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When Sex Addicts Reveal Everything to Spouses

Whatever its origin, sex addiction takes a heavy toll on not just the addict, but on all those with whom he or she has formed close relationships.
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There are several theories as to how and why sex addiction develops. Some say that early traumatic relationships in infancy or childhood create an intimacy disorder in the individual, which then manifests later in life as high-risk behavior, sexual compulsions, infidelity or an obsession with porn. Others describe it as a coping mechanism, a way of altering one's mood, akin to drugs or alcohol. Over the course of the disease, the addict's need for a "fix" escalates, requiring more potent sexual and emotional experiences.

Whatever its origin, sex addiction takes a heavy toll on not just the addict, but on all those with whom he or she has formed close relationships. As the addict enters recovery, stops their sexually destructive behaviors and begins to work through personal trauma with an experienced therapist, it soon becomes glaringly apparent that the relationship between the addict and his or her partner is also in need of significant repair. Strategy meetings with the couple is thus needed early on in the process so as to assist the partner with his or her traumatic reactions, and to provide resources for the partner and educate him or her about the addict's recovery. It is essential that the partner be made aware of the addict's treatment plan, which should include individual therapy and support group attendance.

Since trust within the partnership has been all but permanently shattered, it is of paramount importance that the healing process be handled in a way that does not cause additional harm to either party. Initially, the recovering addict may experience one of two extremes -- either an overwhelming impulse to blurt out every lie, indiscretion or betrayal as proof of his or her willingness to change without regard for timing or setting; or a complete aversion to disclosing any details about the past and its devastating activities.

Sometimes the addict practices what is called "staggered disclosure," releasing just enough information to overwhelm and confuse the partner, but ultimately failing to answer the partner's most important questions and concerns. None of these paths will ensure a stable future for the couple, however. While some form of disclosure is necessary -- Authors Corley and Schneider reported in their book Disclosing Secrets that 93 percent of surveyed partners favored full disclosure for rebuilding intimacy -- it must be accomplished in a highly controlled environment within certain guidelines that honor both partners' needs on their journey towards reconciliation. Most therapists suggest that full disclosure occur around three to six months into the couple's recovery process depending on the individual's and couple's needs. The addict is instructed to prepare by writing out their secrets and lies in timeline fashion to review with their individual therapist before facing the partner in person. The partner is instructed by his or her individual therapist to prepare by making a list of what he or she specifically would like to know including "deal breakers" for continuing in the marriage. This list is then given to the addict so that he or she may include it in the final disclosure statement.

While the addict was actively engaging in his or her sex addiction, he or she likely went to great lengths to maintain secrecy around phone calls, texts, emails and whereabouts, therefore transparency and communication are the keys to a new, mutually respectful relationship dynamic. During the disclosure process, the partner gets to express his or her own experience and feelings, giving the addict the opportunity to exhibit remorse and empathy, and to better understand the effects of his or her disease on others. Under the right circumstances, this process can lead to a profound catharsis for both parties, opening up avenues for intimacy that may not even have existed before the addict's transgressions.

To summarize, full disclosure is not something to attempt half-heartedly or informally. It is not something to wing on a whim. Rather, it is the construction of a powerful, sturdy bridge that can lead to a stronger bond and rock-solid trust -- provided the addict remains fearless in his or her desire to make sincere amends.

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