Professionally-guided Clinical Disclosure Well-intentioned helping professionals are often misinformed and because of this partners are experiencing more trauma than is necessary and marriages that might have survived and even thrived are falling apart. We are learning that telling a partner her spouse “isn’t ready” to do a disclosure is harmful to both the addict and the spouse. It is dismissing her needs and feelings as well as holding him back in his recovery. It is putting the addict’s desires and comfort level above what is best for the partner and the marriage. Dr. Doug Weiss, in his DVD for addicts entitled Helping Her Heal, states that this is “the most painful and damaging thing that can happen in a marriage”. To the partner, “everything is a lie. She doesn’t know what is real. She asks herself, ‘who is this man I married and who am I to him?’”
Professionally-guided Clinical Disclosure Too many partners have to endure the effect of small bits of information coming out at a time, either through their own discovery or their spouse’s confession. A clinical disclosure eliminates the repeated trauma of multiple “mini disclosures”, most of which are full of half-truths and/or blatant lies. At this time, most sex addiction professionals advise against doing a disclosure “too soon”. Others who have little to no training in sex addiction, including counselors, pastors and other clergy, often recommend that a disclosure never be done. They fear the information would be too hurtful to the partner and would do too much harm to the marriage.
Professionally-guided Clinical Disclosure “It’s like you shot her with an oozie. She’s lying on the floor bleeding. She needs your help and she doesn’t need to hear how sore your finger is from pulling the trigger!” Dr. Doug Weiss, speaking about addicts who refuse to do recovery activities such as disclosure with excuses about their own trauma and not being ready.
When a disclosure should not be done The addict refuses. (don’t sugar coat or make excuses) The partner does not want a disclosure Ideally a therapist should explain to the partner the benefits of disclosure as well as the risks to the recovery of the partner, the addict, and the marriage if disclosure is not done. Richard Blankenship, in his book, Spouses of Sex Addicts: Hope for the Journey, states, “Sexual integrity issues result from issues with intimacy. The ultimate purpose of disclosure is to be able to participate in the healing process, and build genuinely intimate relationships. We believe that disclosure is necessary in order to experience genuine connection in marriage.” However, she of course cannot and should not be pressured to participate in a disclosure.
When a disclosure should not be done The partner is mentally unstable. When symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder, an anxiety disorder, or other mental illness are present, treatment by a psychiatrist may be necessary before a disclosure is done. If the partner has a mental illness but is under a psychiatrist’s care and stable on her medication there is no reason a disclosure should not be done. The partner is pregnant and the OBGYN, after being fully informed of what a clinical disclosure is and the benefit of disclosure, feels that the mom or baby would be at risk if the partner does not wait to do the disclosure until after giving birth. The addict is not willing to get into recovery and stop acting out. This will only result in putting the partner through additional trauma down the road with another disclosure, if the partner chooses to stay.
Why is a disclosure necessary? Secrets put up a barrier between two partners, even when one is unaware there are secrets. Intimacy is impossible when one partner is hiding something from the other. Secrets fuel shame. Shame fuels the addiction. Many addicts that struggle with multiple slips and relapses find that once they get out all their secrets they are finally able to remain sober. Although the partner is likely to have a strong reaction, evidence has shown that a very small percentage of wives leave because of what comes out during the disclosure. If they leave it is because their husband does not get into recovery and remain sober. This debunks the core belief that “No one will love me if they really know me”
Why is a disclosure necessary? “Secrets have shame attached to them. As long as a sex addict has a secret of any kind, it will act like a magnet to draw him back in to his addictive behavior again and again. Many of the clients I work with have been caught numerous times before and each time have made a promise that they will stop their acting out. Some even make vows to God. Yet they got back to their behaviors not because they were not sincere but because they still had unconfessed secrets accompanied by shame.“ Dr. Milton Magness, CSAT, speaker, and author
Why is a disclosure necessary? Most partners cannot heal until they know what they have to heal from. The possibility that their spouse has acted out in ways they are unaware of plagues them constantly. What they create in their minds, plus what they read in books about sex addiction, can make their fears even worse than the reality. Fear of if/when they will discover (accidentally or through searching) new information can be crippling. “Playing detective”
Why is a disclosure necessary? Knowing there are no more secrets in the marriage is a freeing feeling for both addict and partner, although it may take the partner longer to feel this freedom. The vast majority of addicts and partners do not express regret for participating in a clinical disclosure when done properly. However, some partners express horrific disclosure experiences with therapists that they wish they had never to endure. Frequently these negative disclosure experiences involve a great deal of support and preparation for the addict, but not for the partner.
Why is a disclosure necessary? Information is often nothing more than what the wife already knows, as the addict has not been encouraged and guided to be completely upfront and truthful. In fact, addicts frequently state that they had many doubts and were even advised by their therapist, pastor, or sponsor not to do the disclosure or polygraph. But afterwards they realize that without this they would still be stuck acting out and in a broken marriage.
Why is a disclosure necessary? “I feel a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. I feel like my addiction has lost so much of its power over me. It was the best and worst day of my life all in one. As hard as it was to confront the truth and have to hurt my wife, I no longer have to live with all those secrets I carried around for years.” One addict’s comment that mirrors that of so many others
Why is a disclosure necessary? “I feel like everything that needed to be said was said, everything that needed to be dealt with was dealt with. Everything is out of the shadows now! I know ALL his acting out behaviors, I know the reality of my marriage for the past 9 years, I know he has no more secrets...what a relief! I am at peace with those things now. Yes, we still have to be in recovery and yes, we still deal with triggers and thoughts, but they are not paralyzing anymore because we know the TRUTH and the TRUTH really does set you free!” A partner on clinical disclosure and polygraph, a few weeks after participating in an intensive, This resembles feelings and thoughts shared by countless other partners after disclosure.
Myths / Miss beliefs about disclosure What are some of the reasons you have heard to down play the necessity? What do you struggle with about disclosure? What is your view on confession? Will this do more harm to the marriage? What is the role of pain?
When should a disclosure be done? When asked his opinion on therapists asking partners to wait months or more for disclosure, Dr. Doug Weiss, author, speaker and counselor, who has been working with sex addicts for over 20 years and using polygraph with disclosure for over 10 years, stated a disclosure should be done on “day one…as soon as possible” after initial discovery of the sex addiction. He adds, “Wives deserve to know the reality they are actually living in”.
When should a disclosure be done? When asked about therapists who tell partners the addict is not ready Weiss stated, “Therapists babysit the addict to the point where he relapses. Once an addict realizes he is in a system where he can lie, he will. The therapist creates the system. The therapist is colluding with the addict by not giving the wife a choice to know….It is unethical not to give the wife a choice. The therapist and addict are not giving wife fair choice. Why should an addict have that power? Why should he make the decision as to when she can know the truth? He is the perpetrator. She is not the perpetrator….. Making the wife wait puts her at risk. I’m not willing to ask the wife to take that risk. People are suffering because of this paradigm”
When should a disclosure be done? The addict also suffers when a disclosure is prolonged. By spending months preparing for his disclosure he is being forced to live in his trauma much longer than necessary. His anxiety is just as high as hers in the time leading up to the disclosure. By doing the disclosure sooner rather than later both parties can begin to move forward.
When should a disclosure be done? Stop living in the past (his past is her present) By asking her to she is being asked to stifle her feelings and will not heal. Partners can be discouraged from attacking her spouse’s character and to focus on expressing how his behaviors hurt her instead. He can be taught how to support her and listen to her. Often this simply involves asking what she needs and being prepared to either give her space or hold her. Her needs will change from day to day, if not moment to moment. He can be taught that the reality is that she will heal more quickly when she is allowed to grieve at her own pace. If a partner’s feels rushed to “get over it” she will remain stuck. Intimacy will not be allowed to be built.
When should a disclosure be done? Rob Weiss, CSAT, states that an addict should expect his wife to remain in the active grieving state for 9-18 months post disclosure, provided they are both in active recovery. The book, Mending a Shattered Heart, edited by Stephanie Carnes, gives a five year time line for full healing to take place. The bottom line is that, just like with the death of a loved one, a partner can heal, but will never forget.
Where should a clinical disclosure be done One of the biggest mistakes a couple can make is to try to do a disclosure on their own. A couple’s intensive can be an ideal setting in which to do a disclosure. Multiple couples have said that without an intensive their marriage would not have survived. The type of couple’s intensive being referred to here consists of one couple participating in what is usually 2 to 3 days of intense therapy and exercises, with one or two counselors, designed to help the couple learn how to recover, heal, find hope, build intimacy, trust and find forgiveness (although a partner should never be rushed to trust or forgive)
Where should a clinical disclosure be done Some intensives are intended only for couples who have decided they want to stay together and where the addict expresses and exhibits 100% commitment to recovery. Other intensives have a different focus and do not have the same requirements. A little research can help couples find the intensive that is best for them. Some sound intensives we are familiar with are: Comfort Christian Counseling, Safe Passages Counseling, Hope and Freedom, Heart to Heart, and Paraclete Counseling Center
Where should a clinical disclosure be done The reason an intensive provides an ideal setting for a disclosure is that the couple is offered a great deal of support throughout and after the disclosure process. Unlike doing a disclosure during a regular or extended therapy session where the couple has a short amount of time after the disclosure to process the information that was revealed before being sent home to deal with the multitude of emotions (shock, depression, anger, confusion) on their own, an intensive provides days of support so that the couple can leave armed with tools on how to handle all of their feelings when they get home. Follow up counseling, ideally weekly, is crucial after an intensive. An excellent option for some therapists is to encourage couples to attend an intensive and then follow up with them afterwards.
Ideal and sound alternative Ideal : intensive min. 2 day ½ day in office with strong preparation 2 hours session with follow up the same week What must be included: Willingness Preparation Support Follow up
Preparing the couple for disclosure When asked how much preparation is needed for disclosure Doug Weiss said, “Not a lot of prep is required. This is as complicated as the therapist makes it”.
Preparing the couple for disclosure Will there ever come a time when the addict or partner feels completely comfortable and at peace with giving a disclosure? Is a couple ever really ready for a disclosure? Will the couple ever really be excited about doing a disclosure? Probably not. Why prolong the angst that goes with the waiting?
Preparing the couple for disclosure One month is a good amount of time to prepare, usually the minimum amount of time a couple will have to wait anyway if they choose to participate in an intensive. However, disclosures have been done in as little as two weeks with very motivated couples without complication.
Preparing the Partner The partner must understand that new information will be revealed, without exception The partner should be in weekly therapy and have a support system in place How to find safe people When the addict doesn’t want her telling anyone “This is her story too” Marsha Means
Preparing the Partner Give her the opportunity to express her fears and ask any questions she has Let her know exactly what to expect when it comes to the disclosure process. Have the partner read Dr. Magness’ new book, Stop Sex Addiction: Real Hope, True Freedom for Sex Addicts and Partners The successful disclosure process described by Dr. Magness, which has been used for years, by Magness and others, is described in detail in his book. This excellent resource is a great way to prepare both the addict and partner for disclosure.
Preparing the Partner Encouraging a wife to educate herself about sex addiction before a disclosure can help her to better handle the information that will come out. Although most partner-sensitive therapists disagree with much of what Patrick Carnes teaches about partners and about marriage, he may explain sex addiction and its origins better than anyone else. Carnes’ book, Out of the Shadows, is extremely beneficial reading for both the addict and partner before they do a disclosure. The better the partner understands sex addiction, the better she is able to understand that her husband’s behaviors were not about her or her husband’s feelings toward her. “Your sexually addicted spouse” by Barbra Steffens and Marsha Means
Preparing the Partner Let the wife know she will have an opportunity to ask questions of her own after the disclosure. It is wise for her to prepare these in advance and write them down as she may not be in a place right after the disclosure where she is able to recall all the questions she wanted to ask. Go over the questions with her. You may want to make some suggestions. There is controversy over what questions a partner should be allowed to ask. This will be addressed in the next section.
Preparing the Addict The addict needs clear guidelines on how to prepare a disclosure. If he has done his first step (what 12 step fellowships call it when an addict shares an account of his acting out with his group, with guidance from a sponsor) he can use this to help him prepare the disclosure for his wife. Ideally, an addict should also be in weekly counseling and attending a minimum of one to two weekly 12 step meetings. He should have a sponsor or be in the process of finding one.
Preparing the Addict One frequently seen problem that arises from 12 step meetings, sponsors, counselors, and pastors is that the addict is discouraged from participating in a disclosure, especially if it includes a polygraph. The addict must be reminded that his fellow 12 step members and his sponsor are not experts, especially in marriage. When he is discouraged from doing a disclosure from his counselor or other helping person it is likely due to a lack of education on the part of that professional of the process and benefit of disclosure.
Preparing the Addict Sometimes communication with the therapist who will be facilitating the disclosure can resolve this issue. However, a partner should be informed that it is perfectly okay for her to set a boundary that a disclosure must be done in order for her to remain in the marriage. Many addicts will receive guidance that this is his wife’s way of trying to punish him or control him. This is simply not usually the case. “Your sexually addicted spouse” by Barbra Steffens and Marsha Means “Refusing to do a disclosure is loving their addiction more than their wife.” Dr. Doug Weiss
What information should a disclosure include? While a partner should be reminded that she cannot un- know anything and she should carefully consider any questions she asks, partners who do not feel shut down when they try to ask certain questions feel more empowered and tend to fare better than those who are told what they can and can’t know. Most partners, after some guidance, do not choose to ask questions about graphic details. However, therapists must remember that partners will be plagued for years to come with images in their head regardless of what details are shared. They will create these images on their own.
What information should a disclosure include? So many partners have endured so much treatment-induced trauma that to be told they can know whatever they feel they need to know is a breath of fresh air. Once they know they can ask whatever they want, most are very conservative in their questions. For those who did want more details, such as what an acting out partner looked like or what kind of pornography he looked at, they usually do not regret asking these questions. Discussing the questions in advance and offering suggestions, possibly gently discouraging certain questions without forbidding them, can help prevent the risk of regret.
During the disclosure In order to decrease trauma to the partner, a clinical disclosure should take place in one sitting, not over several hours or days. One partner whose husband’s disclosure was on the lengthy and severe side, stated “It feels like one big ball of crap, which makes it feel like one BIG thing instead of a bunch of little things. So, to me, it felt like one big piece of information. It makes it feel not too big because I got it all at once instead of in small doses”. Another partner said, “It feels like one big wound instead of many”.
During the disclosure In an ideal situation the therapist present should be neutral in that they have not spent a significantly larger amount of time with either the addict or partner. The other option is that there are two therapists present so that each partner feels supported through the process.
During the disclosure Before the disclosure the partner should be asked to allow the addict to read the entire disclosure without interruption. There should be some exceptions to this. The addict should be aware of these guidelines.
During the disclosure The therapist should also be paying attention to these things so that if they notice the addict talking very fast or very quietly they can gently point this out. He also should be watching the partner for signs that she is dissociating and may ask if she needs a short break.
Polygraph and disclosure "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." Dr. Milton Magness
Polygraph and disclosure A polygraph is only as good as the polygraph examiner One of the most controversial elements of disclosure is the use of polygraph. Many say it is not necessary. Those who have done disclosures with and without polygraph will tell you that it is the rare exception that the full truth will come out without the polygraph. Even if the addict is honest the partner will most likely not believe him. She has been lied to for so long she has no reason to believe him. Polygraph is a great tool for many reasons.
Arguments against polygraph It is not valid Stephen Cabler, an experienced polygraph examiner who contracts with 26 therapists in the Houston area, states that those who do not think the polygraph is a valid way of getting the truth, “are uninformed and uneducated on the subject. Polygraphs are used everyday in law enforcement as well as the court systems because they a valid method of discovering the truth. As a matter of fact, I would venture to say that polygraph is the best method available to us, if not the only method.”
Arguments against polygraph Stress or anxiety could affect the results Cabler states, “This is everyone’s fear. I have performed polygraph exams on over 4000 sex addicts, most of whom pass after the interview process. 99% of those who don’t pass have come back later to admit the things they left out of their original disclosure and interview.”
Arguments against polygraph It is trusting a machine rather than a person, therefore keeping the partner from learning to trust her husband The polygraph may be the only way for a partner to begin to build trust for her husband. The polygraph gives her faith that they can begin to move forward with a foundation of truth. The peace of knowing there will be follow up polygraphs allows the partner to relax in the knowledge that if there is a slip or relapse she will find out. It can eliminate or decrease the compulsion to check up on her husband in order to feel confident she knows her reality. Further an addict learned to lie at a very young age. One addict stated, “I don’t know how not to lie”. Knowing there is another polygraph coming up can help motivate him to be honest, and in time it will begin to feel more natural being honest. The polygraph can actually train an addict how to be honest.
Arguments against polygraph It is not biblical Doug Weiss, who has been using polygraph with disclosure for over 10 years states, “Polygraph is in the bible”. Numbers 5 says that if a man has a feeling of jealousy he can take his wife to the priest. The priest has her “stand before the Lord” and drink bitter water. If her abdomen swells she is lying and her husband has the right to divorce her. Otherwise they leave and he must let it go. Weiss states, “Truth is biblical – to not tell the truth is unbiblical. Jesus said he is the way, the truth and the life”.
Arguments against polygraph The partner is just using this as a way of controlling the addict This is simply an addict-centric way of thinking. It is using the co-addict model, which views the partner as codependent, manipulative, sick and controlling. Instead the partner is wounded, afraid, and needing to feel like she knows her own reality for the first time. One polygraph will give her a feeling of relief for a little while, but most addicts will go back to lying to their wives, even if they are sexually sober. Wives know this. Some very wise and experienced sex addiction therapists recommend follow up polygraphs be part of the recovery plan every few months early in recovery and ultimately every year for the rest of their lives. It is a way for an addict to hold himself accountable and helping their wives to feel safe. These therapists understand the power of addiction, especially sex addiction. This is not meant to replace therapy, support groups, and other recovery activities for the addict, partner, and the relationship. It is just a tool, but a very good one.
Arguments against polygraph I don’t have a good polygraph examiner in my area. Weiss suggests calling around for referrals, such as the criminal attorney. Watch for the same name to keep popping up. He even suggests to “do it yourself” and even to “purposely lie” to determine if the examiner is good.
Polygraph and Disclosure Not all polygraph examiners are created equal. Stephen Cabler suggests finding someone who “understands and can deal with the fact that this is not a criminal exam and that sex addiction polygraph is different. Find someone who wants to help these people and not judge them.” If a good polygraph examiner simply can not be found in one’s area that is no excuse not to offer polygraph with disclosure. It is only fair to a couple dealing with sexual addiction to send them to someone who does use polygraph with disclosure. This is a time when referring your clients to an intensive can be a good idea. You can communicate with the intensive therapist(s) so that the best treatment can be offered before, during, and after the intensive.
Polygraph and Disclosure Jeff Hutchinson, Certified Life Coach and Certified Pastoral Sexual Addiction Specialist, tells addicts, “It can be frustrating when you are telling the truth, possibly for the first time, and your wife doesn’t believe you. A clinical disclosure, with polygraph, can help you to prove that you are not withholding information. You will no longer have to hear comments like, ‘I’m sure there’s more out there’”.
Polygraph and Disclosure When asked why he thinks more therapists are not using polygraph with disclosure Cabler stated, “I believe that a lack of knowledge about polygraph is the starting point. If every sex addiction therapist were required to do a study on the success rate of addicts using the polygraph compared to those who do not, they would all begin to use it.”
Polygraph and Disclosure Wives, husbands, and therapists alike are just human. We are easily lied to and convinced by those who suffer from sexual addiction that they are being truthful. However, they may have been lying all along. If we were able to detect the lie with out the machine, that would be great. Clearly we do not have that ability. The threat of polygraph alone has produced more truthful disclosures by far than those who do not use it. Without polygraph there is no way to know if they are being truthful and you can almost assume they are not. Stephen Cabler
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