2nd Full Disclosure
(Step 9 Amends)
Christian Sex Addicts and their Spouses:
Giving and Receiving Disclosure in Grace and Truth
Grace and truth are both contagious, and they need each other. Our communications in marriage should show (and thus inspire) love, respect, and understanding toward BOTH spouse and self: love your neighbor as yourself. Disclosing sexual betrayal and sin goes better when both spouses first read this article, and focus on their own behavior, motives, and tone, not what their partner is doing.
There are two points in time where disclosure is most important, and can be considered a “full disclosure.” At both of these times, it is most helpful for this to be done in a counselor’s office, to support the Spouse. The first of these disclosures is the initial full disclosure, when the Spouse says she is ready to know everything, and the Addict agrees to tell everything. It is never a good idea, it is never helpful to anyone including yourself, to say that a disclosure is complete when it is not. If you are not ready to be fully honest, it is best to ask for a week or two delay, to give you time to get into your counselor’s office to be told how and why to make your disclosure completely honest and kind. If you think you can’t be both fully kind and fully honest, that is your addiction thinking for you.
The second point in time that may be considered a full disclosure is the only one that should be called the “second final disclosure.” This comes after the Addict has heard and processed his spouse’s impact letter/statement. Only then can he know how much damage he has to make amends for. And only then can he give full account of his character defects, the mind-sets that have motivated his behavior. Only by taking steps four through eight can the Addict say with any confidence or honesty that he is no longer in denial about his character flaws, and no longer in bondage to them, that he will no longer use them to excuse his misbehaviors.
The Addict will find it hard to accept, but “staggered disclosure” (repeatedly saying that he is disclosing everything, only to find himself doing the same thing again and again) does more harm to the Spouse and to the Addict than simply saying, “I am not ready to be fully honest yet. I need a week or two to get ready.” The Spouse will find it hard to accept that early in recovery, neither of them will know for sure how complete the disclosure is. The Addict may not know enough to disclose everything yet, because suppressed memories may not have all surfaced yet. His emotional coping skills may not yet be able to handle the shame and fear of full awareness, and so he may be repressing memories from himself without knowing it.
The first nine of the 12 steps, and the corresponding first 19 of the 31 tasks, usually takes the Addict about 18 months to complete. Until this final disclosure in step nine, the Addict should be considered suspect – neither faithful nor unfaithful, neither honest nor dishonest, just suspect. No matter how much checking or investigating his Spouse does before this, and no matter how much the Addict does or doesn’t disclose, the Spouse will and should naturally distrust the Addict to some extent. Both should avoid the illusion of control, and embrace how powerless they are over themselves and each other. This requires both Addict and Spouse to live one day at a time, not trusting themselves or each other, leaning only on God who works through the people, principles, practices, and prayers of recovery.
Prior to final disclosure, other disclosures may be made by mutual agreement, such as when either the Addict or the Spouse discovers something. Disclosure is very personal and painful. It is not a “one size fits all” activity. Very little practical guidance is given in the workbooks from Drs. Carnes, Laaser, and Schneider about it, and the same was true for my formal training. So here are my thoughts below. For the sake of simplicity, the addict is referred to as male, and the spouse as female.)
Remember these important facts and considerations about disclosure:
- “Staggered disclosure” (coming in waves over time) hurts more than doing it all at once.
- Spouses need general information more than specific details, except when it affects their life (risk of disease, children are affected, affair is with Spouse’s friend or relative, etc.)
- Forcing disclosure before Addict and Spouse are ready hurts the recovery of both
- Addict does better at disclosure if he goes through it first with counselor and/or sponsor
- Disclosure goes better when both parties already understand addiction, sexual addiction, shame cycles, and the dynamics of codependent enabling
- An addict does well to beat his Spouse to the punch of disciplining himself, and to the work of protecting his Spouse and family
- Giving a trauma history (“I was molested…”) goes better at end of 2nd full disclosure
- Spouse has experienced both loss and trauma. She will need to avail herself of the time and resources which may be required to work through the stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining with God, Depression, and Acceptance) and to the stages of recovery from trauma (Numbness, Return of feelings, Constructive action, Restored confidence).
Consider the high cost of not disclosing. Without full confession by the Addict, mistrust and disrespect go back and forth like a ping-pong ball, and the Spouse feels horrible either way. When she distrusts the Addict but he is still covering up, he treats her badly. When the Spouse trusts the Addict, she immediately and inevitably disrespects herself, because someone has to be at fault for her pain. Trusting the addict too soon often leaves the Spouse feeling like a nag, a fool, a stooge, a clown, or “the subject of every bad country song.”
Consider the high cost of premature disclosure. It is likely premature when it is done without planning, supervision, or informed consent, and before he has completed steps 1-9 and tasks 1-19. Such disclosures are typically very offensive to the Spouse, because they are saturated with defense mechanisms designed to minimize the Addict’s pain: denial, rationalization, excuses, minimizing, staying in his head to avoid emotions, projecting emotion and responsibility onto others, claiming credit for good intentions, vomiting emotion to avoid feeling it, claiming not to know better, claiming helplessness, playing dumb (“I don’t know”, “I don’t remember”), and requesting the collusion of secrecy (“we mustn’t tell…”). Such maneuvers are infuriating because they avoid the pain which the Addict needs to learn from his mistakes. They perpetuate the Spouse’s experience that although the addict carries the lion’s share of the blame, she is carrying the lion’s share of the pain.
Consider the benefits to the Addict of timely, planned, structured, and supervised disclosure:
- learning more about the causes and effects of his behavior, that it wasn’t worth it
- lowering his denial of and bondage to his character defects, and his addiction
- lowering his shame and raising his self-esteem (when he earns trust, makes amends)
- having taken a step backward with his slip/relapse, he takes two forward (inventory
and amends), instead of two more backward (covering up and avoiding dialogue)
- talking out his feelings so he doesn’t deny them, hold them in, act them out, or suffer alone
- getting closer to God from doing something he can’t do without God’s help
- experiencing his Spouse enjoying the benefits below
Consider the benefits to the Spouse of timely, planned, structured, and supervised disclosure:
- experiencing the Addict positively as he enjoys the benefits above, and serves as a positive role model for recovery
- escaping the toxic roles of being the private eye, arresting officer, judge, and jailer
- escaping her preoccupation with imagined betrayals (her fear of more landmines)
- talking out her feelings so she doesn’t hold them in or act them out
- setting new boundaries based more on his clear behavior here and now, and less on his unclear behavior there and then
- reducing the sense that she is suffering alone
- being treated as a significant, respectable, trustworthy adult, not as a child or irresponsible person who can’t handle the truth
- receiving a permissible vocabulary for describing and discussing the behaviors and character defects of the Addict
Process/Procedures for a Constructive Disclosure
These procedures are not all appropriate for all cases. These are given as a menu of options from which the Addict may want to choose. They are not intended as a list of recommendations for every case, or as things that an aggrieved Spouse would always be appropriate to demand.
A counseling professional needs to be present, to moderate the meeting, to support the Spouse primarily, and to correct either partner from communication that isn’t constructive. (The Addict may also need to have his own sponsor or supportive guide present, if the Spouse agrees with the choice.) For example, both spouses need to be guided to avoid harsh criticism (attacking partner’s character or motives), sarcastic mockery (either verbal or nonverbal), stonewalling (shutting down), and defensiveness (playing the victim, whining, yes-butting, killing the messenger, etc.) – these are what research has proven to be the four most maritally toxic forms of communication [Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse]. The moderating professional also needs to keep the conversation on task, and blessed with grace and truth.
The moderator may coach the Spouse in using what has been called the Shield of SAFEty:
- Support and Soothe yourself
- Affirm your Assets and Alliances
- Focus on Future hopes and recovery goals
- Engage Encouraging friends and family
The Addict needs to bring a written outline of what he is going to present, and to help everyone stay on task, a copy for each person who is there. With each type of mistake that he confesses, each slip or relapse, he needs to say what harm he thinks he has done: who he has hurt, what he has taken from them, and what damage he has dumped on them (see my outline for RELAPSE REPAIR below).
When he has completed this confession, he needs to report the inventory he has taken of what he has done, and of what he carries within him that caused these mistakes. In effect, he needs to present his future sobriety plan in four circles: the inner circle of what would constitute a relapse (behaviors that he believes he must never do again), the outer circle of what preventive devotional and recovery behaviors he is proposing to do in the future (including frequency and duration), the next inside circle of character defects and triggering mindsets (resentment, shame, insecurity, boredom, loneliness, horniness, exhaustion, self-pity, discouragement, failure, success, cockiness, rejection, etc.), and the final inside circle of slips to avoid and monitor (also called boundary behaviors, these actions increase temptation or trigger relapse). For more details, see my handout on FOUR CIRCLES.
If you have disclosed to him in writing any particular betraying behaviors that would be for you a certain deal-breaker (cause you to put down a retainer with a divorce attorney), you need to give him the right to “plead the fifth” on this (“I wouldn’t tell you if I had, because I don’t want to divorce.”)
A MENU OF POSSIBLE AMENDS
- If I get tempted or triggered into a slip (not a relapse), I will discuss it with my accountability partner, sponsor, or counselor, but not with my Spouse.
- Any further betrayals I recall from the past or commit in the future will be disclosed in the presence of the counselor like we are doing now.
- I will inform my Spouse about any changes in my diagnosis, treatment plan, or my recovery plan (4 circles). I will inform her within 24 hours of any relapse (best to tell my sponsor/therapist first).
- I will watch the kids two nights a week so Spouse can go to support groups.
Physical and Sexual Amends
- We will not shower, bathe, undress, or change clothes in front of each other.
- We will not sleep in the same bed/room.
- We will not have (unprotected) sexual relations for the following time period: _________
- I will neither solicit nor initiate any sexual touching, and will give whatever affection is clearly requested by my Spouse, without demonstrating any desire for more.
- I will demonstrate my physical safety by submitting to tests for STD’s whenever my Spouse requests, and she will get the results at the same time I do.
Amends for People, Places and Things
- I will involve my Spouse in deciding what gets shared with our children about my addiction, and have her beside me when this happens.
- I will protect all my electronic devices and our home from pornography and infidelity with filters and passwords that satisfy a third person.
- At church, I’ll respect the privacy of my Spouse, and not sit where I’d be a distraction to her.
- I will cut off contacts and access in my public and private life to anyone with whom I have cheated.
- I will allow my spouse to pick out new bedding I pay for (if I have cheated in our bed).
- In proportion to the money I have spent on my addiction, I will compensate my Spouse. This may involve putting a vehicle in her name, transferring money to her, or giving her part or full title to our house. I may also decide to sign a legally binding agreement that will do similar things if there is ever another inner circle relapse (e.g., brief and covered up, or anything ongoing). In the spirit of Numbers 5: 6-7, I may offer to compensate her more than what I say I spent on my addiction.
Amends of Recovery
- If not already completed, I will use counseling with someone trained in this field to expand my understanding of my responsibility for my marriage, my family, and my recovery from my addiction. My Spouse will be included when we finalize an updated plan of my four circles.
- I will plan with her a schedule and format of how I report to her about my recovery, and how much I share about these behaviors in my four circles. This will take the place of unplanned, spontaneous interrogations that are not by mutual consent, which have injured us both in our marriage. This will involve specific behavioral reports, updated inventories and amends as needed, and the mutual open sharing of feelings about this report and how it affects us both.
Scriptures about Disclosure
Blessings promised to the honest person, the benefits of confession
John 8: 31-32 “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” from addiction
James 5:16 “You will be healed” from addiction, shame,self-centeredness
I John 1:8-9 “He will forgive our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness”
Satan is closely linked with lying (Matthew 27:63 and John 8:44)
Do you dare put yourself in Satan’s hands this way?
He wants to destroy you and your marriage: see Proverbs 6:20 – 7:27
Natural and spiritual harm for the man who covers up
Lying to your Spouse shows her hate and disrespect, like saying to her,
“You can’t handle the truth” Proverbs 26: 28
You alienate yourself from God, your brothers and friends, and you wear
yourself out with the cover-up Jeremiah 9: 2-9
People can develop an appetite for lies, so that they feel that they need them to survive
Psalm 62:4 about “delighting in lies”
Jeremiah 9:5 we’ve taught our tongues to lie
Lies come back to haunt you, because people don’t trust you anymore, and will tell lies
on you to get back at you. You begin to believe your own lies. You fool
others, and then their reactions fool you into gradually believing that your
false front is the real you. (II Timothy 3:13 talks about “deceiving and being
You lose touch with your need for God:
“through deceit they refuse to know me, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:6)
If that’s not bad enough, God can return the favor (Jeremiah 9:9 and Romans 1: 25-28)
An Outline for Full Disclosure (Step 9)
10 Questions Wives of SA’s need to have Answered
Any forgiveness God wants to give you through me cannot be received until you repent and confess. Likewise until you repent and confess, you can’t be relieved of your thinking that your behavior hasn’t hurt me, or that I can’t forgive you.
- If I have disclosed to you in writing my greatest hopes and my greatest fears about this disclosure,
would you please assure me that you have heard and understood each one? Do you share them,
or have any others to add?
- Have you ever had any sexually transmitted diseases? Are you willing to get examined now?
- Outline for me every type of addictive or disloyal behavior you have engaged in. For example,
sexual behaviors would include full sexual infidelity, nongenital romantic touch, sending
pictures, webcamming, romantic texting/calling, emotional infidelity, prostitutes/call girls, strip clubs/bars, massage parlors, love affairs, one-time encounters, pornography, and masturbation (list what was used to arouse/stimulate yourself). Other addictive/disloyal behaviors past or potential would include any other addictions, including those to drugs/alcohol, other substances, activitities (sex, work, gambling, video games, etc.), and to people, including me or our friends or family members. Include any other covered up behavior (e.g., financial losses or infidelity).
- For each behavior listed above, give a time frame (when it started, and when it stopped), its
frequency/duration (e.g., “averaged 45 minutes per episode, averaged four times a week”),
and its financial cost, including lost wages from neglected work.
- Given your answers above, how much has all this taken from our marriage, from me, from our
communication, from your desire for me, and from the love you have made to me?
- What good things do you think has your behavior taken from me (sexual desire, trust, friendship,
our children’s respect, etc.) and what bad things have you given me (damaged body image, bad
images of your misdeeds, shame, anger, fear, flashbacks of trauma, etc.)?
- What character flaws have been involved in your infidelities? Start with the biggest factors,
and use your own words for these traits and mindsets.
- Tell me briefly about your sexual history, how you came to learn about your body, women’s
bodies, sex and love, shame and secrecy, and how your desires came to be twisted. Explain
the process of your healing from all that has twisted your desires.
- What are you learning and doing now that will protect us from your slipping and relapsing
back into these things? How long will that continue? Does that include any “unless/until”?
- Have you given me a 4-circle recovery plan, and agreed to report on this to me every week
Which Details should be Included during
Full Disclosure of Sexual Betrayals?
Spouses of sex addicts need to have their needs and wishes considered and honored when they are hearing a full disclosure of their partner’s infidelities and sexual misconduct. Generally they need:
- To have a knowledgeable professional present to ensure that their own needs and the marriage’s needs are being met.
- To be told nothing but the truth without excuses (“it was only because…”) or minimalizing (“it was just/only…”).
- To be given all the truth and the details they can gracefully handle. The details that are considered necessary for the spouse and marriage that will not be withheld should include all details about:
1- what the confessor knows that friends and family members are aware of
2- what the children and grandchildren have been exposed to
3- which other people were involved in these infidelities, and which were married
4- if any of these persons still have relationships or contacts of any kind with either spouse
5- if the disclosing partner may have exposed the spouse to any sexually transmitted diseases
6- anything that occurred in the home, or in the business, or in any home, church or business
that either spouse may ever be in again
7- the rough amounts of time and money spent/lost on the addiction/infidelities/affair partners
8- if and when any pregnancies resulted from the infidelities: how they turned out, how many
resulted in births or abortions or miscarriages, and how many living children were born
9- all the emotions the disclosing partner felt toward those involved, how much these feelings
were expressed, and what feelings the other person expressed toward both spouses
10- information either true and false that was given about the spouse or the marriage
11- how the confessor now regards each activity or relationship
12- how each unfaithful relationship was ended:
the mode (phone, letter, text, email, face-to-face, etc.),
what record/confirmation was or wasn’t kept for this agreement,
the reasons given for breaking up,
under what conditions if any the relationship might ever resume,
the types of contact that would or wouldn’t still be allowed, and
the consequences promised for any forbidden contacts initiated by anyone.
- To be spared all the damaging, harmful details. The details that are not healthy for any spouse and marriage that will be withheld should include details about:
1- details of fantasies (general types of fantasies and general content should be disclosed)
2- physical qualities of others involved: their height, race, hair color, age (unless they were under 18), size of their attractive body parts, body type (“slender, fat, will-tone, athletic,” etc.), or any information about how attractive the person was to the confessor
3- where are the activities took place unless it was a location in 3.6 above
- To be given an option to hear certain details that might be hurtful to either omit or disclose. For example, spouses need to say in advance for each of the following if they want to be told ALL, NONE, MOST, or A FEW of the following details (please write one of these in each blank below):
________ contact information for the other people involved and/or their spouses
________ contact information for any children born of infidelities
________ what promises were made to other people involved
________ how much feelings have lingered toward other people involved
________ (list any other information you specifically do or do not want in this disclosure)
Any disagreements about what would be helpful or harmful should be settled by a counselor.
- The confessing spouse needs to be allowed to finish the entire confession before any question and answer dialogue occurs. Likewise, the offended spouse needs to be able to express all her feelings once the confession is finished, and her spouse will given the same courtesy of letting her finish. He will respond with only mirroring feedback that assures her that she has been heard, that her feelings have evoked similar sympathetic feelings in him, and that her feelings make sense to him (why she would feel that way). Any decisions that need to be made about changes in lifestyle should be done at another time and place, after a good night’s sleep. The counselor will close with prayer.
Dr. Paul Schmidt, CSAT (502) 633 2860 mynewlife.com