Step 8: Made a list of how we have hurt or harmed our spouse, and our marriage.
Responsibility is the lynchpin between forgiveness and reconciliation. We don’t need someone else to participate with us in order to forgive. That is something we can do on our own. But we do need the other party to participate in ownership and responsibility in order for reconciliation to occur. That cannot happen unless both parties are willing and able to own what they have done to hurt and harm the relationship.
The definition of courage is the act of doing something in the face of great danger, fear, or risk. It takes an extra helping of courage to have made it this far in the 12-steps, and to take step 8. We cannot heal or receive healing from wounds that we do not know exist, or do not admit that they exist. Naming these wounds is the most important step you will take to get from where you are to where your relationship is able to be.
There are three categories of hurt and harm that happen in relationships: The hurt/harm that I intended to do; the hurt/harm I didn’t intend to do; and the hurt/harm you caused me. This step is about taking responsibility and naming the hurt/harm that you have caused, regardless of intent.
Before we proceed any further, it’s important to differentiate between hurt and harm. Hurts happen and are unavoidable. We might say the wrong thing or say it at the wrong time. We hurt others by forget about something important, or neglecting to follow through with a promise. Hurts are injuries to the person or relationship that are not “life threatening” to the person or the marriage. They come from a place in us that means well.
On the other hand, a harm is an injury that is “life threatening” to the relationship. These are more intentional actions (perhaps unconsciously intentional) that are intended to cause pain. Betrayals like an affair or physical abuse. Other categories of harm are sexual, emotional or spiritual manipulation and abuse. Hiding or lying about money. Substance abuse and the resulting actions while on these substances. A harm is any action that severs trust that cannot be reconciled with an apology or change of behaviors. Harms require time, consistency, and intentional change to heal.
You don’t know what will come from doing this step. It might be an end or a beginning. The great thing is that this is not for you (or your spouse) to decide today. The work before you today is to give an honest account of your actions, and to own what it is that you have done, and what it is that you have left undone in your marriage. Remember from the last step: Healing is not all about you, it’s bigger than you and your marriage. Consider taking this step with the willingness to let it be more impactful than what you can, or perhaps will see.
In step 9, you will be asked to write a letter of ownership to your spouse that you will read to them. That letter will come from the work you do in this step. I highly recommend walking through the next three steps with guidance or a third party. Don’t do it alone. Find a counselor, pastor, friend, sponsor, or coach to walk with you through this exercise. Inviting someone else to help you do this as well as possible will be worth your resources (time, energy, and money).
It is possible that there will be stories, secrets, or issues that come to the surface from this exercise that need the attention of a trained professional. Please do not continue with this exercise without professional guidance if there are secrets around sex (porn, affair, abuse, etc), money (gambling, hiding/lying, etc), or physical threats in the relationship.
The question and invitation with this step is this: “Do you want to be made well?” Remember, it might be hard and difficult work to be made well, but it will be well worth it.
Taking the Step
I recommend going through the below worksheet and questions 3 times. First, read through the entire list. Second, go through the list and begin answering the questions and writing prompts. If you get stuck or don’t have much to say, go to the next one. Third, go through again and edit/add to your answers and writing,
If you can, find your marriage vows that you used at your wedding.
What did you promise to your spouse?
In what ways have you upheld those vows?
In what ways have you neglected those vows?
How have you withheld love, care, respect, honor, dignity, and affection from your spouse?
Flaws & Shortcomings
Get your list from step 4 as a reference.
Specifically name stories, actions, inactions, or events you have done that have come as a result of each individual flaw/shortcoming.
How have your resentments impacted your actions towards your spouse?
How have you used or expressed the following emotions in hurtful, or harmful ways in your marriage?
How have you handled the following issues and challenges in your marriage?
- Screens / Technology
- In Laws / Family
- Other Relationships
- Alcohol / Substances
Is there anything you have kept a secret from your spouse? If so, write it out here and finish this worksheet. When you have finished, call a friend, pastor, counselor, or trusted confidant that you can tell this secret to. It’s important to process this secret(s) and why you’ve kept it/them until now. Do not share with your spouse until you’ve first shared with someone who can advise and walk with you in this disclosure process.
Name specific examples of how you have used or done any of the following:
- Spiritual abuse / misuse
- Name calling
- Derogatory remarks
- Using the truth to cut down
- Avoiding or Ignoring
- Use of Global Terms (always, never, every time, etc)
What justifications did you make for not seeking help before now?
How did you “turn a blind eye” to your problems?
In what ways have you avoided addressing issues or challenges in your marriage?
Which character flaws or shortcomings have had the biggest impact on your marriage? Be specific how this took place.
Is there anything not listed above that you would like to own or take responsibility for?
Click here to download a PDF of the above content/worksheet.
What was this step like for you?
Is there anything that would keep you from completing this?
Do you feel like you gave it your best?
Is there anything you need help with as a result of this?