A crucial step in recovering from trauma (Fighting, lack of love, distance, etc..) is understanding the impact of what’s happened. You began working toward this understanding when you examined your initial thoughts, feelings, and behaviors resulting from the trauma. The goal of this exercise is to help you communicate these consequences of the trauma to your partner. It’s important not only that you understand what you’ve been experiencing, but also that your partner understand.
Write a letter to your partner that describes how the trauma has affected your thoughts and feelings about your partner, yourself, and your relationship and how they influence your behavior right now. Try to keep your letter to two to five pages.
Describe how the trauma has affected your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors regarding your partner. What feelings are you having toward your partner? For example, how distant or close, anxious or secure, angry or loving do you feel? How intense are these thoughts and feelings throughout each day? How much do they fluctuate moment-to-moment? How do these thoughts and feelings influence your interactions with your partner? For example, do they cause you to see closeness, distance, or both at different times?
Describe how the trauma has affected your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors regarding yourself. For example, has the trauma caused you to struggle with feelings of unattractiveness, depression, guilt, or shame? How has the trauma influenced how you think about yourself? How confused do you feel about your own actions – both prior to and following the trauma? How do your thoughts and feelings about yourself influence your interactions with your partner? How do they influence how you’re trying to deal with yourself during this time?
Describe how the trauma has affected your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors regarding your relationship. How have your thoughts and feelings about your relationship changed as a consequence of the trauma? What beliefs have been shattered, and what beliefs have been affirmed? How have your views of your relationship changed, in either positive or negative ways? Given what’s happened, how sure are you about what you wish for your relationship in the long term? In what ways do these thoughts and feelings influence your ability or motivation to work on your relationship?
When you’ve finished writing your letter, put it aside for a day. Then come back and read through it, asking yourself the following questions:
Is your letter balanced? Does the language accurately convey both the depth and complexity of thoughts and feelings? Does the letter reflect any feelings of hope as well as despair? Any wishes for closeness in addition to impulses to retreat?
Is your letter complete? Have you expressed both thoughts and feelings – as well as their influence on your actions – regarding the trauma’s impact on your experience of your partner, yourself, and your relationship?
Is your letter constructive? Does it express your thoughts and feelings in a way that your partner will be able to hear?
If you’ve answered no to any of these questions, wait another day or two and try revising your letter to communicate more effectively the impact of the trauma for you. After you’re confident that your letter accurately conveys your experience in each of the three areas we’ve outlined – and does so in a manner intended to elicit your partner’s understanding as constructively as possible – give the letter to your partner and allow him or her the opportunity to read through it at a separate time and place.