4. EMPATHY


IMPACT LETTER

 

OBJECTIVE

The objective of the Betrayed Partner Impact Letter is to clearly communicate the impact of the betrayal. The focus should be all about you, the betrayed partner. The letter should explore your emotions, your body, your sexuality, your life, and, most importantly, capturing the experiences that you have gone through. Even though you will feel scared at times, please make an effort to be as vulnerable as possible.

 

Try not to soften your tone to protect your spouse. He/she really needs to hear this. It is helpful to be specific with your examples. Even though you are not holding back or softening the letter, do not purposefully try to shame or talk down to your partner. We encourage you to find the balance between being completely true to your experience without being in attack mode. Your therapist will help you to calibrate how your message is coming across. 

PREPARATION OF THE LETTER

The letter should be prepared with your therapist's support. Powerful emotions will arise which will may feel overwhelming or may cause you to bail on the process. Stick with it and reach out for support in those moments. Have your therapist review drafts of the letter. Often it takes several weeks to prepare a letter that adequately captures the breadth and depth of your experience. 

READING OF THE LETTER

When you are ready, schedule a a therapy session so the letter can be read. Be sure you have support lined up after the session as you may feel upset afterwards.

STRUCTURE OF THE LETTER

 

Part 1: OPENING

Explain what you are hoping that this letter will lead to and what you would like to get from your partner.  For example:

 

“Dear Partner, Writing this letter made me feel exposed and vulnerable. I have had to muster up all of my courage to be open and describe what my life since the betrayal has really been like for me. I am asking that, as you hear the letter, you set aside feelings of defensiveness and really hear what I am trying to say. My goal is to help you understand the breadth and depth of my experiences ever since the betrayal. My hope is that you will be able to see it through my eyes, that you will listen to it and think about me more than thinking that I am attacking you. Yes, I am hurt but I am writing this with the hope of building a bridge of understanding between us. And, after reading this letter, I would truly appreciate your empathy, compassion and comfort.”

 

Part 2: BODY OF LETTER

In this section, describe all of your partner’s actions in as much detail as you believe is helpful. It doesn't have to be beautiful prose. Making a list of bullet points can be powerful. Just get the thoughts onto a paper so you two as a couple can deal with it together.

Include the following items:
 

  • A chronology of relationship events (discovery date, moving out of the house, follow up contact...)

  • Non-relationship events (son's graduation right after disclosure)

  • Break up timeline into phases if possible.

  • Feelings associated with each event and time periods.

  • Describe how the betrayal impacted you physically at different periods (throwing up, panic attacks)

  • Dishonesty (be specific about each type of deception or important times that you remember)

  • Manipulation that occurred. 

  • Instances where you doubted yourself and why you did. Gaslighting.

  • The impact on your sexuality, your view of yourself as sexually attractive, your desire for your partner, and your body image. 

  • The impact on your beliefs about life, faith, and family.

  • Fears about being judged. 

  • Times you felt embarrassed or shame.

  • Your feelings about the affair partner(s).

  • Your thoughts and feelings about trust with your partner and in general. Your feelings about whether it can be restored.

  • Your efforts for self-care (emotionally, mentally, and physically)

  • The boundaries in the relationship that are important to you.

 

Part 3. CLOSING

Restate your appreciation for your partner's participation in receiving the letter. Let him/her know that you realize how hard it must be to hear the full scope of the harm that was done. In the closing ask your partner for:

  • compassion and empathy

  • comfort (be specific as to what, if any, kinds of comforting that you think would be helpful).

  • his/her genuine thoughts and feelings in reaction (you don't want him/her to be nice in a fake way)

 

CLOSING ENCOURAGEMENT

Preparing this letter is usually equally healing for both partners. As your therapist, we want to affirm the courage to both partners, to read and to receive this message. Please let us support you as you work through this important step in your recovery.