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?
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).
- Awareness—The betrayed partner is given information about the betraying party’s sexual behaviors that have been hidden through lies and deceit.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
1Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal, p. 249
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