By Heidi Kinsella, MA, LMHCA, NCC, ASAT
Family Counselor, Gentle Path at The Meadows
You just found out your husband has been unfaithful in numerous ways and has been acting out for years. You want to know everything—you have a NEED to know everything. However, he has entered sex addiction treatment and now you learn that you will have to wait until the therapeutic disclosure to find out the extent of his acting out behavior. You say, “What the heck is a therapeutic disclosure, and why do I need to wait to find out what my husband has done? I have the RIGHT to know, and I NEED to know… NOW!!”
It’s confusing and scary for an individual to discover that her husband is a sex addict. It’s also hard to understand why she needs to wait to find out what behaviors he has been doing.
As a therapist, I specialize in working with partners of sex addicts and have heard this sentiment from more partners than I can count. It’s confusing and scary for an individual to discover that her husband is a sex addict. It’s also hard to understand why she needs to wait to find out what behaviors he has been doing.
So, what is a therapeutic disclosure?
A therapeutic disclosure is a planned disclosure in the office of a therapist where an addict provides information to his partner regarding all of his sexual behaviors from the time he has known his partner until the present time. Normally the disclosure is facilitated in an office where both the addict and his partner are present, along with both of their therapists.
A therapeutic disclosure is a planned disclosure in the office of a therapist where an addict provides information to his partner regarding all of his sexual behaviors from the time he has known his partner until the present time.
The disclosure provides an overview of the addict’s behavior. Disclosure is done without going into details that would not add to the overall scope of the acting out behavior, and would only serve to cause additional pain and be potentially triggering to his partner. It is important for each member of the couple to have their therapist present to insure the support and safety for both people.
Why the wait? Why can’t I know now? I deserve to know now!!!
Dr. Patrick Carnes states that addicts need a minimum of 90 days of sobriety to allow their brains to reset and start to heal prior to disclosure. My experience in working with couples in the early stages of treatment is that it often takes longer than 90 days to prepare them for disclosure. During this time, both members of the couple need to be seeing their individual therapist, and ideally, are also in separate therapy groups.
In order for the disclosure to go as well as possible, the addict needs to get to a point in his recovery where he is no longer justifying or denying his actions; he is no longer shifting blame and creating the type of “crazy making” that makes his partner doubt her sanity. The addict should also be at a point where he is beginning to have empathy for his wife. Lastly, enough time needs to be allowed so that the addict has an understanding of his acting out behaviors, and sometimes this takes a little while for the memories to come back while in group with other addicts.
For the partner, this time is also critical. She should take this time to receive help in addressing the trauma of discovery, which is shocking and can take a toll on her physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. This is also the time to develop a list of questions she needs to have answered.
Partners often ask, “Why can’t I just ask the questions myself? He is MY husband! I have a right to ask the questions when I want to ask him!” I understand this sentiment as I felt the same way when I discovered my husband’s sexual acting out. I found myself waking him up in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. I figured if I couldn’t sleep then he shouldn’t either! I would ask a question about what he did and then demand an answer. He would wake up groggy and answer the question because he felt like he owed me that much. Upon hearing the answer to my question, I would get angrier and would ask a follow-up, demanding more details. He would then answer the follow-up question because I demanded it. This interrogation would go on and on until my mind was full of details of my husband having sex with other women. Every answer he gave me provided another image that I couldn’t get out of my obsessive mind. I would think about these images of him with other women when I was trying to sleep, when I was trying to work, and throughout my day. I became exhausted, overwhelmed, and it started to affect my health, my ability to work, and my ability to be a parent.
This scenario is common; I have heard similar stories from many partners I work with. It is one of the reasons why we ask our partners to hold off and not ask questions about her husband’s acting out behaviors. At Gentle Path at the Meadows, we ask our patients not to answer detailed questions and to ask their partners to wait for the answers until formal disclosure. In the formal disclosure process, the partner will find out everything she needs to know to make an informed decision about the relationship, without the nitty-gritty details that will most likely haunt her.
We believe in disclosure, but we want it to be safe and therapeutic for both the addict and the partner.
We believe in disclosure, but we want it to be safe and therapeutic for both the addict and the partner. If you are a partner of a sex addict, there are recourses and support for you. Dr. Stephanie Carnes’ book, Mending a Shattered Heart or Dr. Claudia Blacks’ book, Deceived: Facing Sexual Betrayals. Lies and Secrets are two great resources. Also, The Meadows offers a workshop for partners based on Dr. Claudia Black’s workbook called, Healing Intimate Treason.