Ask the Experts: To Poly or Not to Poly?

This week's "Ask the Experts" question was sent in after Dan Drake answered the question on full therapeutic disclosure a few weeks ago. Many thanks to the community member who shared a bit of her story and asked:

He has done a disclosure after a men's weekend, never with a therapist. He says he is scared to do a polygraph because he will be nervous and fail. How can I trust that he is safe?

Two of the board members of C-SASI (Christian Sex Addiction Specialists International), myself and Troy Snyder, have teamed up to bring the answer today.

Lisa Begins: When a man says he is keen to do a polygraph examination to back up his disclosure, this creates an immediate sense of safety for a betrayed wife. Safety, in the sense of,  "it seems likely I now know all there is to know.” If, however,  he is unwilling to do a polygraph, for any reason, this is going to create a feeling of unsafeness. So, you have my sympathy for your situation.

As regards whether or not his reason for not wanting to do a polygraph is valid, in my 10 years in this field I have heard of a few cases where a man initially failed, or got an “indefinite” result from his polygraph — possibly due to his anxiety. In the two cases where I knew the person, he was indeed a very anxious person and in both cases his wife had travelled with him to the exam and that anxiety level was raised higher during the drive... because they were fighting (and yes, in one case, this was my husband and me). In all three cases, the husband later passed (with much clearer results according to the examiner) on the disclosure—no new information revealed. Thus, as I work with partners of sex addicts I do always tell them that a false fail is always possible and that the answer to any fail, where he insists there is no new information to disclose, is to try again another (less emotional) day… and possibly with someone else accompanying him.

Assuming that your husband is now feeling better about the idea of a polygraph (and you still feel this is something you want),  here is what Troy Snyder, president of C-SASI says:

Troy Continues: The first step for you is to find a polygraph examiner who works with a counselor. This is key because of the sensitive nature of sex addiction. It will be important to have time with both the counselor and the examiner to get educated on what a polygraph is and is not. Remember, polygraphs indicate some level of falsehood. Thus, it is important for the husband to search out his heart and make sure he has disclosed all information. His counselor can help him with this, and can even do a full therapeutic disclosure process with you if you wish. In either case, it is important for the counselor to work with both the person with the addiction and the spouse to create the list of questions for the polygraph (and disclosure, if another one is being done).

Note to the husband: you are called to do whatever is necessary to rebuild trust. If you are honest about your actions you have nothing to fear. I know you may not remember every detail of your acting out, but you do know in general terms all you have done and the examination can be made to focus on whether you have “intentionally" withheld any information about your acting-out behaviour from your wife. This leaves space for your not remembering all the details (some of which are better forgotten anyway) and instead focuses on your intention to honestly reveal the facts of your addiction and answer your wife’s questions about it. There is only one way to pass a poly, tell the truth prior to the examination (Lisa adds: though in some cases he first takes the poly based on his disclosure document,  and then reads it later that day to his spouse). Remember the truth will set you free, though it comes with hard work and courage.

Note to the wife: I know you are in much pain, be strong and request what you need. You will also need your faith, some support and your observation skills — so you can watch for change in the months to come. The polygraph cannot provide all this, it is only one tool — though it can be a good one.

In summary, doing a polygraph is only part of the trust building process, it can’t be the basis of your entire relationship. That said, a polygraph can be useful in launching the trust-rebuilding process, and as part of ongoing accountability, though it’s important to remember that it can’t be used in any legal circumstances. When deciding whether to enter into this process, all parties should check their motives and think hard about what will be gained. Those of us who work in this field have come to see that there is potential for much good to be accomplished when this process is done with the right heart and motivess.

Troy Snyder, MS, NCC, LPC, CCSAS, CPCS is president of C-SASI, a counselor at Restoration Counseling in Atlanta and clinical counseling supervisor. In addition to speaking to schools and churches, Troy teaches on the topic of sex addiction through Liberty University's online program. He also works as an adjunct professor at Houston Baptist University.

This article was written by:
Author image

Lisa Taylor

Lisa is a PSA trauma survivor, counselor and award-winning author living with her kids & recovering husband in New Zealand. She runs groups and sees international clients via Naked Truth Recovery.


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