One of the most challenging (and daunting!) tasks in recovery from compulsive sexual behavior is disclosing your sexual history to your partner. Since most of it may be attributed to a progressive addiction, what you put down reveals much more than just the content. You’re vulnerable, transparent, and wide open for criticism.
So why even do it? For yourself, it may be the first time that your story is told. Openness and transparency are both necessary in your pursuit of sobriety so coming clean represents the opportunity to do just that. For your partner, they need to know how much of your behavior really impacts them so that they can make the decision on whether to stay and work on the relationship or instead leave.
How to Disclose Your Addiction the Right Way…and What to Avoid
You may not get a second chance to present a disclosure so it’s important that you get it “right” the fist time. Here are a few tips in how to both create this document as well as how and when to present it to your partner.
- Take your time. Don’t hurry through creating this most important document. Really think through your history and slowly collect the data. Consider which format you want to present it in. Suggestion here is to first collect just the facts on a simple spreadsheet or table document. You will be editing this several times through so pick an easy and convenient format with which to work within.
- Do not do this in bits and pieces. The inch-by-inch method of disclosure not only hurts your partner but also decreased your ever-decreasing credibility. Imagine if you hurry through the document and put down what you’re able to remember on your first pass and then your partner reminds you of other past indiscretions. Their patience and your word start to go right out through the window. As stated above, take your time and really dig deep to collect all of the data.
- Be truthful. The disclosure is a point of accountability and not the place for apologies, amends, or reasons why the behavior was begun in the first place. The first element is honesty. Have you made a complete disclosure of all of your acting out behavior?
- Show empathy. Showing empathy for your partner is key. This is when you begin to understand the chaos, pain, and trauma you have caused your partner…and you. When you get the pain that you inflicted, the depth of the trauma the lying caused, and the anger, grief, and deep despair a partner may be feeling, then the denial that enabled the addiction can begin to be dismantled.
- Pick the right time to disclose. For a disclosure to have honesty, completeness, and empathy, an addict must first have sobriety. Are you currently in treatment? Are you seeing a therapist and/or going to 12-step fellowship meetings?
- Prepare your partner. Maybe your partner already knows and is pressing you for a disclosure. If so, then they are already in the know. Maybe they do not know and you are taking the lead on letting them know why and what you intend to do with a disclosure. Regardless, you need to realize that so much power and choice have been taken away from your partner so they need to feel empowered in this process. They should have a say as to what level of detail they require as well as picking the time and place when this happens. Suggestion here is in a therapist’s office if you are both already in counseling.