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To Disclose or Not Disclose…that is the Question

This blog post was written by Recovery Help Now’s Clinical Director, Elana Clark-Faler, LCSW, CSAT-S.

A full disclosure is a method used in addiction treatment to help the partner and sex addict begin the healing process.  You might think this action is counter intuitive.  How does a relationship heal by a full disclosure by the partner who has engaged in addictive behavior?

Most clients contact us after their partner discovered numerous affairs, found the porn stash or found numerous email correspondence with various people.  The partner is devastated and demands answers.  The partner who cheated is filled with shame and regrets.  When the sex and love addict comes in and is formally assessed, he or she usually says her or his partner is demanding to know the entire truth.  I get it.  I would want to know the truth if I was going to move forward in this relationship.  There are some partners that don’t want to know.  They usually want to know that their husband or wife won’t do it again.  Just getting a commitment to treatment is enough for them.  These individuals are rare, but it does happen.

The sex addicted client comes to treatment and usually says, “He/She is putting pressure on me to tell her/him the truth.”  At this point, we suggest a full-disclosure.  This process can take up to 3 months, because essentially the client is working on the first 8 steps of recovery.  Anyone who has worked the 12 steps of recovery (within the 12 step program) knows 1 – 8 steps is quite a process.

Full disclosure is a process of helping the sex addict admit there’s a problem, by working through defenses.  We want to identify all secrets and lies.  After the client identifies secrets and lies, we begin the letter of atonement to read to his or her partner.  Not all information is relevant to the letter.  Your therapist will help you identify what to put on the letter and what to leave off.  While we’re working on this letter, the client is still conducting treatment for the addiction.  This can feel like a double whammy for the client.  He or she may be grieving and going through withdrawals at the same time as working on the letter for his or her partner.

When the client was acting out in his or her addiction she or he would act out painful emotions, like guilt and shame.  Writing the letter can cause the addict to have painful feelings.  But, he or she must use healthy ways to cope with these negative emotions, which is new and different and can feel foreign.

The partner is invited in to explain the full disclosure process.  Initially, we will ask the addict to disclose any information where he or she exposed his or her partner to any high risk behavior (for example, exposure to STDs).  We will explain what the steps will be and when we will invite the partner back in to conduct the full disclosure, where the addict will read the letter of atonement to his or her partner.  We will encourage the partner to seek individual therapy to wok through grief and loss and attend a group for support (process group and ALNON or S-ANON).  We will ask the partner to cease any “policing” behavior, such as looking through the addicts computer or homework.  This is a sacred process and the sex addict needs to have the space to conduct his or her work prior to the disclosure.

As the day gets closer we will invite the partner in or speak to the partner with the client (addict) to make plans for the day of the disclosure.  We will make sure the couple has support during and after the disclosure (scheduled time with his and her sponsors and have a plan of taking care of themselves after the session).  We will make sure both individuals understand what treatment is necessary for the clients ongoing recovery from sex and love addiction.  Our disclosures have been successful, because we are very careful to make sure both individuals are supported and understand in detail what he or she will expect.

We love to hear from you.  Do you have questions about full-disclosre?  Contact us.

Full-Disclosure Resources

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