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Formal Therapeutic Disclosure: How to prepare and what to expect

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

Last time I talked about disclosure and its purpose. I also shared that having a verbal disclosure, one where information is intermittently expressed, causes further trauma. Because sexual addiction is usually hidden using lies and deception, the goal of a disclosure is to get to truth. Without truth, you will not have a foundation with which to rebuild your relationship. Some experts will say that you should not have a disclosure if you already know that you plan to divorce. I would agree with that stance. It’s a lot to go through and prepare for if you truly have no plans to stay together.

Some experts will also ask you commit to staying with your spouse for a minimum of one year after disclosure. While I understand why this is their opinion, many partners feel trapped by this agreement, especially if they learned about some deal-breaker activities during the disclosure. I believe that you have the right to decide based on what you heard, knowing how much you can deal with going forward, and the status of his recovery.

At the end of the day, you get to make the final choice. You alone know what you have lived with and when enough is enough for you.

How should you prepare for disclosure?

Seek out a coach or counselor who has been APSATS (Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists) trained and certified. I say that because APSATS is a leader in training coaches and counselors using the trauma model for betrayed partners. They recognize that those who are married or in relationship with a sex addict have been traumatized and are not necessarily codependent. This is someone you will need on your side, and you will want to take your time to make sure that this person is a good fit for you.

Dan Drake and Janice Caudill, both within the APSATS community, have written some excellent materials on disclosure-how to prepare, what questions to ask, and being able to determine with your coach or counselor how you can best protect yourself during the actual disclosure process. Ultimately you want to make sure that you are not alone. This person can support you throughout this process, including the disclosure itself, if that’s what you choose. I will tell you that having someone by your side who can recognize that you need a break or to be able to speak on your behalf when you haven’t felt as though you have had a voice, is invaluable.

Dan and Janice have also written materials for the addict and his therapist to use so that he can be best prepared. The goal is for him to take the time to write out his activities in blocks of time so that they can be communicated clearly and accurately. This process could take around twelve weeks to complete.

In order to take good care of yourself during disclosure, make sure that you have been practicing grounding techniques. Have some items that you can bring from home to the disclosure itself that will bring you comfort, ie: a blanket, stuffed animal, scented candle, etc. anything that will help you relax and stay present. Your support person will be watching for any signs of anxiety, tension, dissociating, or withdrawal.

If you are unable to find a coach or counselor that you can trust to be with you during this process, please reach out to me. I have been through a bad disclosure and assisted with a very good disclosure. I will help you however I am able.

Now that you have an idea of how to prepare yourself, let’s look at what you can expect.

The disclosure should take place in a private, neutral place that has sufficient seating for you, your spouse, and both support people. Typically the therapist who is working with the addict will lead the disclosure. This person should have a written copy of the disclosure that will be read. You will sit in a place that is comfortable for you with your comfort items close by so that you can remain calm. Your support person should be next to you. Her job is to watch you and be attentive to your reactions as the document is read. She will have the ability to attend to your needs if you are feeling shock, pain, irritation, etc. She will also be able to call a time out and, if needed, send the addict and therapist out of the room for a few moments so that you can talk freely. Taking notes on new information or certain reactions you may have had to be reviewed later will also be her responsibility.

Once the reading is complete and you feel stable, a Polygrapher can then come in to give the addict a polygraph to make sure that all truth is out. Not everyone agrees with this procedure, but I will tell you that I believe this is one of the best ways to know that all truth has been told and you can then begin building your relationship on a new foundation of truth and honesty. It is also recommended to do a follow up periodically during the recovery stage. This helps both parties to feel safe and know that they are still moving in the right direction.

As a follow up to the disclosure, the partner can then begin preparing her Impact Letter to the addict to let him know all of the ways that his addiction has affected her. This should be done relatively soon after disclosure, but only at a time when she feels safe, knows she’ll be heard and that he is working his recovery.

More on the Impact Letter in a future post.

Disclosure itself can be a stressful process for both parties. When you approach it as prepared as possible, it can actually help to reduce the intensity, as you strive to work towards reconciliation. It is my prayer that you will take this important step towards recovery and healing for your relationship. When it's done in the right way with as much knowledge as possible, disclosure will jumpstart your healing process.

What are your thoughts about a Formal Therapeutic Disclosure?

What do you think about a polygraph as part of finding out truth?

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