Medical professionals who work in the area of chronic pain often differentiate between pain and suffering. Pain is the physical experience (i.e., a pinched nerve) that travels from nerve to nerve and registers in the brain. Pain can be treated medically. Suffering, however, is the sense of hopelessness or despair that attaches to pain. It does not travel via nerve endings, but is part of our immaterial mind (not our physical brain). Hence there is no medical treatment for suffering. That is a work done in the soul not the body.
As we look at the suffering story which you use to make sense of your experience, we are examining suffering (i.e., the meaning you have given to your experience) rather than pain (i.e., the act of betrayal or how you learned of it). As in chronic pain, both pain and the suffering are real and should be treated. In Steps 4-6 we will treat the suffering. As your spouse works through False Love and in chapters Steps 7-8 of True Betrayal we will treat the pain of your experience.
You might ask the question, “Why are we dealing with the ‘suffering’ before the ‘pain’? Can’t we do both at the same time?” We are. If you spouse is working through False Love, that is the most important component of working on the pain that can be addressed at this stage.
At this time in your spouse’s work, he/she will be learning what it means to genuinely repent to God, how to thoroughly confess his/her sin to you (humbly seeking forgiveness, not just giving you an accurate history), and learning what is reasonable to expect of him/her in the restoration process. This is an important time for your spouse, but these steps may not be as conversationally interactive as the previous steps.
“However, in early recovery there is very little available for you because all the energy you partner put into his or her addiction must now be directed toward his or her own recovery… The addict can no more understand your need for remorse than you can understand what it’s like for him to not act out for 30 days (p. 50).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart
Unless we take some time to work on the suffering side of your experience, it would be tempting for you to grow increasingly passive, impatient, and bitter as your spouse transitions from steps where there is a high information transfer to steps that produces less information to share.
These do not have to be “the silent steps” for you. They can be a time when you work through the information you have gained in the first three steps of your journey. You have taken in an unsettling amount of information. It would be unwise to quickly move forward without taking time to assimilate what you’ve learned, distilled the destructive messages (Step 4), grieve the betrayal (Step 5), and reframe these painful events in light of the gospel (Step 6).
While you may share with your spouse pieces of Steps 4 and 5, the more complete version of what needs to be said will put into words as you complete Step 6. Realize that your spouse will be in a similar place in his/her journey through Steps 4-6 of False Love. Hopefully, the honesty and disclosure of Steps 1-3 has developed enough trust to sustain this middle leg of the journey.
As we define and examine the suffering story you use to make sense of your suffering, we will do so in three sections.
- Sexual Sin: A Disrupted Story
- Ten Potential Themes of Your Suffering Story
- From Facts to Themes to Story
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