Informed by clinical research, as well as examples from the author’s practice and personal experience, in the book After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful, Dr. Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., an expert on issues of trust, fidelity, and forgiveness, outlines specific steps partners can take to heal their relationship, and rather than give in to despair, grow and thrive as individuals and partners from the shattering crisis of infidelity.
One step is for the partner who was unfaithful to write a letter, as a result of first completing other steps (preferably therapeutic work in couples therapy), from which a better understanding of the root and impact of their own harmful actions, now frees them to make a deeper commitment to their partner, the relationship, and themselves. This level of integrity can only be reached by identifying and examining the impact of old excuses, misguided assumptions, desires and unfair judgments or expectations of partner that the betraying partner may now consider and embrace.
Often stemming from past experiences, for example, unrealistic expectations are often rooted in unresolved issues and early childhood wounds, misplaced values and conventions, and other factors that lead to difficulties in regulating one’s own emotional states of mind and body, and response to day to day frustrations in a marriage. As a result, a partner may expect their spouse to anticipate their needs, and then blame them for not feeling fulfilled, without even having clearly thought through, much less clearly communicated their needs. This very mindset is what often sets the stage for a partner to justify fulfilling those needs in damaging ways outside the marriage. In addition to working with a therapist that has experience with infidelity issues, Dr. Spring’s book is an invaluable guide to prevent infidelity, as well a heal from its impact.
A letter the partner who was unfaithful writes:
Adopted from the book, the letter below is an example the partner who was unfaithful may personally customize, write and read aloud to their partner (ideally, in a couples therapy session).
I’m deeply sorry for being unfaithful, telling lies and taking other actions that led to the pain this has caused you, and the ongoing struggles and sorrow we are now experiencing together, as we seek to heal our relationship.
As a result of poor actions and choices on my part, we are now working on, and hopefully will survive, healing as individuals from a crisis that hit at the core of our relationship and shattered its foundations of trust and personal integrity.
I know now that I must face the truth that in addition to you, the person I most deceived, and let down was myself, my own integrity and standards. I allowed my excuses, justifications, complaints to justify choices that were destructive, and I broke our vows to one another.
I am grateful for the chance to work with you, and grateful that you are willing to work with me to rebuild something anew, this time stronger, as a result of the new understandings you and I now have of who we really are, as human beings, what we need from each other, and most of all, what we need from our own self to make healthy choices at times when we feel stressed. For me, this means that regardless the situation, it’s my responsibility to make a healthy versus quick-fix choice to deal with the day to day stresses and frustrations, and also to accept some level of stress as a natural aspect of living, growing, and building a life together with another human being, the person you love, your life partner.
I now realize how often I blamed you for my dissatisfaction and unhappiness; and that it was my own thinking patterns, and not you, that failed me. I failed because, like a child, I wanted to avoid, and didn’t know how, to deal with the pain of facing my own contributions to my unhappiness. It was too painful to admit this.
It was not you, and rather these patterns of blame and excuse-making that intensified my unhappiness, in addition to certain unrealistic expectations I held for you to fulfill, heal and delight me … and that this should be easy, without any effort on my part.
My ideas about fidelity and love talked me into thinking I was “entitled” to look for pleasure elsewhere; ultimately, this is what caused me to be unfaithful to you. I no longer expect you to meet my idealized fantasies of love or sex.
I also understand how the ideas and issues I brought into our relationship made me misperceive and mistreat you, and how this made it impossible for you to know me, love me or to give me what I needed. I alienated you at the very time when I most wanted and needed your love, and to feel my love was important to you.
I now see how important communication is to the life and vitality, joy and health of our relationship, and thus how vital this is to our growth and health as individuals, that we learn to authentically communicate in ways that build (rather than block) our sense of love and trust, mutual connection and understanding of our self and one another.
I understand why I strayed, and I am committed to doing everything in my power to keep our relationship strong and thriving, to help you and our relationship heal, and to protect myself from straying again. I commit myself to you fully, and through my behavior and actions, not through words alone, I’ll continue to demonstrate my commitment to you.
I promise with all my heart and strength of mind:
- To be the gatekeeper of my life, mind and body, and to take full responsibility for remaining faithful to you–and us.
- To keep my word and cease all contact with the person in question.
- To make you my partner of accountability, and keep you informed.
- To ask often what you need to restore your sense of safety and trust again, and patiently let you lead the healing processes of our relationship.
- To prove to you with action-backed words that no person will ever again pose a threat to us.
- To work out my problems in the context of our love and life together.
- To never cheat again, and to avoid any and all appearances to the best of my ability, that would shake your sense of safety and trust.
- To make you my partner of accountability, that is, through my actions to keep you informed and regularly assure you of my of my and faithfulness, so that you don’t have to play the role of detective any longer.
- To work hard and make continued effort to grow strong in my own sense of integrity, so that over time, you are more and more confident that I am doing my part to thoughtful guard my hear and mind, our marriage, and all we have together.
I’m truly sorry for actions that caused this pain and crisis. I ask you to please forgive me, and at the same time, I realize that I must be patient, and that this will take time and effort on my part, that this will come largely due to effort on my part to reconcile our relationship.
In Part 2, a letter in response from the partner who was betrayed.