you become vulnerable.”
While I don’t believe fear should navigate our life’s voyage after infidelity, it certainly forces us to wake up and become more vigilant. Icebergs tend to sneak up on us when we fail to pay attention.
The upside to icebergs is that they prompt us to shore up our defenses – in a good way. We build stronger, more resilient vessels equipped with enhanced radar technology (our instinct) and ample life preservers (our support system). They also ensure we never allow ourselves to become complacent or lulled into a false sense of security believing that nothing and no one can ever sink us.
Perhaps most important, we can use what we’ve learned about past icebergs to avoid future ones. I now know that icebergs make themselves look the way we want them to while being secretly composed of something entirely different. They can shape-shift over time to keep their underlying nature concealed. And they should never be underestimated; after all, you can sail alongside an iceberg for years – decades even – and have no clue about what they’re hiding.
At the same time, I don’t suspect that everything on the horizon is a threat. Just the opposite. By trusting that I am now better able to spot the dangers, I can relax, take in the scenery and appreciate the beauty that surrounds me. I also don’t need to worry about my ship capsizing, because I have been through it before. It showed me that I have the ability to tread water and stay afloat. I can keep my head above water. I can swim. I can do more than I ever knew I was capable of doing.
Even after hitting an iceberg, there is no way to guarantee it won’t ever happen again. Nor is there any way to prevent others from making the same misjudgment (Oh, if only we could plant red flags on people to give fair warning!). But what we can do is chart a new course for ourselves. After all we’ve been through, we have certainly earned a stretch of smooth sailing.