Last month we talked about feelings of anger, shame, grief, and anxiety in the aftermath of your spouse’s sexual sin. And we highlighted the truth that emotions aren’t right or wrong, they just are. Think of them as warning lights on your car’s dashboard. If you understand what a flashing light means, you know what the problem is and can address it.
The same is true for you. A light is flashing on the dashboard of your heart, and it’s telling you to pay attention. How you respond to the aftershock of your spouse’s sexual sin will determine how well you’ll manage your life in the weeks and months ahead.
You’re in a spiritual struggle as well as a human one, so don’t be surprised that it will take time and practice to work through your emotions. But even in your pain, God will draw near to you as you draw near to Him. And there are specific steps you can take to deal with your emotions in a healthy way.
Before we take a closer look, it’s important to distinguish between primary emotions and secondary emotions. Primary emotions are what we feel in direct response to an event or a specific stimulus. They’re initial reactions that are natural, instinctive, or unthinking. A secondary emotion is “an emotion about an emotion.” For example, you might feel guilty or ashamed about the fact that you feel sad or lonely.
Five steps to work through your emotions in a healthy way
1. Identify your primary emotions. Being aware of your initial reaction can help you decide how to respond. If possible, jot down a word or two describing the emotion and what triggered it. Later, journal in more detail about the feelings you identified.
2. Dig deeper to uncover buried (secondary) emotions. As a result of the environment in which we grew up and the people who raised us, we usually revert to emotional responses we learned from our upbringings. Digging into buried secondary emotions can help you evaluate the thinking that drives those responses.
3. Practice getting in touch with your emotions. If you’re not sure where to start, Google “feelings wheel” or “emotions chart” to find words that describe how you feel.
4. Increase your vocabulary for expressing different emotions. The more specifically you can identify your feelings, the more likely your spouse will understand you. For example, the primary emotion mad could mean anything from annoyed to enraged. Use a word that accurately reflects what you feel.
5. Practice communicating, “I feel ___ when you ___.” This way of bringing up a concern can reduce the risk of conversation escalating into conflict.
As you follow these steps, you’ll honor and respond to your emotions in a productive way!
These principles are drawn from the book Aftershock: Overcoming His Secret Life with Pornography—A Plan for Recovery by Joann Condie and Geremy Keeton.
Next month: Overcome Distorted Thinking