For couples who have been together for a long time, there is no shortage of blame to go around on both sides. The problem is that most partners believe-erroneously- that their mates are more to blame than themselves.
If you’ve been working with a couple for a while, and you feel like you are not making enough progress, it may be time for the impact statement session.
Some partners have trouble being accountable for their own actions. The impact statement is the beginning of accountability and is the first step in the process of apology making during the second stage of the couples therapy treatment.
Like so many interventions, the impact statement session requires preparation and buy in. Each member of the couple has to buy into the idea that their partner is no more to blame than they are.
This is what I say to couples to increase their buy-in, and who believe that their partner's offenses are worse than their own:
“Your wish to operate under the belief that your partner is more to blame is a mistake that impacts the odds that your relationship will survive over time”.
In other words, relationships don’t fare well when one or both partners feels that what their partners did was worse than what they did.
There are specific tasks before, during and after the session for the impact statement to be successful.
Before the session
I prepare couples for the process of apology making by telling both partners in a joint session that it will be important for each of them to deliver an impact statement to their partner. For Partner A, the impact statement will consist of describing the ways in which Partner B has hurt Partner A. After describing the behavior that Partner B engaged in, Partner A is invited to describe the impact of the behavior of Partner B on Partner A.
You also need to prepare Partner B to hear the statement and anticipate their reactivity, particularly if Partner B will be hearing some of these statements for the first time.
I ask clients to start writing the impact statement and to concentrate on 3-5 issues at most. I generally have the clients send me a draft of the impact statement so I can review it before the session and make suggestions. Sometimes clients need help in restating certain sentences. For example, if a client were to write “You were not there for me”, I would ask them to restate it, by citing specific behaviors instead. See a sample below. Sometimes, clients need help in collapsing themes, or rewording sentences so the statement does not become a string of accusatory comments.
During the session
After both partners have revised their draft, I have them read it to each other. These sessions are often very emotional. Here are examples of what clients have said at the end of reading or hearing the impact statement.
“I have not been able to state the impact without getting interrupted”.
“It was good to hear this in the context of a calm dialogue”.
“I never knew this about my partner”.
“This was difficult for me to write, but once I wrote it, it was easier to deliver”.
To process the reading of the impact statement, I may instruct clients to ask questions about what they heard, to express their own feelings, or to make a statement of gratitude.
After the session
The impact statement can be triggering for some partners. Sometimes, there is a need to process what they heard in an individual session. This is particularly true for clients who are hearing the impact of their behavior on their partner for the first time.
After the session, partners can be encouraged to send their statements in an email. So, Partner A will send the Impact Statement to Partner B, because it will be the basis for the apology that Partner B will write to Partner A.
Sample Impact statements
Sample 1 Partner A
“When child x was born, you worked upwards of 50 hours a week, and when I asked you to come home, you said several times that I had to figure it out on my own. This left me feeling abandoned and lonely because I didn’t think I could count on you. I also felt disappointed because I thought that being married would mean that we would share the parenting burden, and instead, I felt that I didn’t have a partner. The feeling of loneliness increased when I felt that you were not helpful at home with all there was to do with the baby.
Sample 1 Partner B
When child x was born, I felt an increased responsibility to be a good provider and took a job that didn’t have enough flexibility. Whenever I came home, I saw resentment on your face. At first, I redoubled my efforts to make you happy by devoting all my free time to you and the baby. But that didn’t make any difference. Whenever I came home, I was not greeted well in spite of my efforts, and that made me feel not cared for, and lonely. Additionally, every time I tried to do something with the baby, you told me I was doing it wrong and that made me feel neglected and not cared for.
The impact statement can be a great way to begin the formal process of apology.