For the next couple of weeks, sex addiction and betrayal trauma experts will be answering community members' questions sent in over the last couple of months. We still have space in this series for one more question, so if you've got one you'd like answered, feel free to email me. Your identity will be kept confidential.
Today's question: Do I need to do a full therapeutic disclosure if I'm pretty sure my husband has told me everything?
Many thanks to Dan Drake (LMFT, LPCC, CCPS-S, CSAT-S) for answering this question today.
Dan answers: If you’re reading this article you have joined an exclusive club of women and men who are AMAZING. And I imagine you would’ve never planned to be reading an article such as this one. If you’re reading about a Full Disclosure, you have most likely experienced betrayal in your relationship. So first and foremost, I want you to know that my heart is with you. I wish that you didn’t have to read an article such as this one, but I’m honored to share my experience and hope with you.
I’m writing this article about the full (or as some others call it the “formal”) therapeutic disclosure process. Let me start by saying that when I first learned about disclosures, I thought they sounded extreme. Sharing a litany of behaviors (sometimes paired with a polygraph) seemed overwhelming and needlessly traumatic. “Why would couples go through something like this?” I thought. Yet, the longer I’ve worked in the field of sex addiction and betrayal trauma I’ve come to value the beauty of the full disclosure process. So, I want to spend a few moments to share some insights into the full disclosure process, and why I have become such a champion of full disclosures in healing from sexual betrayal. And FYI, in case you want to know how much I DO value going through this process, I’ve co-written a couple of books on navigating the Full Disclosure Process, including: Full Disclosure: How to Share the Truth After Sexual Betrayal. I clearly do believe in this process! So to address this topic, let’s first talk about what a Full Disclosure is, and what might keep you from doing a Full Disclosure.
What is a Full Disclosure?
At its most basic, a Full Disclosureis, “a way of building a new foundation to your relationship, one that cultivates intimacy and love” (Drake & Caudill, 2019, p. 30). Janice Caudill and I wrote that as an introduction to our disclosure workbook, and I firmly believe it. A Full Disclosure is a way of getting to a foundation of truth in your relationship. What sexual betrayal takes from you is choice and truth. The reality you thought you were living turns out to not be the whole truth. So what IS the truth? That’s what a Full Disclosure can help you determine. The Full Disclosure is a process where your addicted partner writes down a full sexual history and answers your specific questions. This is shared in a Full Disclosure session facilitated by professionals.
An analogy that I often find helpful to help understand the disclosure process is healing from cancer. If I had concerns about a lump in my body, you better believe that I would want to receive a clear and thorough diagnosis before I’d ever undergo surgery or radiation. That makes sense, right? We’d want to get a clear diagnosis of the problem before we’d ever consider the treatment for cancer. Similarly, we’d want to know the extent of the betrayal before we could consider an appropriate treatment for the betrayal. Doesn’t that make sense? That’s what the Full Disclosure helps you to do.
A New Foundation
So, this brings us to a common question: “My husband has told me the extent of his acting out. So why do I need to go through a Full Disclosure?” This is a really good question that we need to address. First and foremost, I certainly would not want to put you through a disclosure if you were not up for it. It’s of course your choice to go through a Full Disclosure. That said, over my years of facilitating disclosures, I’ve learned that rarely is it true that partners do not receive new information in the disclosure. The sad truth is that sex addicts lie, minimize, and manipulate the truth. So, you may think you have all of the facts (and your partner may even have convinced themselves that they have given you all the facts!), but often in disclosure new information comes out. From subtle nuances to more overt patterns of behaviors, a Full Disclosure is a process where ALL of the truth comes to light: from subtle to extreme. This foundation of truth allows the relationship a new foundation upon which to heal and keep growing.
What then do we do with all of this? My suggestion is to talk to a professional who can help you determine if a Full Disclosure is right for you. Every couple is unique, which makes every disclosure unique. I deeply believe that a Full Disclosure is a way of bringing a new foundation into the relationship, one that can create an even more beautiful relationship in the future. Yet you should talk to a professional to determine if disclosure is right for you and your relationship.
At the end of the day, please know that you have choices. You may choose to not do a Full Disclosure, and that’s your right. But know that true healing in relationships comes from the actions of the sexually addicted person matching their words. Please do yourself a favor and rely on the ACTIONS of your partner, not just their words. Actions matching words will bring safety and trust. Simply hearing your partner say that they have told you everything may sound appealing. Yet addicts do tend to lie, so let them back up that truth through a process that better helps them guarantee that they are delivering the full truth to you.
My heart goes out to you. You can do this! Partners are among the most amazing people I have ever met on this earth. You deserve truth and you deserve a relationship based upon this truth!
Dan Drake is a licensed professional counselor, certified sex addiction therapist, certified clinical partner specialist and board member of APSATS. He works out of Banyan Therapy in Los Angeles and is the co-author of a number of books including Letters from a Sex Addict and Full Disclosure: How to Share the Truth After Sexual Betrayal.