A friend of mine recently discovered that her husband was cheating. Again. It's our nightmare scenario, isn't it? That he learned nothing. That he changed nothing, except, perhaps, to become more adept at lying, more discreet.
My friend's husband is a sex addict. And those of us who've dealt with addicts know that it can be a long road to recovery. That they are likely to "slip" as the recovery community refers to it, which hardly reflects just how excruciating it is. "Slip" sounds like a "whoops" when the truth is it's a banana-peel wipeout with massive head trauma.
One of the things my friend is participating in, as she and her husband try and recover from this latest "slip" is impact statements. He, the offender, has to offer up a full accounting of everything he did, when/where/with whom. And after she has digested this (and perhaps cried an ocean of tears) she presents what's called an Impact Statement, not at all unlike what crime victims submit to courts in order to influence sentencing and have an acknowledgement of their pain.
It got me thinking that, whether or not we're dealing with an addict, we might all consider writing an Impact Statement. It would serve two purposes: 1) Make clear how deep and broad the pain of his betrayal and 2) Force us to acknowledge all the ways in which we've been affected. Far too often, I think, we fail on both accounts – to make him face what he's done, or face it ourselves.
It could be that it's too much. That was the case for me when my husband's sex addiction counsellor wanted him to do a "full disclosure" session. By then, I'd been grilling my husband for weeks and I knew what I wanted to know. I chose not to hear more. It stopped mattering to me whether he'd had sex with 12 people or 40, whether he'd done it in a car or a living room couch. He had betrayed my trust, my body, our vows. That was the case whether he'd one it one time or many. The details became immaterial. What mattered to me at that point was his own willingness to face what he'd done, his own willingness to prepare the disclosure because, whether I saw it or not, he had to see it.
So if that's the case for you – if the idea of compiling a full impact statement is too much right now – then pay attention to that. You don't need to do anything that feels like it's harmful. But you might want to pick away at it. Writing down the impacts as they occur to you. "I can no longer go to my favorite restaurant because you went there with her." "I gained 30 pounds from stress eating." "I felt alienated from my closest friends because I couldn't bring myself to tell them." Those are the impacts we often minimize or overlook or that get lost. And the idea isn't to keep stoking that rage, it's to honor our experience. It's to help you understand that everything you're going through – the confusion, the memory fog, the hyper-vigilance, the instability – is because of something. It's not you overreacting. It's not you being dramatic. It's you absorbing a massive trauma.
And then, when you're ready, read it to him. Insist that he sit down and listen. Perhaps better that he not respond immediately, if that response is to make excuses or defend himself or dismiss your pain. There is only one acceptable response: To acknowledge how deep your pain and to take full responsibility for it.
Because this is potentially fraught, because it often triggers the same shame/anger/immaturity that led to the cheating, it's wise to do this with a trained counsellor.
But it's an exercise worth doing if only to bear witness to our own experience. You matter. Your pain matters. It's real.