When a relationship is shattered by infidelity on the part of a sex addict, both partners are left picking up the pieces of their lives. This is something done individually at first. Your partner needs to work through his issues with his own therapist, while you work through your feelings with yours. At a certain point, both of you will need to come together to begin to repair the partnership. One of the first steps towards this goal is called “disclosure.”
I am going to be honest with you: as a therapist, I find disclosure to be difficult. I call it “The Hairy Beast.” It’s a brutal, ugly, and sometimes frightening part of recovery, but it must be dealt with head-on if either side is going to move forward.
Disclosure is the step in the recovery process where one partner – usually the woman who has been cheated on – addresses the questions she’s had about her partner’s affairs. She works with her therapist to write them all down, and the list is then sent to her partner’s therapist. Together, her partner and his therapist work through the answers, and send them back. He will disclose everything she wants to know.
If you are cringing at this thought, you already have some sense of how emotionally draining disclosure can be. Any way you look at it, you’re going to find yourself in deep and treacherous waters. It’s a very tender process.
His Process: Stop Hiding, Admit Wrongdoing, And Prepare For Possible Rejection
Disclosure can be especially frightening for a sex addict. Often, part of his addiction includes going to great lengths to hide his behavior, and now he’s being asked to open up about all of it: the embarrassing things, the shameful things, and the things he knows will hurt his partner when she finds out. Everything he did is suddenly up for grabs. It’s a position of complete vulnerability.
He works with his therapist on getting through these intense feelings of fear, while also bringing himself to the realization that his behavior has been selfish and has hurt others. He will work towards understanding that he owes his partner this disclosure, regardless of what happens next.
Often, this stage will include a fear of rejection. “How could she take me back after hearing all this?” Because the future of the relationship is so uncertain, he will also have to mentally prepare himself for the possibility that the partnership may be too damaged to salvage.
Above all though, he will be working on rebuilding and re-earning his partner’s trust, bit by bit. He is laying bare his behavior for his partner to see, and stepping forward with a willingness to answer questions that may have held inside for years. This is a very important step on the long road towards recovery.
Her Process: Difficult Answers To Difficult Questions, And A Choice To Stay Or Go
There is no one way to tackle disclosure, but regardless of how you go about it, you can expect it to be difficult. Some women prefer to “rip off the Band-Aid,” and run at the questions head on. Others will need to go slowly, continually revisiting information in their search for peace.
As a therapist I sometimes find that when women say, “I want to know everything,” what they are really saying is “I want reassurance that this isn’t as bad as I fear.” These revelations can be especially jarring to women with that mindset. The reaction may be more visceral than she (or her partner) was expecting. She could be angry, she could be crushed, she could feel jilted enough to go to war.
So, what happens when a woman gets information she didn’t want to know? Obviously, it’s a shock. Those who don’t immediately become angry will often shut down, and try to halt the disclosure process entirely. This is where my job as a therapist is especially important. Realistically speaking, she is not going to walk away from this process now that it’s begun. It’s my job to help guide her through these feelings in a way that brings her the most closure.
Of course, one of the biggest decisions associated with disclosure is whether to stay or go. Is the information she received during this process simply too much to forgive, or is she willing to work towards some kind of a resolution, even in light of her partner’s past behavior?
If You Are Preparing For Disclosure
The first and most important thing I tell my clients is that whatever they hear, and whatever they feel as a result, we are going to work through it. They trust me on this, because we have been working together for some time before engaging in disclosure. This is why it’s so important that you only proceed through disclosure with a therapist you know and trust to help carry you through it.
You and your therapist will take all the time you need. You may have only two or three questions, but then again, you may have hundreds. Each will be examined and worked through. If at any time, you feel overwhelmed by the process, speak up. You can stop, start over, go back, or take a break. There is no prescribed way to do this.
Disclosure is about you. It’s about your need to know, your need to process and your need to decide. You set the pace, you ask the questions, you decide who is with you when you hear those answers. Ultimately, this is about your recovery from betrayal – because the only people who can truly betray you are the ones you let into your heart.
For that, you get all the time you need.
by Faye Reitman, LFMT, MA, Compulsion Solutions Counselor