Based on the overwhelming amount of media coverage, it seems that people do want to know—although, of course, most would prefer that there isn’t anything to know, and that their partner doesn’t have any secrets or unknown sexual behaviors.
What if your partner actually does have secrets, though? How much would you really like to know?
At Gentle Path at the Meadows, we are flooded with questions from addicts and their partners about this. Addicts ask how much detail they should share, and partners often don’t know whether having all the details would be helpful or harmful.
The idea that a partner should know everything may seem obvious, but considering the depth of betrayal that accompanies sex addiction, the answer is not necessarily that clear. On the one hand, a partner needs to know the truth in order to make an informed decision about how to move forward with his or her life and the relationship. On the other hand, knowing all of the details can sometimes create more traumas for partners rather than assist in their healing.
Five Ways to Uncover the Truth and Begin Healing
Here are some of the guidelines that we use in helping addicts and partners share the truth while promoting healing:
1. Share information in the presence of professionals.
In the initial stages of recovery, most couples are too volatile to process the discovery together. Couples should make their best effort to seek professional guidance before “dumping” information on to their partner. The disclosure sessions can include the addict sharing their behaviors as well as the partner sharing their anger and frustration. A professional therapist can create a safe container for information to be appropriately shared.
2. Avoid disclosing new information without consulting with a therapist first.
As times goes on, more and more questions develop for both the addict and the partner, and the answers to these questions can be complex. When both individuals are so emotionally volatile (and often exhausted) having a therapist to navigate the situation alongside the couple can be helpful.
3. Recognize that knowing all of the details will not justify the behavior.
Addiction involves irrational behavior. The decisions that were made in the midst of active addiction do not make sense in a rational state of mind. It is likely that even when the partner has all of the details, it still will not make sense. Rather than focusing on the details, partners should focus instead on leaning into their feelings and taking care of themselves.
4. Focus on themes rather than specifics.
Partners have a right to know the nature of the addict’s behavior in an effort to ensure their physical and emotional safety. This includes things like the potential for sexually transmitted diseases, anything that may have occurred in the home with knowledge of the family, or financial impact. This does not typically include things like names, graphic details of pornography or sexual acts, or specific places where acting out may have occurred. Those details create a mental picture in the partner’s mind that cannot be erased, and could continue to leave them feeling unnecessary pain.
5. Recognize that this is a slow process.
It is human nature to want to avoid pain and guilt. Partners want to stop feeling pain as quickly as they can; Addicts want to get out of their guilt and shame as quickly as they can. People often want to skip over this part of the healing, but it is essential. Partners will need to move through the stages of grief, including anger and pain, in order to heal. Addicts will need to experience healthy levels of guilt and shame to get into recovery. So while it may seem easier to “get it all out on the table” right now, true growth and change is an evolving process.
Get the Support You Need
So, as a partner, before you go digging for more information to help you understand “why they would do this,” and, as an addict, before you decide that “if I just tell them everything then I won’t feel so bad, and they will feel better” – think again. If you are the partner of an addict, find some support: someone who, initially, can just hear you vent. Take a step back, knowing that you are taking care of yourself by not exposing yourself to more pain at a time when you are already struggling. If you are an addict, know that you will need to share and accept appropriate accountability for your behaviors when you are in a mature place with healthy remorse. To prevent any further hurt and pain, it is essential to do this in a very measured way, as described above. The ultimate goal of this process is honesty and healing.