(This article is the first of a 2-part series outlining an amends-making process for sex addicts, known as emotional restitution. The information is adapted from the work of Patrick Carnes, PhD as presented in his workbook, The 90-Day Prep, in the Recovery Start Kit: A 100-day Plan for Addiction Recovery.)
the restoration of something lost or stolen to its proper owner
For partners of sex addicts, what is lost or stolen as a result of chronic sexual betrayal can include any or all of the following:
- Emotional, physical, and sexual safety
- Connection with partner, friends, or family
- Physical or sexual health
- Faith in humanity
While some of these losses are temporary—rather than permanent—they have a devastating impact.
An emotional restitution letter is an opportunity for sex addicts to clarify and validate how their behavior contributed to these losses—how they offended, manipulated, controlled, and deceived their partner when they were active in their addiction. The process is described by Carnes as an “assignment to ‘unbrainwash’ your partner.”
Emotional restitution is not a time for:
- You, as the addict, to explain your behavior or share how your trauma history contributed to your addiction
- Asking for forgiveness or to say you’re sorry
- Seeking sympathy, empathy, or understanding
- Highlighting ways your partner may have participated in the addictive cycle
Please note that an emotional restitution letter should not be completed or presented to the partner until after a formal therapeutic disclosure has taken place.
This article covers the first four parts of creating an emotional restitution letter. Next week I will cover the second half of the process.
Owning Your Behavior
In the first section of the emotional restitution letter, describe your distorted thinking, the ways you attempted to avoid being found out, and your awareness—at the time you were engaging in these behaviors—that your partner didn’t want to be deceived or hurt.
Part 1 should include:
- How your behaviors contradicted your relationship commitments and vows
- A description of how your partner tried to prevent or avoid the offending behaviors to protect herself
- How you rationalized or minimized your behaviors—either in your own mind, or directly to your partner
- Specific examples of how you attempted to avoid suspicion, including remaining silent in certain situations
- How you smoke-screened, gaslighted or otherwise tried to hide your offending behaviors
Discovery and disclosure of sexual betrayal causes betrayed partners to feel inadequate, less-than, or that it’s their fault their spouse was unfaithful. Partners are often relieved to learn that the addict engaged in their behaviors before the relationship began.
If your offending behaviors pre-dated your current relationship, give your partner specific examples of thoughts, attitudes, and offending behaviors you engaged in prior to your relationship to demonstrate that you have a pattern and history of these behaviors before your relationship began.
How You Confused Your Partner
Most betrayed partners have doubts about whether or not their unfaithful spouse truly loves her/him. Partners often say, “How could he act out and do all the things he did and love me?” or “If he really loved me, he wouldn’t have acted out.”
Part 3 of the emotional restitution letter is an opportunity for you to acknowledge and validate that not only do you understand how your partner could be confused or doubt your love for her, but how you played a part in creating her/his confusion. Lies, mixed messages, and secrets are all examples of how addicts create confusion and cause partners to doubt the addict’s love.
Avoid the temptation to try and convince your partner that you loved her at the time you were acting out. The purpose of this section is to simply acknowledge, validate, and affirm your understanding of why your partner may doubt your love for her/him and how you played a part.
Trust & Accountability in the Future
Partners who have experienced chronic sexual betrayal often don’t trust themselves to choose trustworthy people. They lose—at least temporarily—their confidence in trusting their own reality. They may believe that all men (or women) aren’t trustworthy.
In this section, assure your partner that not all partners act—or will act in the future—as you did in the relationship. If you know someone who is relational and healthy in the areas that you have been unhealthy and abusive, include them by name in this section as examples.
Also include here your awareness that—due to your deception in the past—it is unreasonable for you to expect your partner to trust you in certain situations or areas of your life. State your willingness to be transparent, forthcoming, and to be held accountable for your commitments and agreements going forward.
In next week’s post, I will cover the final four parts of the emotional restitution process.
(Adapted from the Emotional Restitution Exercise in The 90-Day Prep — Recovery Start Kit: A 100-day Plan for Addiction Recovery, by Patrick Carnes, PhD.)
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2017)
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