Family newsletters, work socials, visits to extended family, New Year's parties: the holiday season is definitely a time when we are expected "catch up" with those whom we know, but with whom we may not be in close, constant contact.
Whether it's our sister on the other side of the country, our in-laws, or our distant friends, we have decisions to make about how much of our "2016" to share with friends and relatives.
In the 2014/2015 Survey of Wives of Sex Addicts, conducted for the writing of Beyond Betrayal, many respondents listed "confessing too much to people who were unsafe" as something they regretted in their healing journey.
One woman said, "I made poor judgements about who to trust with the information versus who not to trust. For example, I told 'new' friends, but not my old, trusted friends. I finally did tell all my old, close friends, and finally, my parents, and that made a big difference. But I do regret sharing personal info with people whose friendship had not yet been 'tested' by time."
Of course this woman's personal experience—that sharing with old friends is safer—may not play out the same for all of us. Another woman stated, "I shared too much information with my closest friend. She is now projecting our situation onto her own marriage."
Reasons Not to Share
This brings us to reasons why we might not want to share too much of our story with a friend or relative:
- They may become fearful or traumatized. Said one survey respondent: "I shared my pain with a teen daughter who was negatively impacted."
- They may not treat the information as confidential. "Our story became known through gossip," said a respondent to a later survey on spiritual crisis.
- They may shame us, or him. "The weekend I discovered his addiction, I asked him to call his parents and tell them. It promoted feelings of shame," said a respondent.
- They may try to "help" in ways that are not helpful. As one respondent said, "[I regret] telling too many people, and getting help from unqualified professionals."
There is also the issue that we may not be in a place where we can share well with friends and family. As one respondent said, "In my anger, I shared some details about my husband I shouldn't have shared."
Chances are this woman would have been safe sharing these details with a therapist trained in sex addiction/partner trauma—and probably even a support group. With friends and family, however, we need to consider more carefully how we disclose and what information we give.
In Beyond Betrayal I encouraged women to look for safe people to share their story with. When looking outside of professional counseling and support groups, I recommend "testing the waters first."
How? We share a little of our story and watch closely for the person's reaction. If she responds with empathy and by sharing back, she's safe. Even with a counselor and support group, it's important that we encounter empathy, not condemnation when we share about our husband's sex addiction and/or our own (sometimes) imperfect responses to it.
Those who fail the empathy test (or who immediately condemn us) are not safe to share with. We need to move on and look for others.
It's important to note that there will be lots of people who are safe to a degree. They may be supportive and empathetic: but unable to validate our negative feelings, such as our anger. They may be unable to sit with us (and not be traumatized) as we process the more "gory" details of what our husband has done.
Our healing often involves a whole community of people. Within this community different members will serve different roles. That's ok. Being aware of the various roles—and what bits of our story they can safely hold—will help us to heal faster and more cleanly.
Thankfully, we have a Father who is always completely safe to share our full story with. As the Light (see the song below), He wants to help us navigate this difficult path of finding people to share with, and discerning what and how to share.
Next week we will look at how to "not share" with those who are curious, but unsafe; and how and why to "go ahead and share anyway," when we are being pressured to keep completely silent.