FAQ Group: Disclosure

Why did you decide to participate in a formal Disclosure? What concerns or worries did you have?

PARTNER: I wanted formal disclosure. My experience of disclosure from my partner had been just about as bad as it could get. It was staggered over three months and came in about 5 chunks, each more devastating than the last. Each time I would ask, “Is that everything?” and he would insist that it was. Each time, that was a lie. At the Phase 1 Intensive, it had been explained that this was like being hit with a brick, only to get back up and be hit again. In my experience it was worse than that because each time the bricks were bigger and hurt more, and I had been lied to more. The emotional and physical effect of this was awful. By the end, I was shaking almost all the time and my physical health was at an all time low. I ended up in emergency during the Intensive weekend with breathing complications from flu. My physical health reflected my emotional health — it was hard to breath and I didn’t really want to!

I wanted formal disclosure because:

  • I felt he owed me that
  • I wanted to hear from a place where he wasn’t terrified, defensive, justifying, minimizing, or angry
  • I wanted to hear from a place where I wasn’t in shock or distraught or completely “zoned out”
  • I had a belief that the process of disclosure would be therapeutic for us both

ADDICT: Well, I didn’t want to do it at all. I had told her everything anyway so didn’t see the point. I feared that doing a disclosure “again” would re-open things and she’d be upset and angry with me again. We seemed to be getting on quite well, so I saw only danger in this process. My disclosures to her had taken place in bits over some months and had been a horrific experience for both of us. I didn’t want to recreate that .

However, she told me I owed it to her and I grudgingly thought she might be right. Also, my perception was that she was going to spend the rest of my life explaining what a terrible person I was and I thought it just might get me 5 seconds respite!

How long did preparation with your Disclosure therapist take?

PARTNER: I had 3 WebEx meetings with my therapist over about a month. I was very keen to do the process and went as fast as I could.

ADDICT: I think my memory is correct in that I was working with the therapist for about 3 months and we had about 3 sessions. I am told that is very quick, actually. I was feeling in a hurry as I wanted it over with! I had a workbook and did the work on that immediately upon being asked to. I am told the process takes as long as you need to be ready.

What were the benefits of working with a Disclosure therapist as you prepared for the formal disclosure?

PARTNER: I thought that I could have worked through the book alone but working with a therapist who was there just for me, helped me tremendously when it came to my fear and anxiety. It also helped me clarify what I wanted and what questions I might have. The presence of a therapist who was there just to support me made the process less frightening and I really appreciated knowing that I had support if I were to find out something traumatic on disclosure day.

I felt like I had a witness who really empathized with what I was going through. I was not alone.

ADDICT: I started my first session in my normal way which was thinking the therapist was going to be some sort of judgmental bore. He was not, he was very strong but gentle, kind and I also felt very supported. For me, the main benefit was that he helped me avoid making excuses when writing up my disclosure notes, such as “she made me do it”. He also helped me avoid — my main reflex response — to try to justify what I did such as “I was stressed / drunk / lonely…”

I haven’t yet mentioned being truthful! I think I was from the start, but somehow the therapist made it so that I felt I wanted to be truthful to him and myself, let alone my wife. I was also helped to understand that this was going to be emotionally tough, so what was the point of doing all this without total honesty?

Slightly to my surprise, I found that I was also expected to write a letter to my wife showing that I was wholly accountable for what I had done.In my normal way, I was quite sure that this would be a simple, easy, short piece of work — and it was. I also thought it would not be important — I was so wrong. Even just typing it, I could feel a sort of emotional and physical change happening inside me. A type of relaxation, perhaps also a letting go of my feeling that I may have to “fight” at any moment and an acceptance, a real acceptance and full realization, that she had done nothing wrong. This was my addiction and nothing she did or did not do would have changed what I had done.

Did you find the Disclosure workbooks helpful as you prepared?

PARTNER: Yes. Initially I thought that some of the exercises were not necessary, but they were. It was especially helpful for me to realize what support I had and needed and how to get that.

ADDICT: Yes. I hate being told how to do things. I can often agree with an aim (such as disclosure) but I know how to live my life and can make my own decisions, right? Right — but where has that approach got me?! It was good medicine for me to just try to relax and accept that someone knew better than me and to accept that I had to do things other than my way. Finally, I started to accept that my way just got me into big trouble and always had.

Did you feel you were prepared by the time Disclosure Day came?

PARTNER: Yes. Although anxious, I felt prepared and supported. The offer of follow up support was also very important. I felt extremely cared for.

ADDICT: Yes. I knew what I was going to say. I knew I’d have the support of the therapist with me there and I had also arranged further support from my LifeStar Group.

What was your biggest fear around participating in the actual disclosure meeting?

PARTNER: My biggest fear was that I would hear something which meant that I couldn’t continue in my marriage. I had 2 things that I had decided would be deal breakers for me. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t hear them, but I was still terrified.

I was also anxious that I may become overwhelmed, angry or distraught. I leaned heavily on the knowledge that if that were to happen, my therapist would be there for me at that point. This thought dramatically decreased my anxiety and therefore, that possibility that this would occur.

ADDICT: I was very worried that I would somehow “switch off” emotionally due to how tough the meeting would be. I feared that, if I did that, my words would not really fully communicate to my wife, just how I felt.

I was also troubled to hear that my wife’s therapist, a woman, would be there too and I had images of there being two “men haters” ganging up on me, judging me and telling what a horrible person I had been.

I also worried that my wife would get very upset, shout, abuse me and leave. I also feared that she wouldn’t believe me, especially that I had told her everything. In that case, I imagined I would have thought it something of a waste of time.

(I want to say that I don’t claim these fears — except the first one — were based on reality, but they were certainly in my mind.)

How did a structured Formal Disclosure differ from other informal disclosures that may have occurred in your relationship?

PARTNER: I was calm, he was calm, we were safe and supported. I got the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There were no excuses, no minimizing and no rationalizing. And nowhere in the process was I blamed.

It was awful to hear the full extent of the addiction presented factually and in its entirety, but at least by the end, I felt safe that was finally it — no more lies or terrible surprises. I could finally not dread hearing the phrase, “There’s more…”.

Most importantly, formal disclosure came with an accountability statement. This was beautiful and hugely important. My partner clearly, fully and honestly took full responsibility and accountability for his addiction, actions, and the hurt and damage that he had caused. He acknowledged, in front of witnesses, that his addiction was his and his alone and that none of it was my fault. I knew this, but hearing him say it was freeing and healing. It was one of the best ‘love letters’ that he could ever give me. My letter to him also allowed me to appreciate his courage and strength in choosing recovery.

ADDICT: Well, she didn’t react like she did when I had given some of my own disclosure! This meeting was mutually respectful, gentle, emotional and safe. We each had support available and present in the room although, as it happened, we did not need it and in fact, I don’t think I actually noticed anybody else was there when I was disclosing to my wife as we were so connected by emotion.

The informal disclosures had been horrific, both for me and for her. In fact, the way I had done them had added massive damage on top of my sexual acting out. I gave a little bit of disclosure, stopped when she got upset, promised that was it and then, when I’d got a little more courage, mentioned some more. The psychological and emotional damage to her (and also to me) by this approach was enormous. I deeply, deeply regret this and wish I’d taken advice about how to do it before doing so.

I think the main difference was that the formal disclosure allowed me to be factual, such as “I did X on day Y with Z”. In informal disclosure it more likely would have been, “OK yes, yes, if it will shut you up yes I did this thing with that person but it was only because you were not interested and she was beautiful and she went after me, not me after her, so…”. Guess which of those disclosures would go over better with a person who had been betrayed? And as a bonus, it made me feel better about myself, too.

What were the benefits of doing Disclosure? (For you personally and your relationship)

PARTNER: I felt that I had the whole story and had been given the chance to ask for detail and clarification in a safe way. It was like a line in the sand. I was no longer being deceived and knew what I had to deal with.

I was finally an equal partner. I wasn’t being ‘protected’ from the truth. If I continued in my relationship, it was with informed consent.

I felt trusted by my partner and closer to him than I had in a long time. I don’t know how but I felt that rebuilding trust in our relationship could actually be possible now.

My husband definitely healed during the process. He became less shameful and I was able to talk to him about my feelings and what had happened without triggering a huge fight or flight response from him. This meant that I was able to turn to him for support and he was there for me. We felt like a couple again. I saw the man that I had fallen in love with come back again. This was hugely supportive of my healing.

The more accountable my partner became for what he had done and the effect of that on me and us, the more I was able to feel compassion for him and gratitude for what he was doing now. That was way better than the anger, fear and confusion that I had been feeling.

ADDICT: I managed to lose my overwhelming shame. It had cloaked me for many years and stopped me from really living. I had been a walking empty shell, you know “the lights are on, but there is nobody home” type existence.

For the first time in many years, I started to feel like I was an honourable man. What do I mean by that? I mean that an honourable man tells his loved one when he has done something wrong, he doesn’t make excuses or tries to justify, he accepts his responsibility, he says what he is going to do about it in future — and he makes sure he does what he says.

My wife told me she thought I was brave and that she was proud of me. I almost believed her (I do, fully, now). That felt so good, I never thought I would hear that.

It enabled me to be honest about the relatively little things. No more “I won’t tell her I am frightened about X in case she thinks I am not masculine / tough / capable” and so on. And no more “I won’t tell her about that as she’ll be upset and so I’ll avoid it to take care of her”. I now realize that nothing takes care of her more than having an honest and available spouse.

We relaxed as a couple. We both knew and fully sensed that there were no more secrets. For the first time in years we had a solid foundation for our love and not one with a massive crack running right through it.

I have started to realize there are trees in this world! Really, I had started to just look at the ground when I walked along. I felt ashamed, useless and basically unpleasant. But now I look up, I am not ashamed to be seen. I am, after all, an honourable man.

Did you feel it was detrimental in any way?

PARTNER: No. However, I was totally exhausted after and needed to sleep a lot for the next few days. I then hit a period of mourning that I hadn’t expected. That lasted about 3 weeks and initially felt like a setback. It wasn’t! In fact I now see that it was absolutely healthy and necessary. It allowed me to finally say (and feel), “My husband is an honourable man who is in recovery and making amends to me”.

ADDICT: No. Simple as that.

Now looking back on the process, do you feel it was the right thing to do?

PARTNER: Yes. It changed us both and allowed us to reach a new level of recovery. We felt like a couple again.

ADDICT: Yes. It started my life again.