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What’s a Therapeutic Full Disclosure?

It’s been the wild, wild West when it comes to betrayal recovery and sexual disclosures. Many couples are given poor advice or no direction at all.

“Twenty years of deception can be divulged in fifteen minutes, leaving the wife shell-shocked, confused, and loaded with unwanted shrapnel in her skin. These mishandled admissions are more common than we’d like to think. They can be incomplete, ill-timed, one-sided surprises that catch us off guard.”1

I’ve seen examples of what’s being called “a disclosure” written on restaurant paper napkins or the back of grocery receipts. I’ve been a witness to pages and pages of painful sexualized gory details hand written on a yellow note pad. And I’ve also been on the other side of a “disclosure” that was made up of completely fabricated sex acts in order to avoid revealing the truth of what REALLY happened. Straight and simple, we need to stop the madness and start being more responsible with how to tell the truth. It’s been my experience that these types of “disclosures” only cause more harm. Why?

Having been a betrayed partner myself, it’s painful enough to listen to the sexual acts that our significant other has kept hidden from us. It’s mind-numbing.

Yet when we get “bits and pieces” of the betrayal or when important information has been withheld (i.e. affair partners, friends who’ve been sexually involved with our significant other, child porn, missing categories of compulsive sex acts – like weekly massages that included ‘happy endings,’ affairs at the workplace…to name a few) these significant omissions harbor lies, and keep us out of knowing the truth about what’s really going on.

 

We Aren’t Chopped Liver

Let’s think about it. We live in a world where certain disclosures are both sacred and mandated:

  • You’re buying a home that someone recently died in. That requires full disclosure.
  • A building was condemned. New buyers are taking it over. That requires full disclosure.
  • There’s been a recent bankruptcy & you want to buy a car. That requires a full disclosure.
  • There’s a pedophile living in your neighborhood. That requires a full disclosure.

So why is it that we have different rules for non-consenting hidden sex acts. We aren’t chopped liver. This phrase ‘chopped liver’ historically came from liver being served as a side dish. Since then it’s been used to describe feelings of being overlooked. 2 We deserve better. We deserve to know the truth of how our trust has been compromised. We deserve to know the truth particularly in light of the promises we’ve made to one another. Whether in business, life, or love, fidelity and truth are the cornerstones of trust and connection. So why is truth telling minimized when it comes to infidelity?

 

True Story

I’m sitting in a restaurant two weeks ago. As I glanced at a couple sitting nearby, I noticed the man was wearing a hat that said, Trust but Verify! Like a paparazzi, I literally jumped out of my seat and asked the couple if I could get a picture with his hat. Then I took it one step further, I went online and bought my own. I can’t tell you how good it feels to wear it. Something deep inside feels cinched up – re-organized – like my GPS in this crazy world of deception found its way home. This phrase was coined by President Ronald Reagan after he’d been working with Russia on nuclear disarmament. It’s the same principal, right? We can consider rebuilding trust, yet we need to Trust but Verify. So, what does that look like for us?

 

What Is a Therapeutic Full Disclosure?

Whether it’s a one-time event or years of betrayal, sexual acts have been secretly kept from you. The relationship has no chance of rebuilding trust or intimacy without restoring safety and the truth, first. Without addressing these two critical needs, the couple often painfully settles into being roommates, adversaries, controlling, or abusive when deception is in the mix. Like a bone that hasn’t been set straight after a break, the couple heals broken. It’s not surprising how deception turns into “every man or woman for themselves”—far, far, from what a healthy relationship is intended to be.

A full disclosure is different than a therapeutic full disclosure. A disclosure can be any type of limited confession. A ‘full disclosure’ technically is supposed to be the whole truth. Yet, often it has limited structure or ways of verifying if the document is true or not. I hear stories from women who believed they got the whole story, but painfully they didn’t. A therapeutic full disclosure is by nature a complex process and is best handled with professionals who have been adequately trained in knowing how to walk couples through this process (organizations that train treatment professionals in this process are APSATS.org or IITAP.com). In my book, Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal I detail the importance of the how’s, what’s, and why telling the truth is so important.

 

Putting One Foot in Front of The Other

Telling the truth in a clear, structured, and verifiable way becomes an ACTion step aimed at restoring the sexual breach of trust. It’s an honest transfer of information with three goals in mind: Awareness, Coming Clean, and Truth (ACT).

  1. Awareness—The betrayed partner is given information about the betraying party’s sexual behaviors that have been hidden through lies and deceit.
  2. Coming Clean—The betraying party has the opportunity to get out from underneath the burden of secrets and shame. It gives the betrayed spouse the opportunity to hear and understand the full nature of the sexual behaviors that have compromised trust. It’s not a time for the betraying spouse to minimize, blame, deny, or withhold deceptions they deem would be too painful to bring.
  3. Truth—In bringing the truth, the couple has its best chance at rebuilding their relationship on a foundation of restored trust.

 

Why Would Anyone Want a Therapeutic Full Disclosure?

So, why would anyone want to go through a full disclosure? As a way of gathering the risks and benefits of disclosure, a research study was done by Schneider, Corley and Irons to see how couples felt about the process before and after the disclosure event.3 The sexually betraying parties and their partners were asked two simple questions:

  • “Initially, how did you feel at the time about the disclosure?”
  • “Looking back now at the disclosure, how do you feel about it now?”

What they found was striking:

  • Betraying Party: 58% of them said the therapeutic disclosure was the right course of action before the event, and 96% said they felt it was the right thing to do after.
  • Betrayed partners, 81% said they believed the disclosure was the right thing to do before the event; and 93% felt it was the right course of action after the disclosure.

Both the betraying parties (96%) and their significant other (93%) felt it was in their best interest to go through a disclosure process. That’s surprising and encouraging research. Here’s a list of some benefits and risks of a full disclosure.

 

Risk Versus Reward

When I’m speaking about disclosures, I often show betrayed partners a photo of a pill bottle with an RX warning label where common symptoms include increased watchfulness, trauma-induced control, panic, despondency, difficulty concentrating, anger, irritability, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and difficulty with appetite. Even though the vast majority of couples felt a Therapeutic Full Disclosure was the right thing to do, hearing the truth hurts. It’s important that you consider the risk and benefits and plan ahead on how to get support for both your heart and body.

BENEFITS

  • Restored truth
  • Confrontation of deception
  • Hope for a future relationship
  • Betraying spouse is able to get free from their secrets and shame
  • Betrayed spouse is empowered to make informed choices about the future

RISKS

  • Increased shame and guilt
  • Temporary separations or divorce
  • Financial, legal, or professional consequences
  • Changes in family functions, including limited access to children
  • Loss of trust; the relationship may get worse before it gets better

 

The Great Debate

When it comes to sorting out whether or not you’d like to utilize a Therapeutic Full Disclosure with a fidelity polygraph attached to it, I’d like to give a shout out to a few of my respected colleagues and their resources. Dr. Milton Magness’s book Stop Sex Addiction is a great read. Dr. Magness commits three full chapters in his book to disclosures and polygraphs.4 When discussing polygraphs at a Restoring Sexuality conference, Dr. Magness stated:

“Because of the core belief of sex addicts that people will not love me as I am, I believe it is virtually impossible to get a complete disclosure without a polygraph exam to verify that the disclosure is not just a sanitized version of events the sex addict hopes his partner will forgive. Unless the whole truth is told, the sex addict does not have the opportunity to get free from his behaviors. And unless the addict can get honest with his partner, they do not have the opportunity of ever restoring trust in the relationship.5

Two other colleagues, Dan Drake and Janice Caudill have written resources aimed at supporting a couple with some structure as they are moving through this process. As we think about what it means to Trust but Verify, a well-executed Therapeutic Full Disclosure, coupled with the option of having a fidelity polygraph, can help a couple get out of the spin cycle of lies, hiding, not knowing, fear, imagining, and into a structured process that can help address what is. In this case, reality becomes an honest friend, as it offers us the opportunity to make choices about what we want to do with what we didn’t know.

 

Brave On!

Dr. Sheri

 

 

 

1Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal, p. 249

2https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/65368/how-did-chopped-liver-come-to-mean-of-little-value

3 Jennifer Schneider, Deborah Corley, and Richard K. Irons, “Surviving Disclosure of Infidelity: Results of an International Survey of 164 Recovering Sex Addicts and Partners,” Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 5, no. 3 (1998): 189–217. For more information see Jennifer P. Schneider and M. Deborah Corley, Surviving Disclosure: A Partner’s Guide for Healing the Betrayal of Intimate Trust (Tucson, AZ: Recovery Resources Press, 2012).

4Milton S. Magness, Stop Sex Addiction: Real Hope, True Freedom for Sex Addicts and Partners (Las Vegas, NV: Central Recovery Press, 2013), 96–146.

5Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal, p. 258

This Post Has 7 Comments
  1. Dr Keffer is full of insightful truths about betrayal and all the ripple effects that surrounds this.
    Even the photo for this blog with the woman holding her sign- it’s not my secret- it’s yours! Why did I feel awful when I saw that? I’m the one walking in a shameful secret that I should NOT own!
    Love to read what you write and hear what you say Sherri!!
    I will brave on- I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me!

  2. Ok, I am way out of line to comment here as I am the betrayer who definitely did disclosure ALL wrong. However, there’s a HUGE factor that I think is overlooked. As a betrayer, I had some core beliefs that needed to be addressed and healed before I could give an honest and full disclosure. Namely that I needed my wife’s approval to be ok. After 10 years in recovery I am just coming to that realization. No counselor (we have been to 5 in a decade) has ever helped with this. Your guy (typically) has lied and hidden for years. What makes you think he’s even capable of coming clean with the most damaging information he can give? Yes, you deserve truth and you deserve it now, but it’s like asking a fish to live outside the water. It’s just not possible. I have walked with a number of guys in this area and I have seen disclosures screwed up time and time again. It’s time for counselors to educate themselves! Sheri, I think you have a large influential base and can help in this area.

    1. Hi Tim,

      Thanks so much for bravely reaching out and entering into a conversation about a very misunderstood, and as I’ve shared, harmful part of recovery. My heart goes out to you in hearing that you’ve been to 5 counselors and unfortunately didn’t receive help and direction in the disclosure process. I imagine there were pieces of the sexual betrayal that came out over time. I can only begin to wonder how many hours, days, weeks, and years of added pain and finances for both of you as you wandered through recovery and toward truth. And, like many of the other betraying men I work with, their lives have been laden with painfully traumatic stories as well.

      I’m glad you’ve stayed in your recovery and have/are addressing core shame beliefs. The problem has been that excessive months and years have been given to the betraying spouse to address their issues before they honestly confess what they’ve done to their spouse. What happens more often than not is that unknowingly, treatment professionals collude with the deception in waiting while the betraying partner is doing “the work.” The work is important, don’t get me wrong, – but truth telling needs to come sooner. Waiting until the betraying party feels strong enough to face her disapproval and possible rejection, is hedging your bets. I looked it up and hedging your bets means’ “to avoid committing oneself (in this case to complete honesty); to leave a means of retreat open.” The betraying spouse holds the only full hand of cards too long. So not only does the one was betrayed not know, she’s being asked to wait – with a harmful and unfair advantage.

      Other times people talk about a betraying party being in denial. One type of denial is avoidance or “I don’t want to go there.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat with a betraying spouse who said, “I can’t tell him or her,” and when I question them they begin to share reasons why. That’s not denial – that’s deception. Keeping a spouse from knowing the truth about sexual acts she didn’t consent to is the problem. When treatment professionals focus on the betrayers shame/trauma/core issues without addressing the therapeutic full disclosures earlier in the couples recovery process, the betraying spouse has been expected to “wait to find out the truth.” I typically ask my betraying spouses, “If you knew your wife has sexually betrayed you to the extent you have betrayed her – how long would you want to wait to find out?” Most look at me with a raised eyebrow and say, “I get it Dr. Sheri.” Things are changing for professionals trained in betrayal (IITAP.com and APSTATS.org). Because research has now been done surrounding disclosure and symptoms of post-traumatic stress, we have to take a closer look at what’s been happening – as people are being hurt. I’m deeply passionate about good recovery for both individuals. The couple can’t heal without it. But letting the one who was betrayed know about the sexual betrayal earlier in the recovery is a must. Too many partners are dealing with post-traumatic stress symptoms as they sit on the powder keg of not knowing.

      I’m grateful for the respectful banter.

      Dr. Sheri

  3. Thank you so much Dr. Sheri, for sharing your story and what you have learned so transparently. I was married to a sex addict for 32 years and even though I left in 2001, I still am triggered when in a new relationship. I din’t get any help at the time, if there was any back then to get. My question is, how do you handle being in a new marriage and having your husband “look”. I know I am being “gaslighted” when I am told by him that all men look , nothing wrong with it etc. But what is a healthy expectation for me to have and for him to strive for? I cannot go back to my man ogling “young firm in shape attractive women” …his words. My new husband, on our second date, promised me that he would not look at other women because he knew how much it would hurt me. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Obviously it was just words. What kind of understanding did you and do you have with your new husband? Is there really a Godly man out there who doesn’t do this? Thanks for any light you could share on this subject.
    In Him
    Sharon

  4. I’ve been working toward recovery from ‘sexual betrayal’ since Aug 2007 when hubby told me he’d “rather live alone than be married 2 me.” Translation: “I’d rather be living with my girlfriend.”
    Reading through ‘Holy Bible’ website I saw a reference 2 Sheri’s book, then the blogs. It is truly a ‘God Moment.’ Through this website n what I’m learning by reading the articles, I have a hopes of coming out of hiding n regaining my identity..
    I thank all of you for you stories, insights n sincerity.

    1. Hi Martha,
      I’m so glad you were led to my BraveOne.com website and book Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal.
      Sometimes when we’ve been living in betrayal for so long, in your case over a decade, it can feel as if it becomes our new “normal” instead of a “very abnormal.” Sharing a marriage with a girlfriend is never okay – ever. I’m glad my resources have brought you hope and truth as you reset what you will tolerate. Martha you are worthy of safety, honesty, and fidelity. May these truths help you grow stronger!
      Brave On!

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