What is Emotional Restitution?
Infidelity damages everyone and everything it touches. It steals what is precious. In Full Disclosure, we took ownership of our actions, what we did, who we did things with, and where and when these actions occurred. The focus was primarily on our unfaithful behavior.
Now we will focus on the ways our infidelity has harmed the people we love, particularly our spouse. You might be confused. Wasn’t Full Disclosure enough?
It is not enough to admit simply the wrong actions we have taken and say we are responsible for our actions. Telling someone we have wronged them and then considering this admission of truth to be both the beginning and end of our responsibilities is deeply incorrect.
Infidelity, whatever type, takes us out of reality, detaching us from the full impact of our actions. Emotional Restitution is the courageous return to reality, allowing us to do what is absolutely critical to recovery, join our partner in their pain. Emotional restitution requires an ongoing posture of humility and self-reflection, allowing ourselves to feel the full impact of what we have done, rather than hiding behind our defenses and watching those we love struggling. This is sometimes more difficult than Full Disclosure, as that is a one-time event. Emotional Restitution is a new way of living each and every day.
Emotional Restitution Statement: I will courageously commit to living in reality, feeling into both my spouse’s pain and my own. I will both acknowledge and allow myself to be impacted daily by the results of my infidelity which will require me to process my own grief and join my spouse in processing his/hers. I will bravely revisit the events of the infidelity and emotions surrounding these events with my spouse. I will commit to working with my spouse to address the various challenges my infidelity has created in our everyday lives.
Emotional Restitution Statement Breakdown
I will courageously commit to living in reality, feeling into both my spouse’s pain and my own. Infidelity is, at its core, deceitful and abandoning. You are committing here to living in the truth, even if it is painful. You are also allowing wise others to speak into your life, helping you to know what the truth is, as infidelity has damaged your ability to recognize and live in the truth. Finally, you are willing to feel both your spouse’s pain and your own, rather than trying to make the pain stop. You are joining with her rather than abandoning him/her.
I will acknowledge and allow myself to be impacted daily by the results of my infidelity which will require me to process my own grief and join my spouse in processing his/hers. Your infidelity has costs to both you and your spouse. Neither one of you can escape the losses. The only option is being willing to grieve. This means you need to make space to feel and process both your own grief and to connect with your spouse’s. The two of you can grieve individually, but grieving together is far more powerful and healing to the relationship. It ensures neither of you will continue to carry the pain and shame into the future.
I will bravely revisit the events of the infidelity and emotions surrounding these events with my spouse. You must be willing to process the events of your infidelity both for your sake and your spouse’s. Thinking about your infidelity is painful, so your impulse will be to get away from it. However, this will result in you not healing emotionally, not learning what you need to learn, and not making needed changes in your life and relationships. Your spouse will also not be able to heal. You must be willing to talk about what happened. Revisit details of the infidelity as needed, which may be quite frequent at the beginning of recovery. Allow yourself to feel into both your own experience and your spouse’s. Remember, showing up without feeling means no healing will happen. It is just storytelling and rehashing details.
I will commit to working with my spouse to address the various challenges my infidelity has created in our everyday lives. Infidelity has made both of your lives a lot harder. You really only have two options: accept reality and work with your spouse to address challenges or get upset with reality and your spouse, demanding both conform to the way you want them to be. Choosing to work with your spouse addressing the difficulties your infidelity has created is the healing path for both of you.
Recognizing Your Blocks to Emotional Restitution
Anything difficult and worth doing involves us overcoming resistance. Resistance is any thought, attitude, or mindset coming from within us or from destructive sources around us that moves us away from living in reality. Oftentimes, resistance is very convincing and can even pass itself off as reality, but it isn’t. Here are some common examples of resistance in completing emotional restitution:
- I have already admitted what I did and I take responsibility. There is nothing else I can do.
- Continuing to dwell on my infidelity is harming me and my spouse. We need to move on with our lives.
- It is bad for my spouse to continue to feel into the pain of my infidelity.
- Feeling into my own pain around my infidelity is harming me not helping me, and I should avoid it.
- No one understands me or my experience as the unfaithful spouse.
- Recovery work is me getting “beat up.”
- Asking your spouse to tell you what they need and then telling them you just can’t meet their expectations.
The antidote to resistance is willingness. Willingness is the daily commitment to do what is necessary to recover, regardless of how difficult. Willingness is not being “completely ready” to do all parts of recovery. Willingness is not being fully capable today of doing everything you need to do in recovery or knowing how it all turns out. Instead, it is being willing to daily take the next right step towards the goal of full recovery. Sometimes these steps are small, like going to a counseling appointment, checking in with a support person, or texting your spouse your physical location when out running errands. Sometimes they are larger, like processing grief with your spouse or making a job change. Either way, willingness to engage in recovery is a gift you are giving your spouse and yourself. Know that those who engage in recovery find peace, healing, and joy. Let these words be an encouragement to you.
Emotional Restitution Steps
Instructions: Each of the following is a section you should write out as a part of your Emotional Restitution Letter. Be thoughtful, taking time to write and re-write sections of this letter. Remember, when you take time to diligently apply yourself in recovery tasks, you are caring for both your spouse and yourself.
I am responsible for my infidelity, you are not.
Start your letter here. For some of you, the statement above echoes what you believe in your core. You really see infidelity as something you chose. While you may not have had the perfect marriage or perfect spouse, you know you always had better options than to be unfaithful. For others, as you search yourself, you find a lingering sense of blame for your spouse, your marital relationship, your life circumstances, or any number of things. The reality is, we are always responsible for who we choose to become in life. Reading this may cause discomfort, but it is the truth.
Regardless of your position, your spouse, in most cases, feels some level of responsibility or even blame for your infidelity. While they will need to process this hurt for themselves, what you are able to do is speak directly to it. Specifically, it is critical for you to take a stance of owning that your infidelity was your fault. They are not to blame for what you chose to do. Again, while it is true they may not have been a perfect spouse or that the marriage may have been struggling, infidelity was not your only option and certainly not a solution. Let them know this explicitly. List out the ways your spouse was honoring and protecting the fidelity of the marriage, while you were working against it. This is both living in reality and not abandoning your spouse in his/her self-blame.
How I Deceived You and Others
Infidelity involves a great deal of deceit, manipulation, showmanship. The goal is to not get caught. It is very important for you to own very honestly all the ways you actively covered up being unfaithful. Honesty is the remedy to deceit. Here are some examples of ways you may have covered up your infidelity:
- Directly lying to your partner.
- Indirectly lying to your partner by leaving out the truth and important details.
- Trying to present to your partner and others an image that did not match your secret life.
Then, take time to write out the damage you perceive your lying did to your spouse and others. Developing empathy means allowing yourself to see and feel into what you did from other’s point of view.
Taking Full Responsibility for All Impacts of Your Infidelity
In Full Disclosure you let your spouse know what happened in your infidelity. Now, you are going to own all the areas of damage your infidelity has caused for your spouse and others. Listing these areas thoroughly will allow you to join with your spouse in grief, as we are only able to grieve the losses we admit exist. Here are some areas of impact to help you start. You may have areas in addition to what is listed below.
- Who was Harmed: List out all the people who have been harmed directly and indirectly by your infidelity. Include even those who are effected by your infidelity but may not be aware of it.
- Emotional Damage: How has your infidelity harmed those in your life emotionally. Pay special attention to your spouse and immediate family, such as children. Take time to list out your understanding of how each person is hurting.
- Physical Damage: Did your infidelity involve any destruction of property or loss? If so, list it here.
- Financial Damage: Infidelity often has financial consequences. These can include loss of employment, money spent on the infidelity, and even needing to have a marital separation. List out all the financial losses here.
- Sexual Damage: Infidelity damages your sexual relationship with your partner. It creates difficulty in desiring, engaging in, and enjoying sexual intimacy. Infidelity may cause your partner to become insecure sexually and feel as if they don’t measure up. It may also have exposed you and your partner to sexually transmitted diseases. Please list out all the sexual impacts of your infidelity.
- Intrapersonal Damage: These are the ways your infidelity has damaged how your spouse relates to himself/herself. This can include your spouse having felt confident in their attractiveness and now seeing themselves as lacking. Your spouse may begin to view positive qualities in themselves with distain because you used those qualities against them in your infidelity. For example, perhaps your spouse was trusting and compassionate, quick to see the best in you and empathize. During your infidelity you used this to allow you to deceive him/her at will and gain empathy all while being unfaithful in secret.
- Interpersonal Damage: These are the ways your infidelity has harmed relationships with other people. It is not uncommon for infidelity to cause rifts in you or your partners relationships with others. This distance or even conflict can occur in friendships, work relationships, at church, or with family. Your partner may feel distance with others simply because your infidelity is so painful, but they don’t want to go around letting many people know about it. Take time to specifically name all the relationships your infidelity has damaged for you and your partner.
Laying Down Your Weapons
Your infidelity coming to the surface has left you feeling exposed and vulnerable. When you have a bad sunburn, the last thing you want is for someone to come along and touch it. If someone does, you quickly pull yourself away and probably say something in anger to the person. Infidelity pain is much worse than a sunburn, for both you and your spouse. “Weapons” here are tools we use to chase our spouse away from talking about our infidelity. They are our defenses. Take time to list out the weapons you use on your spouse. Listing them is the first step in taking their power away. Next own with your spouse your intention to take responsibility for and to stop these behaviors. Here are some examples of behaviors and taking responsibility:
- Hiding in my shame: When you talk to me about my infidelity, I quickly go into shame, telling you that I am a failure and will never measure up in our marriage. I am able to hide from what my infidelity has done to you and others, rather than connecting with what you feel. I need to put this defense to the side and allow myself to stay emotionally present.
- Attacking you for being hurt by my infidelity: When you bring up what you need from me, how I have hurt you, or struggling with trust I respond by attacking you. I tell you that you are being unforgiving, that you are always talking about my infidelity, you are ripping our family/marriage apart, or that you are keeping us from healing. This is wrong of me. What I am actually doing is refusing to take responsibility for my actions and to allow myself to feel into reality. I am fighting feeling and grieving by attacking you. I need to stop blaming you for being hurt because I am the one who hurt you.
- Making Threats: I threaten you, our children, or others when you approach me about my infidelity. I tell you that I am going to leave you, that I am going to take our children, or that I will ruin you financially. I may even get physically aggressive, including trying to scare you by yelling or damaging property. The bottom line is I try to intimidate you into silence and not feeling. It is wrong for me to try and control what you are allowed to feel and think. I got to choose my infidelity, I don’t get to choose how hurt you are.
- Emotionally Aloof: I maintain a “logical” and emotionally detached stance with you. I treat you like you are broken and your emotional pain makes you less than. I encourage you to think things over and be rational when you start to express you pain with me. The reality is I am avoiding my own emotions and yours by retreating into my thoughts. By being “logical” I am trying to keep myself from ever having to really feel what I have done. The truth is your feelings do not make you irrational, they mean you are human. You need to be able to feel and I need to as well.
- Minimizing: I try to make you think my actions are not as serious or harmful as they actually are. I cause you to question your own perceptions of reality and your own pain. You are not making too “big of a deal” out of my infidelity. I am trying to make my infidelity smaller so I don’t have to deal with it. My infidelity is very serious and has created significant consequences.
- Rationalization: I want you to think my behavior is really all right and that it is you who has the problem. I am just a sexual person, all men/women are unfaithful/use porn/etc, you are just sexually inhibited. These are total lies. My infidelity is not about me being a “sexual person”, being sexually liberated, or about you not providing enough sex. My infidelity is about my struggles with my own pain and my lack of character.
- Being Charming: I have a winning personality that really works for me with most people and has usually worked with you. I will use humor, my good looks, saying the “right things” or anything else to cover my insincerity. The truth is I am using a set of skills a learned in life to help me “fly under the radar” with others. Most people don’t dig deep enough to get past my charming surface. I need to admit I really have a problem with allowing myself to be reached emotionally and I need help.
- Pat on the Head: I reward you with affection, attention, and affirmation when you don’t talk about my infidelity or the pain it caused. I consider these “good days.” I tell you it is so nice to have them and say I want us to have more “good days.” What I am actually doing is giving you little “pats on the head” for avoiding the reality of my infidelity. It is not a “good day” when you are not able to talk about or acknowledge my infidelity. It is a good day when we are both authentic, connecting with our core emotions and connecting with each other.
Trust and Accountability
Your infidelity damaged your partner’s sense of safety in the relationship. His/her trust was severely undermined. It is likely your spouse will need additional accountability from you in order to help them regain a sense of safety. How you respond to these needs is critical.
Know that your partner is not enjoying the experience of having his/her trust damaged and needing reassurances. In fact, they don’t like it at all. This is not just a loss for you, the loss of trust is a painful reality for them. First, express in writing your understanding of why they need the accountability they do from you. Do not shame them or attempt to make them feel guilty. Don’t react angrily to their need. Second, acknowledge their grief/loss and yours. You are both grieving the loss of trust. Grieving together, in place of blaming, shaming, and anger will bring you both to a place of healing. It will also aid in rebuilding trust.
Take time to write out how you have damaged trust and that you accept your partner’s need for accountability. Let them know your ideas for how you want to be accountable to them and express a willingness to create a Transparency Plan.
Meeting You In Your Pain.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in infidelity recovery is having the courage to feel into the deepest places of pain with your spouse. Admitting what you have done and saying that you take responsibility is not the same as holding the hurt with them. But that is exactly what your spouse needs you to do. They need you to be willing to go near the pain you caused. They need to know they can feel into anger, sadness, and fear with you right beside them.
Acknowledge to your spouse it is right for them to need you to feel into the pain with them. Let them know they are not harming you, punishing you, or being unforgiving for needing this. Instead, thank them for the opportunity to be a part of healing what you hurt in them. Let them know feeling into the pain together is the most powerful way to heal and you are committed to doing this with them. Assure your spouse you will put your own defenses to the side and go into the dark places with them.
Close with expressing deep appreciation for your spouse. Let them know you recognize what a gift they are giving you by being willing to hear your Emotional Restitution today. Express how much it means to you they have been willing to be part of the recovery process to this point. Let them know you take seriously them allowing you the chance to live out this Emotional Restitution in the weeks and months ahead. Finally, offer an appreciation for who they are as a person, letting them know that they should not feel any shame about themselves, even about qualities in them you misused against them. Don’t ask for forgiveness. Instead, simply end your letter with “love”, “sincerely”, or another warm closing.
Take time every 30 days to revisit the commitments you made in your Emotional Restitution Letter with your spouse. Be open to evaluating how you are doing honoring what you said you would do. Be accountable and humble. Take your commitments seriously and own where you have fallen short with humility.
Recovery from infidelity is very possible. Be encouraged that your willingness to complete Emotional Restitution is another move towards healing in the relationship and in your life. You are on the right path!
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