Most of the time my men are on the receiving end of what is known as a “cost letter”. This exercise is a chance for the betrayed partner to finally unload their years of hurt and trauma in a clear, concise manner. The man’s job is to emotionally hold their partners pain and maybe, just maybe start to develop some true empathy towards their partner that came as a result of their own personal bad behavior. If a couple is to come back from this level of acute pain, I feel this step is necessary. Without it, the two major remaining emotions in that marriage will be contempt and resentment. A deadly cocktail for a marriage, kind of like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, that 1962 epic story about relationship addiction, alcoholism and trauma.
As I always say, the person who cares the least in a marriage is the person who holds all the power.
Sad but true!
This cost letter is from a man whose now ex-wife chose to do nothing to work on her marriage, which of course was her right. He came in bleeding, hurting and depressed. All attempts to engage were stonewalled. At the end he had to leave her just to keep whatever sense of sanity and self-respect he had left. This letter was written over a year after the divorce and read to an empty chair. His sense of failure is still pretty high. He is a principled man who made a vow “for better or worse”. I gave him this assignment to help him find some closure.
It’s hard for him to let go.
Tomorrow is a new day!
Here is his very moving cost letter…
“I wanted so badly for us to work out and live happily ever after. My whole life I dreamed of having someone who would love me unconditionally and commit to being there for me no matter what. I thought you were the one who would finally make my fantasy come true. When you didn’t, I panicked. I started to try to control outcomes. I knew we couldn’t be happy if you weren’t happy with me. So I set out on a course of action to “make” you happy with me – no matter the cost to myself. You told me if I gave more of myself that you would be happy, so I gave more. When it didn’t work I asked you why and you said I just didn’t give quite enough. So I continued to give more and more of myself away until there was almost nothing left to give. I wanted to feel closer to you, but as my shrinking continued I just felt more and more alone. I lied a thousand times so that I could have peace. I only found myself at war with myself and those around me (especially you and your daughter). I had been so selfish in the past with relationships that I thought it was time to do the opposite. I thought sacrificing my own needs in order to meet yours was noble and brave. Now I see that it was dishonest and cowardly, and only fueled the destruction of our presence together.
Your relationship with your male friend has always brought pain for me. I felt insignificant as it appeared that you respected his needs more than you did mine. Why were you understanding that he didn’t like certain physical sensations but you ridiculed me for expressing the same wants to you? I asked you so many times for what I wanted in that situation. For years you said you would give me what I asked for and you never did. This broke down the trust between us for me greatly. Every time that we talked about it and you said that “you forgot” or that “you just hadn’t gotten to it yet” or “I never said that” I felt sad, lonely, angry, shameful, unimportant, scared, and alone. I could never understand why you would not follow through. I internalized this as a reflection of my own importance and used it to shame myself. I wanted to feel important to you. I wanted you to show me how important I was to you. I rarely felt it so I just kept trying to change you into the person I wanted you to be – the person who would show me this.
The fight we got in about Chopper my dog really hurt me too. I knew it was my job to protect him, but it was also my job to be kind and loving to you. I couldn’t do both. I feel angry, hurt, sad, inadequate, and lonely when I think about it. I wanted and needed support from you when I had him put to sleep. But I didn’t want to feel like I was doing it because you wanted me to. So I did it alone. He had been my friend for so many years, and I held while he died. You weren’t there for me or for him.
When I think about how I committed to you completely and how you would never commit to me, I feel angry at you and at myself for tolerating it. My daughter from a prior relationship says the only time she’s seen you since we split is when she ran into you at the hockey game. You said hello out of the window of your car but didn’t even get out to talk to her. I feel so hurt, sad, and angry when I think about that. My daughter deserves more respect than that and so do I. I took on the role of step parent to your daughter the best I could and have never given up. You refused to call her your daughter or her kids your grandchildren. You spent very little time with her when we were married and never seemed to let her into your heart. I still have as much contact with your daughter as I can and always will. You seem to have abandoned my daughter from the beginning. This saddens me and also reminds me of the lack of intimacy between myself and my parents. My daughter and I deserve to be loved. I feel hurt, angry, abandoned, lonely, and ashamed that you have not shown more love to us.
I bought you the most beautiful diamond I could find and set it into the ring of your choice. I wanted to be sure that you absolutely loved it. It was a symbol of our commitment to each other and I wanted it to be special to you. That was special to me. You bought me a ring that I told you I didn’t like when we were shopping for it. It also didn’t fit. I told you I wanted to trade it for a different ring at the jeweler. You said you would trade it and you never did. I brought it up several times and it still never happened. This showed me that you really didn’t care about what I wanted like I cared for you. I never took off my ring until we were divorced. You took it off many times when we were arguing. You did this before and after the wedding. You even told me once or twice after we got married that the vows you said didn’t mean anything. Again, that broke my heart and also makes me feel so ashamed now that I continued my commitment to someone who was so blatantly uncommitted to me.
Our couple’s counselor would try to get you to be more compassionate toward my feelings. One time he asked you “If your husband had a physical open wound, would you poke him it or would you be careful of it and try to help it to heal?” This would usually seem to make sense to you in therapy but once we were arguing you would be very cruel and seemingly use my feelings against me. Time after time I would try to become vulnerable with you hoping it would bring us closer, but I usually felt more disconnected and hurt afterward. One time I was trying to tell you my feelings were hurt and you said “You’re just one big open wound!” That really hurt. It seemed that you didn’t care about my feelings and just wanted me to be strong. But I was supposed to be compassionate to your feelings and always be willing to change something about me in order to accommodate you and your feelings. When I was troubled you would say “Get over it”, “Suck it up”, “You’re being selfish”, “If you don’t like it than change it yourself”, or “Be grateful for the things you do have”. You rarely respected my physical boundaries. If I got scared when you touched me from behind, you told me I was wrong for feeling that way and that I should let you do it anyway. I felt so trapped. I knew I couldn’t take care of my own needs and fulfill yours at the same time.
I felt inadequate constantly as I kept trying to measure up to your expectations. I wanted to know you loved me and admired me but I usually felt like you just wanted more. I was either too guarded or too emotional and weak for you. I felt like I could never win, like I was constantly running up the down escalator. I was driven by the fear that you would leave me, or even worse – stay with me while believing I was not good enough. Even when we were together spending time I felt all alone. We tried to connect and rarely succeeded. Most of the times that we tried to make special and a happy memory just ended up in an argument. It seemed harder and harder to really connect as time went on.
I was obsessed with the fantasy of “forever”. I wanted to know you would be there for me no matter what. I didn’t even know how to be there for myself, let alone for you. And I didn’t know what it looked like for someone to be there for me. I didn’t know what a loving relationship looked like. So I just kept trying to force it. I did this for many years. I ignored all the red flags that I see so clearly now. I thought I could change you. I thought I could make you love me. I gave away my right to feel, my right to be heard, my individualism, my gift to be compassionate and empathetic, and my right to just be me. I followed the lie that if I was vulnerable I would be abandoned, if I set boundaries I would create space and become more disconnected, if I let you have your feelings I am not ok, if I own my feelings I am not ok and you will leave me, and if I tried hard enough to prove to you I was right I would finally get what I wanted. If I convince you that I am good enough we will finally be fully connected and I will be whole and feel happy.
I sacrificed sleep, food, money, security, friendships, hobbies, relationships with family, my availability to my children, my self-respect, my recovery, and my relationship with God. All in the hopes that by sacrificing these things you could make me whole and give me the peace, love, and belonging I have always sought. Leaving you was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and staying away has been even harder. At times I still battle with the fantasy that you and I could work things out and be happy together. My love addiction is so strong. You are such a beautiful and amazing person and I wish you would decide to open your heart and let me in. But I have no reason to believe that you will, and plenty of evidence that you won’t. I swing from acceptance and gratitude for this knowledge to hated and disgust. I know we have equal blame in the failure our relationship, but sometimes I feel enraged that you took my dream away. My fantasy of a perfect marriage is broken now. I feel like a failure sometimes and wish it never happened. But I also know that I had to learn and the future will be much different because I am now caring for myself first.”