Disclosure and Sex Addiction
March 15th, 2013 by New York Pathways
Disclosure is a clinical procedure which is carefully guided by trained therapists in a clinical setting. It is a process committed to the rebuilding of trust for relationships damaged by sexual addiction. Although it can be a difficult process, it often allows for significant gains in Recovery.
A disclosure takes place in a therapist’s office only after both the addict and partner have been adequately prepared and advised about what to ask and what to reveal. The addict works with his/her therapist over a period of weeks to prepare a broad outline of his/her significant sexual acting out behaviors, secrets, and lies. ”Gory” details are often omitted.
Several individual therapy sessions come before the disclosure for both the sex addict and the partner. It is important that each participant have adequate support for this process as the disclosure may bring up many feelings ranging from relief and hope to anger and grief.
There are occasions when disclosure is not recommended. Some reasons include the following: 1) the partner is suffering from a terminal or serious illness, 2) divorce is already pending in the relationship, 3) there is potential for physical or emotional violence or abuse, 4) the partner is suffering from a significant psychopathology.
For the sex addict, disclosure is frequently essential to the process of Recovery. Many sex addicts who have not been able to establish long-term sobriety have never given a full disclosure. Absent a disclosure, lies often compound lies. The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous states that those who don’t recover are people who are “constitutionally incapable of being honest.” 12-Step program wisdom states “We are only as sick as our secrets.” And, where there are secrets there is shame – a major driver of sex addiction. A disclosure brings the long-held secrets into the light of day. Once there, much of the power of sex addiction is reduced.
Disclosure helps a sex addict reclaim his or her long-lost integrity. In one study 96 percent of sex addicts felt disclosure was the right course of treatment for them. These sex addicts discovered that disclosure helped to dismantle a major dysfunctional core belief which Patrick Carnes explained as “no one would love me as I am (Carnes, 1983).” For sex addicts, it is imperative to heal this belief. To be fully known (including the dark secrets) and yet, still fully loved goes a long way toward healing this core belief—a major goal of treatment. With the held sexual secrets there is only a false front, only denial, and little chance for healing. After disclosure and no longer burdened with secrets, many sex addicts report a new-found freedom and peace.
For the partner, disclosure can be an essential process of reclaiming a sense of sanity as well as personal empowerment. In one study, over 90 percent of partners wanted to be told the truth because they were made to feel crazy. Many partners have suspicions about the sex addict’s behavior long before the sex addict admits the secrets. For the partner, the sexual acting out and deceit is palatably felt, yet unexplained. The partner questions her sanity as the confusing and disorienting lies build upon each other. The sexual acting out is suspected but often carefully concealed, filling the partner’s mind with uncertainty and doubt. Restoring the partner’s own sense of reality is a just outcome of disclosure.
Disclosure to the partner is also a question of ethics. As human beings, we are all entitled to certain rights. Among these is the right to relationship choice and freedom from exploitation in relationship. Informed consent is a concept which entitles each partner to all information which bears upon the other person’s well-being including their rightful choice to continue in a relationship. This is a fundamental individual right. Keeping someone in a relationship under false pretenses represents exploitation. Every partner is ethically entitled to relationship-relevant information and the freedom to make decisions based on this information. Relationship decisions are rightly made by both adult partners. If the sex addict keeps secrets in order to maintain the relationship, control is unjustly seized by the addict – a paternalistic abuse of power.
Patrick Carnes, in his book “Facing the Shadow” described sex addiction as an Intimacy Disorder (Carnes, 2008).” With the amount of secrets required to sustain an active sex addiction it is little wonder that emotional intimacy is beyond reach. With secrets come fragmentation—hidden parts of the self. In this fragmented condition, it is impossible to achieve emotional intimacy. Stalked by negative core beliefs, sex addicts conclude that if his/her partner “really knew me she/he would certainly leave me.” Under these circumstances the sex addict remains emotionally hidden. Secrets serve as walls to deeper connection. They stand in the way of a meaningful intimate bond. Therefore, if the sex addict is to begin to heal the “intimacy disorder” and gain footing in Recovery he/she must work toward transparency in his/her relationship and put an end to secrets—an important goal of disclosure.
Many sex addicts fear disclosure. Some of the fear is founded in reality. Disclosure is a difficult and painful process for both the sex addict and his/her partner. However, statistics demonstrate that overall, disclosure is a positive step toward repairing the damage of the addict’s acting out behaviors. According to one study, over 90 percent of partners and addicts reported that disclosure had a positive impact on their relationships. For the sex addict, the partner, and the health of the relationship, disclosure presents an opportunity for a new start—an important healing process on the road of Recovery.