Compassionate Demand Letter

Dr. Steven Lutz, Psy.D., L.P.

Many people come alone into therapy in a desperate attempt to improve or save a failing relationship. Often these people have tried many things including couples counseling, marriage seminars, self-help books, faith-based programs, support groups, and other tools and yet remain discouraged and alone. It seems that their spouse or partner will not cooperate in any type of relationship healing. The Compassionate Demand Letter (CDL)​ can be an effective “11th hour” tool for a motivated individual to use when facing a resistant partner when all else has failed.

Step 1: Decide whether you are truly ready to render an ultimatum that might lead to the end of the relationship. Creating a rough draft of the CDL​ often helps to clarify whether you are ready to take this step. Use therapy and supportive relationships to help you decide. Consider reviewing the Log In Your Own Eye” Inventory (LYEI) handout to help you prepare for this major step.

Step 2: Create a rough draft of the CDL. Here is an outline:

    1. 1)  Introduction: Begin the letter by directly stating that this letter is a final attempt to ask your partner to get help regarding the relationship.
    2. 2)  Express that you love and value your partner and that you hope that this letter has a positive outcome.
    3. 3)  Humbly address the “Log in your own eye” (Matthew 7:5). Please see LYEI handout for information about this section.
    4. 4)  Describe the hurtful behaviors and attitudes in your partner. Get specific! See examples listed in sample letters.
    5. 5)  Describe the “help” you are asking your partner to get, such as individual therapy, couples therapy, chemical dependency assessment/treatment, supportive groups, medication evaluation, etc. Get very specific with recommendations, such as, “Work through Dr. Steven Stosny’s Love Without Hurt​ ​Compassion Bootcamp​ with a therapist familiar with this material. Most of the time, it is necessary to clarify that you would be open to couples counseling to explore the possibility of reconciliation only​ after individual progress is evident.
    6. 6)  Explain that you will be withdrawing from the relationship and that you will either join your partner in therapy (at a future date) to explore reconciliation, or that you plan to withdraw in a more permanent way. It is important that you clarify that you will never​ return to the relationship as it is now. Sometimes people use the word “divorce”, sometimes not, depending on their preference. This can also be a time to give some specifics regarding separation, especially if it involves physically leaving. These specifics can include a plan for communication, paying bills, negotiating child care, who you are planning on involving in this separation as part of your support system, where you will be staying (if you feel safe enough to indicate this), etc.
    7. 7) Finally, express that if your partner refuses to cooperate in this process, you will commit to act with compassion and respect as you negotiate the details of your break up. End the letter by expressing hope that this could be a beautiful beginning to a new season for the two of you.

Step 3: Give the letter to your therapist and trusted support people for editing and feedback. When the letter is in final form, then you need to decide what you will do next. Sometimes people decide to wait on delivering the letter on the advice of their support system. If you decide to move forward and deliver the letter to your partner, in some cases, you might want to tell your partner that you have a letter that expresses some very serious information about the relationship and ask them how they might want the letter delivered. Sometimes it is helpful to give time frames; time to read and “digest” the letter and then time to offer a response. Occasionally it is recommended that the letter is delivered after you physically leave, for safety reasons.

Step 4: Use this letter as a guide going forward, keeping mindful of the hard work you put into this process. To avoid future arguments and power struggles, let the letter do the talking. If necessary, remind your partner to re-read the letter and avoid arguing over the content. This is your truth and your partner does not need to “agree” with you regarding the CDL. Let the letter truly be your last word.