Notes to readers:
I know it hurts. There’s a lot of pain and maybe an anger you have never experienced before. You have a betrayal story to tell and this workbook will support you/ guide you in organizing it. But first a few important notes for you, Precious Reader:
Why do this?
If you’ve been betrayed by problematic sexual behavior in your intimate relationship I tell you this: you need to participate in your own healing. Time doesn’t assuage/ameliorate these wounds. Departing from the relationship doesn’t make the impact disappear.
Your intimate partners hard work doesn’t heal you completely either.
Discovering that your spouse, fiance, or partner has made choices that breach your sexual-relational contract means that he or she needs to get rigorous in identifying and owning up to the actions and generate tremendous efforts for recovery for the self along with the relationship you share. If he or she so chooses. This can be a long, arduous process and you should be informed as your partner goes along. It’s like climbing a mountain after dwelling in a valley; if your partner wants to make a lasting change he or she needs tools, support, and a hearty plan.
But you have your own mountain to climb.
To sit back, wait, and watch what your partner does will not undo or heal your experience. Certainly, your partner can be an agent of help and some healing but the truth stands; even if your partner were perfect from this day forward, never hurting you again, it would not remedy all that feels lost, stolen, and broken by the betrayal you’ve experienced.
The wounds of infidelity deserve the respect of an active process where the betrayed individual can collect the impact of it all, organize what happened from the betrayed prospective, and insert his or her own voice into the story line.
I assert you didn’t want this to happen. It wasn’t according to plan and the chaos that ensues for many partners can create a story line that feels larger than life/insurmountable. The gift you can give yourself in your heartbrokeness is to gather your strength and use the energy of your pain to cultivate a narrative; to transcend the story you’ve been dealt. And the journey of doing so will help you heal.
I didn’t sign up for this.
Perhaps the most unfair part of it all is that you didn’t sign up for this but now you must be involved. Truly in a perfect world if a person betrays you that person would fix it themselves. But hurt doesn’t work like that. Pain remains even if the person who inflicted the pain transforms into a changed individual. For many partners, this pain resonates as trauma. And it lingers, riddled with triggers and images you may or may not have even been present for. In this workbook we will honor these triggers and develop a plan to help you feel supported by your partner and eventually more free from the strongholds of the mind full of traumatic imagery.
This may not be your first betrayal story.
It is normal if other hurts from characters of the past begin to resurface in this process. While the worksheets in this book focus on the betrayal story you have regarding your intimate partner’s sexual behavior, we will account for other wounds that contribute to how you experience the current betrayal you are dealing with. I urge all working through this book to have a therapist walk alongside them. You may be able to tie up loose ends from the past or resolve hurts by doing so. By letting yourself be supported through this process you respect your pain and reduce the shouldering of your burdens alone.
Why a letter?
The Impact Zone Letter offers you a guided process of introspection helping you get clear about where you’ve been and what you need in relationship going forward. You may or may not stay in your current relationship, but any romance in your future will be impacted by the distrust that culminates for a partner who experienced lies, manipulation, infidelity, or all of the above.
If you and your partner are working towards repair your letter will serve as a keyhole/illuminating document for him or her to better understand your experience, your pain and your process. We will make a plan for what’s called an Therapeutic Impact Session in this book as well.
What is “pain energy”?
At its height, Pain Energy is the swelling momentum that builds behind the inexpressable feelings that churn and boil over inside. This state often feels like an overwhelm too big for the body- like a toxic air suffocating the lungs, an ear-plugging swarm of notions that overtake, pressurize, and paralyze functioning in the moment. The powerful energy from the pain. And it absorbs back into the body if it doesn’t come out. Typical ways humans release this energy are tears, rage, slicing words, or physical output. I’m going to encourage you to write when this happens. But instead of transcribing the anger, go deeper and transcribe the pain.
Impact letters have been used for years by many people who have survived various traumas and wounds. This book is designed to take your through a deeply introspective process of writing an impact letter that collects the elements of betrayal you’ve experienced from your intimate partner’s sexual behaviors. Regardless if these sexual behaviors manifested physically or emotionally, the toll the behaviors have taken you as an individual (and the relationship) can be accounted for in an organized way that assists you in your healing.
There are three parts to every relationship: the two individuals and the relationship itself. When one individual’s actions cause a wound for the other member of the relationship then three actions need to happen in order for repair to occur between the two.
1. The person who caused the hurt needs to work toward health so that further pain and damage is limited.
2. The person who was hurt by the actions needs to consider how he or she might overcome the wound.
3. The relationship needs to be restructured to repair and rebuild where it’s been afflicted.
Take note of this; regardless of whether or not the relationship moves toward reconciliation, the wounded individual can heal. You can heal no matter what your partner does. If your partner does not move toward healing as an individual then staying with that person long-term may not provide a fertile context for you to heal. Reconciling the relationship is a factor in how you heal, but it does not dictate your chances to heal. You do.
Whether you plan to reconcile the relationship or not, do make a plan to heal. Your partner may be on a recovery path or new trajectory… or maybe not. This book will not sort through the ambivalence you may feel about proceeding in the relationship but it will add to your healing if you put your heart into the work. And if you are healing then your relationship will have a greater chance of reconciliation because you will be sowing your part.
Again, it’s not fair.
It’s not fair that something invaded your relationship without your permission. And it’s also unfair to acquire an unwanted workload of healing tasks when you never asked for this situation in the first place. The choice to take action against letting the wounds haunt you forevermore is a courageous one. Let your self be supported by a caring therapist through this journey. But if you’re willing and ready to launch deeper, pick up a pen, gather your courage, and put your heart into this work as you begin.
Betrayal sparks a lot of questions for the partner. Once sex addiction is on the table one of the first questions a partner answers for him or herself is, “Can I tolerate living like this much longer?”
Most partners will respond with a resounding NO which leads them to a second question, “Is there hope for our sex addiction situation?” This becomes a decision point and some partners will decide the answer is NO… either there has been too much ruin to recover from or they feel the addict is under-invested in recovery… and it is here where some partners will opt out of the relationship. Partners who choose to leave need just as much support as partners who stay. As they enter a new phase of life the weight of betrayal still requires attention as it doesn’t disappear along with the relationship. I would like to touch on this unique experience in another video… and so..shifting back to the question, “is there hope for this situation?”
Some partners will say YES, there’s hope… and identify the possibility for addiction and relationship recovery leading them to ask yet a third question, “So then, what has to happen for this to get better?” This begins the planning stage for the partner. Some partners will plan to sit back; put the recovery work in the addict’s lap and wait for the addict to restore the relationship by getting healthy. Over time, we find that this option unravels into more peril for the relationship because it doesn’t address the trauma that took pace for the partner. But when a partner faces this question and they respond with, “I HAVE to heal…” THEN, they have opened the door for that to happen and the potential for repair in the relationship is preserved.
Healing for the partner involves gaining therapeutic support, addressing the trauma, and assessing the impact of the sex addiction. There are five zones of impact the partner needs to explore: the physical, emotional, cognitive, sexual, and existential components of a person are each impacted with ramifications from the problematic sexual behavior. The result of this is some form of acute trauma. We call this complex partner trauma and they’re are five layers to it.
First, there’s the core of the initial betrayal- the wounds from the infidelity, which would be enough for any person to recover from but it doesn’t stop there. Staggered disclosure adds another layer of trauma as the partner often experiences a series of lies and deceits from the addict in effort to conceal the problematic behavior. Studies have shown that the addict will lie and deceive out of 2 general fears: fear of hurting the partner and secondly fear of the partners reaction. But, no matter how protective the addict feels his or her actions may be these lies generate another layer of trauma for the partner as it causes disorientation to the partners reality and a dulling effect on her ability to trust her own gut feelings. Sometimes years of this covert emotional abuse take place before the partner truly discovers what is going on. And thus, a third layer of trauma occurs for the partner in the form of relationship disrepair wherein communication turns raw and trust erodes rapidly. The relationship functions off-kilter and the partner often feels invalidated about her feelings and hunches.
Out of this, a 4th layer of complex partner trauma develops; that of living in an altered life state. Feelings of isolation, confusion, desperation, and operating below ones potential can occur as the current feeling state of the partner becomes incongruent with her hopes for the relationship or her dreams for her own life.
Sometimes then, a fifth layer of trauma envelopes the partner: a layer of self betrayal wherein she may find herself acting outside of her character and compounding the trauma as a result. Sometimes this takes form in retaliative efforts such as having an affair to give the addict a taste of his own medicine or the formation of her own maladaptive coping strategies due to need for relief from such acute pain.
…Actions such as these, though very understandable, still betray the self and add to the rubble heap.
The partners experience involves very complex thoughts, feelings and is often complicated by triggers and ambivalence. Upon discovery of the sex addiction, a sense of hypervigilance may develop for the partner which is part of living in that altered life state. Even in cases where the addict is on a healthy and sober recovery path, hypervigilance for the partner does not necessarily go away. In fact, it can even increase at this point causing some frustration for the addict who is eager to rebuild trust. The hypervigilance is a protective defense for a partner that develops in effort to never have the rug pulled out from under her again. And while this can dissipate over time, it requires patience and empathy from the addict.
One way I communicate help my partner clients communicate this to the addict is by using this demonstration.
“Close your eyes for a moment… and when you open them, zero in on everything yellow that you see in the room.” When partners open their eyes they see the yellow everywhere, the pillows in my office, my coffe mug, hints of yellow in the pictures on the wall – and she’ll nod and say, “Yes I’m seeing yellow everywhere… this is what its like for me, I’m zeroed in on his sex addiction and I’m hunting for yellow- for any clues that he’s acting out again.”
Sometimes hypervigilance can lead to some self betrayal behaviors like secretly following the addict in the car or devoting ones time to checking paper trails… and while these behaviors may have initially assisted the partner in discovering the sex addiction, they ultimately steal life away from the partner as his or her life centers around the addict and Alters her life to do so. Operating out of anxiety like this is counterproductive to the partners healing as they seek to expose omissions which can be crazy making. Partners need to feel empowered here to set aside behaviors that keep them dancing with addiction and develop eyes to observe the addict for demonstrations of a healthy recovery. When focus shifts away from “snooping” behaviors to information gathering, a partner builds her toolkit to stay safe. In her tool kit needs to be knowledge of sex addiction recovery as well as a developed list of boundaries and needs going forward in the relationship.
When partners communicate their needs to the addict they are able to live life with reduced anxiety and careful observation of how the addict is able to come to the table for their needs. An example of this may be a partner expressing the need for his initiation with a weekly check-in or stating, “I feel safer with a porn blocking software on your iPhone.”
If an addict is not able to demonstrate understanding and follow through for reasonable needs such as these then, in the words of my colleague Thomas Tullos, “THAT GIVE HER A LOT OF INFORMATION ABOUT WHERE HE’S AT.”
That goes to say that if healthy boundaries set by the partner are violated by the addict or expressed needs go on not being met in the relationship, she has every right to take a look at that and determine a threshold for herself for how long she is willing to tolerate that.
It’s true, healing from betrayal is a lot of work. It’s also true that when trauma happens to us, it’s not fair that we have to take an active part in the rebuilding process. However, partners on this journey, albeit excruciating at times, can feel whole and empowered once again. There are merits to be prodded to introspect on this level… and the resilience that can emerge can set a man or a woman on a trajectory of wholeness for a lifetime.
Relationship disrepair where in trust the roads rapidly and the relationship begins to function in an of kilter type of way. The addict that lives within a sex addict has D drive r that need to be starved and replaced with a healthy diet. If an addict is not replacing his drive with a healthy diet then when the addict is ready to eat after being starved he will binge.
Altered Life State
It’s like a piece of my flesh is burning in a fire and I can’t pull it out. The only other option is to cut it off… but then I’ll just be bleeding in a new way.
Partners may develop feelings that the addict is an extension of themselves and this does not necessary depend on the length of the commitment, years of marriage, etc.
The disorientation that can occur for a partner can cause a sort of “twilight zone” state of existence. Picture a turtle resting on a floating log with water bobbing up and down; he can’t be seen and then the water goes down and his head appears. This “bobbing” can be felt by a partner when it comes to the partner’s state of thriving or surviving.
I feel like a turtle on my back. I can’t flip over, I need someone to come and get me out of here; it’s getting dry and hot and I will die if I stay like this. I’m looking around, that’s all I can do. And what?! I’m just to supposed to be in this place and “feel my feelings?” No, I need an intervention. And where is the human who flipped me upside down like this? WHERE IS THE HUMAN? Why do I feel so different… I crawl into my shell… but it’s so hot in there. And I worry if someone comes along, they’ll pass my shell thinking it’s empty. BUT NO, I”M IN HERE!
All humans require certain conditions to thrive otherwise a failure to do so occurs. When safety needs such as trust and security, physical concerns and health changes are depleted, a person’s resilience mechanism conserves it’s energy reserves and concentrates energy toward the most important need. Trauma can interrupt this and cause an out of order need state wherein the partner places priority on settling her need for emotional security before a need that should be attended to first.
To Give or not to Give?
If you are committed to your relationship and have observed demonstrations of healthy recovery, experienced empathy, and feel a sense of newness with your mate then it is a good idea to share your impact letter with him or her. Therapy provides the context that works best for this special task. In the therapeutic setting, reading the impact letter can be seen as an intervention for both parties; to unload the weight of the partner’s story and express the pain and all the pieces in an organized, all-at-once way with a hearty helping of validation to follow. For the other, this intervention serves as a tool to practice and grow empathy. It’s a launching pad for understanding of the partner’s heart behind a message that may have been shared before by the partner but only in piecemeal fashion and perhaps in a less hearable way. Ultimately, for both people, the reading of the impact letter offers the opportunity for both people to move toward sharing the same picture of their story; blending the two opposing vantage points into one. This step takes time but can only begin when understanding of both sides of the event/s are understood as best as possible by each other. It is called sharing grief.
Arranging to read your impact letter can be as simple as discussing with it with your therapist. Review your letter with the therapist and ask him or her to assist you in applying the highlighting and revision tools in the last chapter. When I sit down with clients for this task, I let them know it will take a few sessions for us to review their whole impact letter depending on how long it is. The average impact letter ranges from 11-15 pages typed with single spacing. These are powerful, potent manuscripts that deserve the tender care of therapeutic notation and processing. Note: Clinicians can read tips on facilitating this process in chapter __:
Notes to Clinicians:
It’s important to check in with your intimate partner to gauge the openness and willingness to hear your letter. If empathy from your mate is a low commodity then you need to consider if you want to endure a response with minimal empathy. Envision yourself reading your letter; perhaps the worst pain of your life being described on paper- the search for meaning in it all, and your courageous survival thus far… what if the person whose sexual betrayal launched you into this story is not able to listen from the heart? Ouch. This serves as another reason to recommend a therapeutic setting where a trained clinician can facilitate the feelings that arise when the partner feels left wanting or the addict feels attacked.