In my two previous posts, we talked about the toxic vortex of staggered discovery in which so many betrayed partners get caught, and how (and why) to extricate yourself from its damaging clutches. This week, I want to talk about the difference between the unhelpful process of staggered discovery and the helpful, hopeful process of disclosure.
Discovery occurs when the cheating partner gets caught or his behaviors are unintentionally discovered and made known to the betrayed partner. Discovery is shocking, unplanned, overwhelming, and usually only a portion of the betrayal is revealed and acknowledged.
Disclosure is the exact opposite. In disclosure, the cheating partner voluntarily tells the betrayed partner the full scope and details about his behavior. Discovery is part of the betrayal, part of the addiction, part of the trauma. Disclosure is part of recovery.
Here is how we define disclosure at the Center for Relational Recovery:
Disclosure is a facilitated, carefully prepared and supported process where the unfaithful individual gives the betrayed partner a fully honest account of his infidelity and sexual acting out behaviors.
During disclosure, the cheating partner comes to the betrayed partner with the intention of telling the whole truth about what occurred and establishing a foundation of honesty in the relationship—perhaps for the first time. The cheating partner comes to this process with a willingness to be fully known by the betrayed partner—again, perhaps for the first time. The cheating partner enters the process of disclosure taking full responsibility for his actions, accepting that the consequences of his behaviors may include loss of the relationship. The cheating partner acknowledges the rights of the betrayed partner to have all of the information he has, and to make fully-informed decisions based on that information. The cheating partner acknowledges the rights of the betrayed partner to have intense feelings about the betrayal, and exhibits a willingness to listen to and be present while the betrayed partner expresses those feelings.
As you can probably see, preparing for disclosure is a far bigger process than just writing down a statement about what has happened. The cheating partner must face himself and his demons, he must work through his thought distortions and other mental and emotional blocks to honesty, he must wrestle with shame about what he has done, and he must develop empathy and compassion for you, the betrayed partner.
When done in a thoughtful, contained, directed manner (don’t try this at home), disclosure can be a significant turning point for couples dealing with betrayal. For couples who get therapeutic help with this process and do it well, disclosure often lays a foundation from which the relationship can begin to be rebuilt. The betrayed partner now has the whole story, the lies and secrets have been disclosed, and the betrayal can slowly but steadily be processed and healed.