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Therapeutic Disclosure and the Partner of a Sex Addict

October 10, 2014

By Heidi Kinsella, MA, LMHCA, NCC, ASAT
Family Counselor, Gentle Path at The Meadows

You just found out you’re married to a sex addict, and your husband has been unfaithful and acted out in numerous 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’ll have to wait until the therapeutic disclosure to find out the extent of his acting out. 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 she’s married to a sex addict. It’s also hard to understand why she needs to wait to find out what behaviors he has been exhibiting.

What Is a Therapeutic Disclosure?

A therapeutic disclosure is a disclosure process that occurs in a therapist’s office where an addict provides information to his partner regarding all his sexual behaviors from the time he met his partner until the present day. Normally, the disclosure process is facilitated in an office where both the addict and his partner are present, along with both of their therapists.

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’s important for each member of the couple to have their therapist present to ensure the support and safety of both people.

A therapeutic disclosure is a planned disclosure in a therapist’s office 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.

Should a Polygraph Be Used in Therapeutic Disclosure?

A widely controversial debate in sex addiction therapy is whether or not a polygraph should be used during a therapeutic disclosure. A polygraph is a lie detector, which is sometimes used during the disclosure process to verify whether the addict is lying or purposely omitting any information. When couples decide to use a polygraph, many of them go directly to a polygraph examiner instead of a therapist who is experienced in using a polygraph during a therapeutic disclosure.

Polygraph examiners aren’t trained in sex addiction or therapeutic disclosure, so they’ll often treat an addict similar to a criminal. Therefore, their partner won’t get the answers she needs. If you decide to use a polygraph during a therapeutic disclosure, it’s critical to find someone who’s reputable and experienced working with sex addiction clients. Although polygraphs should be used with caution, they can help increase trust between partners during the disclosure process.

The Journey to Sex Addiction Recovery

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 see 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 sex addiction recovery where he’s no longer justifying or denying his actions. He’s no longer shifting blame and creating the type of “crazy-making” that makes his partner doubt her sanity. The addict should also be at the stage where he begins to have empathy for his wife. Lastly, the addict needs enough time to have an understanding of his inappropriate behaviors. Sometimes, this takes a while for the memories to come back while in a group setting 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 sex addiction questions she needs to be answered.

In order for the disclosure to go as well as possible, the addict needs to get to a point in his sex addiction recovery where he’s no longer justifying or denying his actions.

Partner Accounts During Sex Addiction Therapy

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’d ask him what he did and then demand an answer. He’d wake up groggy and answer the question because he felt like he owed me that much.

Upon hearing the answer to my question, I’d get angrier and ask for a follow-up, demanding more details. He’d answer the follow-up question because I demanded it. This interrogation would go on until my mind was filled with 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’d think about these images of him with other women when I was trying to sleep, at work, and throughout my day. I became exhausted and overwhelmed, It even started to affect my health and my ability to work and be a parent.

This scenario is common. I’ve heard similar stories from many partners I work with during sex addiction therapy. It’s one of the reasons why we ask our partners to hold off and not ask questions about her husband’s acting out behaviors.

Sex Addiction Treatment at The Meadows

If you’re a partner of a sex addict, there are recourses and support for you. Dr. Stephanie Carnes’ book, Mending a Shattered Heart or Dr. Claudia Black’s 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.

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. During the therapeutic 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 haunt her. We believe in disclosure, but we also want it to be safe and therapeutic for the addict and their partner.