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Hannah

Disclosure to partner: what should be told?

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I’ve read in Paula’s book for addicts and also read Esther Perel and sometimes it seems the advice to the addict/betraying partner is that disclosure is not always necessarily the right thing to do. On the other hand, we read a lot about the importance of honesty and transparency during the disclosure ‘stage’, assuming that disclosure actually happens. 

What I want to ask is this: 

What if the partner asks? What if the partner wants a full and honest disclosure? Should the addict/betraying partner answer honestly and completely? And what if, after some time to allow the addict some time to come to terms with the reality of having damaged his relationship through to his previous behaviours and quitting, what then if the partner asks him to disclose anything not yet made known? 

Is lying or non disclosure still justifiable when the partner asks? Is it still OK to uphold any previous lies and denials just because the addict has quit and doesn’t want to experience conflict or ‘upset’ his spouse? In other words, is it OK to keep secrets because it’s not a good idea to rock the boat again?

If relationship experts warn about purging the soul to feel better, or to think long and hard about upsetting the relationship by revealing the truth, what if it’s the partner who is actually proactive in seeking the truth? Is it ‘right’ to lie? Is it fair on the partner to expect her to believe lies, even if she asks for honesty? 

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Hello Hannah,

I think disclosure is a very tricky topic and the questions and issues you've raised are all valid. Personally I don't think there's an absolute right or wrong answer and it comes down to exactly what the couple are like both as individuals and their personal histories. There are many complicated and often conflicting factors which you touch on.

I think if the partner asks then what exactly are they looking for by doing so? What is it that really matters? These sorts of questions can help guide what to include in disclosure and what not too. I think it's all too easy otherwise for the addict to otherwise just dump everything out leaving a whole load more mess for the partner to cope with. I was very wary of this with my wife. These are probably questions that a therapist is better placed to work out with you based on your own personal experiences and situation.

When I disclosed to my wife, I spent quite some time working out what to say. I wanted to stress that my problem with porn had predated our relationship and was nothing to do with her or us. I also wanted to let her know how often and when I had acted out. She was more interested in the details of what I would look at. This is a source of shame for me and how useful is that to know? That e.g. back in 2011 for several months I went through a phase of being really into this type of porn or that type. Those are things I work on personally in individual therapy. That's on me yet I found telling her even some parts caused much stress. It depends very much in what you define a "secret" as - is it something substantial (behavioural, like not really stopping or having difficulty, or minimising) or something that is a facet or detail?

So personally I concluded that there is a point of having too much information. What is important to me more is that I do not minimize what I did e.g. by pretending less went on or for less time than it really did. I suppose that's stopping lying to myself first and foremost. Now you might rightly critique my position as being unfair on my wife to not tell her every detail she asks for - after all, I do know everything (memory permitting) - and perhaps you're right. Maybe you might even say that comes from an position of insecurity in me - and perhaps you're also right there too. But I've felt we've learned much more about each other by exploring where the questions come from and finding other ways (or maybe even direct ways) of providing that information. For me this about being honest with myself and emotionally honest and engaged with my wife to have conversations that we never had before. That is I suppose to rebuilt some trust in a different way.

My personal circumstances are also probably quite different from yours as I was motivated to get help after I discovered my wife was having an affair and we separated.

So again for me this boils down to being less about what you should or should not do and more about pragmatism and finding a path that works for you. But maybe you cannot live like we do and you're the kind of person who needs concrete hard facts and nothing else. That's for you to say, I don't know you. There's certainly nothing wrong with that in any way whatsoever of that's what you need. Again I would recommend taking that through with a therapist to help guide you.

Peace

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Hi Hannah

I agree with Rob, mainly because that was the advice Paula gave me.  So for example it isn't helpful to my wife to know where I acted out - why?  Because that might trigger her going there in the future.  I didn't tell her the detail of what I did either - just the main headlines.  

Having said that, I am generally a great advocate for full disclosure along the lines of the boundaries above.  I tried to prepare for it, tried to have someone mediate it professionally but events overtook us.  However I knew at that stage the advice of not giving detail and telling her everything at once - not leaving anything out so that there wouldn't need to be further disclosures.

Can I ask why you ask?

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I was hoping someone could help me understand what is happening in my marriage. My husband is 72. He has been a sex addict since he was young. He admitted to it 6 years ago. I caught him with other wemen several times. Our marriage 31 years has been full of lies and deceit. Very little sex only rejection. I felt like be was always punishing me. He would do nice things for me and then cheat on me. Calls if his language of love. He was into porn masturbation and fantasy. He materbates to my friends and family and other people I know. He said he quit 3 years ago but I have no way of knowing. My trust is completely gone. He refuses to talk about it period. Everything is it happened 1 time. Then I find that' a lie. He says I need to leave it in the past. He refuses to do a disclosure. I do see him trying to do better when I am with him. But I have no idea when he' away from me. He has zero empathy. He says he hurt my ego and that' why I'm mad. He admits he brought it with him and then adds that I better work on my problems that made it so easy for him to want to return to it. He claims he never had physical sex outside our marriage and yet his first marriage was a free for all. He is very angry and resentful towards me. He says I need to just shut up about it. How can I move forward with only trickle truth and lies. He has no clue to how bad he has hurt me. Example  9 years ago I had cancer. I came home and told him. He said  in sure you will get over it and went in the bedroom and shut the door.  He was not there for me. Move forward 3 years. I asked why he did that. His response was I fantasized you died and move Shellie [my best friend) in with me and I masturbated to her alot. I was devastated. He didn' care. I have not been able to be around her since. This lack of empathy is killing me. I have felt like a fool most of my marriage. We'e been to 6 counselors. He blew them off. Says they don't know shit and he has cured himself. But his anger and lack of remorse and his inability to talk openly scares me. I have not had sex with him in over 5 years. I tried twice but it made me sick. Nor have I allowed my husband to even see me naked. He has stated many times that I am fat. He also said sex with me was work. Now says that I shouldn' remember those things because they were said in anger.  I can' read his mind. I' not always with him so I can' tell if he' clean or not. I state it to him that way. He gets angry and defensive and tells me I will never trust him. I have been angry and distant and I am triggered often. When it happens I either get the silent treatment or his anger. Never never support. Can he even change at his age. If so what do I look for? He is always charming to others. Others find him very likeable. Early in our marriage i pointed out the things he was doing that hurt me and I was met with total contempt. I have watched him hold and miss others in front of me. Then he would have an excuse. It was only one time. I'l never do it again. But he does. I hate when I herd the words 1 time. Because in time I will find the lie. When he can' or won' talk about it I feel I can' move on. I feel like he wants a pardon. May be he is clean. I have no way of knowing. It' a big elephant in the room. He says I need to just move on. I need some help from other addicts to help me know what' going on. Wht can' he just tell. The truth or have any empathy. Please what is be doing. I am at a loss as to what to do. 

 

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Hannah, in response to your question, a really useful exercise for you would be to write a list... things you already know, things you NEED to know and things you WANT to know.

Things you need to know are things which will help you understand the level of his acting out, help you have closure and move on.

Things you want to know are things that you may feel you want the answers to... But the answers may actually hurt you more and be damaging to your own recovery - examples of this would be things like intricate details of the acting out, places he went... As Rob said above, intricate details like this may cause additional triggers for you in the future that you do not want. I've been speaking to quite a few partners and I know a few that say they know some details that they really wish they didn't know.

I think what a partner needs or wants to know will be different for every individual - and that's why it helps to have it mediated by a therapist and be clear before disclosure exactly what questions you want to ask and exactly what you want to know. And I think the addict should be clear on this too, and be open and transparent to whatever extent you need them to be, if that makes sense.

I am only 4 months post D-Day, we haven't had a proper 'disclosure' with a therapist yet but I have been to the Paula Hall partner support group and we did the above exercise and I found it really useful. Will be revisiting it again in the future when we do disclosure - he's said I know everything now, but I would still like to formalize the process and feel I have asked everytbing I need to.

I hope that helps. Massive hugs to you xxx

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Hannah, I agree with Eliza, there are things you need to know, and things which are probably best not to know. I made the mistake of asking for too much detail. I now have a terrible time driving to work as one of the places my husband met a prostitute was at a hotel that I have to drive past very day. Some days I am OK but some days it triggers the most awful response in me and it's definitely not helping with my recovery. I saw a therapist for several sessions and he suggested that I should be very careful asking for details as once you know something you can't un-know it. Wise words. 

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Hi Hannah, I would like to offer a different perspective. I am someone who wants to know that if I ask for information it will be given to me. I am 8 months down the road form D-day and in the beginning I didn’t ask for information as I was unsure whether he could be trusted to tell the truth. Now, all these months later, and with intensive therapy, I feel that my husband owes me the truth. I feel that without this I could not move forward. Also, not knowing stuff felt like he had got away with it. So whilst Rob has said it would make him feel shame, well so be it - when faced with the question, “why do you want to know what happened?”, then my answer would be, “why shouldn’t you tell the truth, you have acted without any regard for me and you want me not to ask? Well tough, you did it, now face up to what you have done.” That might sound like I am seeking revenge, and in a sense maybe I am. But I am not interested in throwing all this back at him, it is just that I need to be clear about what has taken place throughout 24 years of a 27 year marriage. So, I know that he visited prostitutes on a frequent basis and that with the advent of easy access online porn these visits became more extreme in content. I know the towns and cities where they occurred, including the town where we live, but not exact locations. I know that in the main it was for paid ‘regular sex’ but in recent times there were a lot of ‘extra-curricular’ activities, if you get my meaning. This has come out this weekend, after him doing his step 5 of the 12 step programme. I felt that having come clean to somebody else it was now my turn. The way we did this was I asked questions and if needed he referred to the list which I had not read. The extent of his acting out was quite shocking, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t know that, however shameful it was for him. I am obviously upset, angry and hurt, but I truly don’t think I could have continued to live with him, if he hadn’t been prepared to tell what I wanted to know. So in short, my answer to your question should be, if you want to know more then that information should be forthcoming. I did not accept the excuse ‘it wouldn’t be good for me to know’ as that is my decision to make and no one else’s. 

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Thank you for sharing your various perspectives. I can understand why some people would want to spare their partner the pain of learning the truth. I can understand the distress caused by hearing the truth too. I have asked myself what I would want to know  and why. Like Florrie, I too have felt that if I ask for information I would expect a truthful answer. At the same time, I accept the reality that my husband could lie. What is best for the long term health of our relationship? What is the best for my own recovery and well-being?

My husband didn’t need to tell me anything. His behaviour had already isolated me with the relationship. By d day I was severely depressed and clinically underweight. I was a mess. My self esteem was non existent. That’s what *not telling* can do.

My husband has admitted to having a problem with porn. So we dealt with it. As for my other suspicions, I had gut feelings which prompted me to ask him questions that he denied. This was some time before d day. After asking I felt I’d blown it, that I’d actually minimised my chances of ever knowing the real truth because I alerted him to be on his guard. Nothing has changed in that regard  

I have gone forward with the acceptance that I may never know the truth about my husband’s  behaviour. The more time passes the less likely I feel I will ever know. I asked again after d day, and he lied just about everything anyway. Unless I had proof. Some things can never be proven so unless he is honest I’m never going to know. 

I don’t especially want details. I know that details can be upsetting and triggering but that’s not the same as having a true overall picture. The next question is, Would it help me to know? How would it help me? Does “not knowing” help me? Bear in mind that I have asked already, so how do i feel about living the rest of my life under a delusion? Or the possibility of a delusion?

I will come back once I’ve thought more about  this one

Thanks everyone  

 

 

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Thanks Hannah. Its exactly where i am. If i cant prove it then it didnt happen even though the facts i know about he denies. He refuses to discuss anything and becomes angry if i bring it up. He laughed at our counselors and refuses to participate in anything. He says hes clean now. He is 72 years old and i doubt much will change at his age. What hurts the most is his total lack of empathy for me at all. He said it only hurt my ego. I have decided to give up on fixing anything in our marriage. If i have to watch him with other wemon like in the past i will swiftly divorce him. I have set firm boundares and have also made it clear that i dont want any affection of any kind from him because i have no way of knowing what he is doing. I cant kiss a man that ive wstched kissing others. I wont hug a man that can do that in front of me. Sex has been gone for 20 years as he preferred masturbating to my friends and family and i was just rejected. So ive made it clear that if he cant come clean and do the work then i refuse to be intimate in anyway with him. I treat him like a roommate. He has his room and i have mine on seperate ends of the house. I also told him that i am not going to spend my time waiting for him to mature. These are his sins not mine and i paid dearly for them already. Once i made my mind up it has been easier. I no longer care what he is doing. Why should i . He didnt care about me or he would have made amends and our world would have been different. The opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference. The kind he has shown me for so long. But it works for me. I have business to run so i can stay busy. That helps to. I employ about 50 people so to divorce could create a real issue. I go about my life as though i dont have a husband. No more nice wife here. Just indifference. Thats where i am at and i will stay here until i feel safe. Until he can find humility and compassion and i can truly feel a change then he is nothing more than a person. Not my husband. I dont tell him what im doing or thinking. I just go about my business. I give very vague answers to any questions.  Mostly like i have no opinion on the subject. I know he notices but he also skirts it. So i see no change. I would love to hear from others that cant feel any empathy from the sex addict. 

Thanks for listening

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