Why Write a Letter of Clarification to Someone You Betrayed?

By Ken Wells - 09/09/2022


Series Three: Blog Sixty

Betrayal does a number on those who have been deceived in a romantic relationship. Most of the time a betrayed partner stumbles into the reality that their partner has been lying and cheating with someone else. When therapeutic disclosure happens their mind cannot wrap around the certainty of what they have heard. Surely, there must be some mistake! Everything seems so surreal. Numbness takes over their whole body. They don’t want to know what they have committed to sit down and hear. When will s/he ever stop? Everything feels like a sham. Some feel nauseous about what has been said. Some actually throw up. Some want to run out of the room and run away forever. Some do. Most feel stupid and some feel guilty as if it was their fault. All are puzzled and confused, wondering who is this person that I committed to?

Forgiveness of betrayal is not first on the list of issues that must be addressed when there is betrayal. It comes down the road. Honest disclosure is priority in order to establish a ground zero for healing in the presence of infidelity. Validation of pain and devastation is essential. It is critical that disclosure not be piecemealed or slowly bled out. Shedding light about the build up of thoughts and actions that led to the hurtful and disgusting behaviors is important for healing. These steps of healing require purposeful interventions with which both partners must participate in order for the relationship to heal. Of course, some betrayed partners need to leave the relationship in order to heal from the infidelity. 

At some point, forgiveness must be experienced in order for the relationship to heal. Many couples do not do essential preparation for forgiveness to be thorough and complete. Consequently, the memory of betrayed experience continues to haunt and undermine connection.  Even though still committed to the relationship, the shadow of betrayal disables closeness.

A letter of clarification is a key preparatory component to the forgiveness process around offending behaviors. It is a letter written by the offending partner. Betrayed partners commonly feel responsible for the behaviors of their addicted partner in some way. Even though it is not true, partners of addicts often wonder “what is it about me that deserved this awful treatment?” Addicts must grasp that their addictive actions victimize others. In a greater sense, there is an offender in every one which expresses itself through a mentality that “wants what I want when I want it”.  It is the core of offending behavior. This part of offending must be exposed for what it is — the epitome of narcissism.

What must be cultivated in the heart of the offending person is the capacity to tell on yourself to the offended partner.

It is important for a victim to recognize by h/her own insight that you as an offender have victimized h/her. It is a more powerful healing experience when a perpetrator demonstrates awareness of ways in which h/she has victimized their partner.

A letter of clarification addresses the experience of gaslighting. The goal is to “unbrainwash” the offended partner so that h/she understand that you “get it” that they were not responsible for your abusive behavior. It is a crucial link to the process of forgiveness. It can pave the way to relational and individual compassion and forgiveness.

Clarification is not asking for forgiveness. That comes later. It is saying it straight. “Now that I told you all the destructive things that I have done and where that behavior has come from within me, here is the way in which I took advantage of the relationship and completed the behaviors that I did. Clarification goes a long way to deconstructing the lies and undermining behaviors that created the crazy-making gaslight experience that leaves offended partners bewildered and handicapped in their own healing process.

Listed are components to consider for your letter.

  • List the ways that you have offended. Not just the infidelities but all of the related hurtful behaviors should be included. For example, the lies, the blame, pouting, distance, passive aggressive behavior, etc. List the many ways that you have been hurtful to the relationship.
  • Recall the special memories of promise and commitment that you made that are now sullied with deceit. Recognizing that those special moments are spoiled because of your betrayal helps to validate the crazy-making pain your partner experiences.
  • List the overt (obvious) and covert ways that your partner objected to any hint of your hurtful behavior such as statements of disapproval of flirtation or any other behavior against the values of commitment.
  • Describe things you thought and did to groom yourself to act out in the behaviors you did.
  • Describe what you did to groom your partner to pull off your hurtful or addictive scheme. (Lies etc)
  • Share the excuses and addictive rationales you made to justify your behavior.
  • Identify your “smoke-screens” you utilized to gaslight your partner. (Moodiness, depression, anger, busyness, etc)
  • Describe your attitudes, fantasies and sexual behaviors that pre-dated the betrayal behavior that your partner suffers. This will assist your partner to recognize that your betrayal is not about h/her.
  • Specifically describe how you gaslighted your partner and created the confusion they suffer about whether you ever loved them. Give examples about how you demonstrated love to them and then turned around to use that example to pull off your addictive scheme. Share examples of the mixed messages you gave that gaslighted h/her.
  • Reassure h/her that there are people in their life who do not do what you have done. (friends, family etc)
  • Identify areas of your life that it would be unsafe for your partner to trust you without accountability.
  • Identify people you attempted hide your behavior who are close to your partner and who would have offered them support had they known what was going on. Also, what you did to hide it.
  • Underscore weaknesses and vulnerabilities your partner has and ways you took advantage of them to act out in the way you did.
  • Identify hardships that your partner/family have endured because of your hurtful behavior.
  • Thank them for listening/reading your letter and encourage them to share it with whoever they think can support them. End your letter without terms of endearment, like “Love Joe”. These behaviors are not what you want them to love.

Clarification is difficult but necessary to augment the terms necessary for a deeper forgiveness.

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