If you discovered your husband’s betrayal/sexual addiction some time recently, this title isn’t going to make sense to you. Face the pain? The pain is in your face… generally kicking you in the teeth several times a day.
Nevertheless, a time comes when the pain sinks below the surface and sits there. Initially this feels great. Finally, we’re not being continually pummelled by tidal waves of heartache. We’re sleeping through the night again (sometmes). We’re not having panic attacks while out shopping (or at least not often). Life seems like it may actually be liveable after all.
When we get to this stage in our healing, there's a temptation to say, ‘Good enough, I’ll just stop here.’ And with that, we may drop our counselor or coach and our support group (if we ever had these) and refuse to let anyone (including our husband and God) mention a word of it ever again. It's tempting to paint a smile on our face, and dare anyone to tell us all isn’t well. We can even spiritualize this stance by saying, "I've left it all on the altar." Sadly, there are many (well-meaning, but... ) in the church who may encourage us taking up this new position
However, what can happen when we do this is that the pain – bubbling just under the surface – rises up and overwhelms us at unexpected times. We are triggered by a place, a person or an object that reminds of our husband’s infidelity and we begin to have trouble breathing, or feel rage welling up in us. Next thing, we’re having some horrible trauma moment of lashing out, suffering a panic attack or in some way finding ourselves unable to cope.
Dragging out the journey
Now, all this is normal in the first stage of healing: even with the counselor, the support group, and others validating our pain and encouraging us. Some of it may continue into the second stage as well. However, when we choose to ignore the pain, this (numbness followed by eruption) can become our ongoing reality... so that we don't get to the "post-traumatic growth" stage (stage 3).
Seeing a counselor or coach, attending a support group and having our husband check-in about his current struggles (or process his past ones with us in an Amends Matrix: described in Worthy of Her Trust) will absolutely bring up the pain again. It will cause us suffering (and I know, it isn’t fair: we have already been brought to the brink of the cliff by this). However, it is suffering for a purpose. As we make space in our lives to grieve with God, and process with those he has sent to support us, we will heal. The pain below the surface… will begin to fade.
Count it all... what??
Really, truly it will. Even if our husband doesn't get relational recovery perfect all the time (I'm not talking about him being toxic or abusive -- which re-traumtizes -- just imperfect) you will be moving forward. Moreover, you will be in a better place to deal with new pain; and to create protective boundaries and consequences… particularly if you’ve got that support infrastructure (counsellor, support group, friends, God) backing you up and encouraging you.
And as the wounds heal over (leaving their scars) and the pain fades, you will be able to move into that place where God redeems this devastation. The place (stage 3*) where you realize you have grown. The place where you can, 'count it all joy.'
Next week I'll be discussing how to do a "grief retreat"... a way (for those who are ready because there is now safety and stability in their world) to push past "numb" and begin to move into the "redemption of all this suffering" God wants for us.
*If you'd like to know more about the "stages of recovery" from betrayal trauma, you can download this PDF.