Let’s talk about what you, as a betrayed partner, have a right to know about and be involved in when it comes to the unfaithful individual’s healing process.
This topic can be very confusing for a lot of partners. For instance, you may have a spouse who is participating in a 12-Step program who keeps telling you, “You are not supposed to be in my program. You need to stay on your side of the street.” Or you may be participating in your own recovery program and hearing something similar from your support network there.
This can make you feel like you do not have the right to know about or provide feedback regarding your significant other’s path of recovery. And this, of course, can feel very unfair and restrictive.
While it is true that you cannot be in charge of your spouse’s recovery process, telling them what to do and when to do it (trust me, that avails you nothing), you do, as the betrayed partner, have a right (and I would argue a need) to be informed about their recovery process.
Below are a few of the things that you have a right to ask about and to have honest, forthright conversations with your partner about.
Your Physical Safety
If your partner has had sex with someone outside of your relationship, you have a right to ask them to get tested for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and to share the results of the test with you. Even if your partner is claiming to have only had protected sex, it is recommended that you request STI testing and to see the results. Your physical safety is a top priority, and you have a right to know if your partner’s behavior has put your health at risk.
If your partner is participating in a 12-Step program, you have a right to know which meetings they are attending. You also have a right to know if they have a sponsor, what that sponsor’s first name is, and a little bit about who that sponsor is (is he a married lawyer in his 50s, a 28-year-old single firefighter, or a 44-year-old mother of three) and what qualifies that individual as a sponsor (does he have other sponsees, does he have his own sponsor, how long has she been in the program, does she have a good amount of sobriety). Over time, the sponsor might become important not just to your partner but to you. Frequently, you will begin to see your partner’s sponsor as a valuable resource in helping your partner deal with their most troubling issues and behaviors.
If your partner is a sex addict, you have a right to know what their definition of sexual sobriety is. You also have a right to provide feedback about their definition of sexual sobriety. If your partner comes to you and says, “I’ve defined sexual sobriety as no sex outside of our relationship,” but you know that historically he has spent significant amounts of time compulsively masturbating and looking at porn, you might not feel good about their definition. If so, you have the right to say, “I would feel safer and more secure in our relationship if you would include porn and masturbation in your sexual sobriety definition.” Your spouse will then have to decide if they want to amend their sobriety definition. Hopefully, the two of you will be able to engage in a discussion about what sexual sobriety means to each of you, what you want your sexual relationship to look like, and what is needed for emotional safety to be restored.
You also have the right to know if your partner has lost their sobriety. I often encourage betrayed partners to think carefully about what they need to know about this issue. To this end, you should consider the types of behaviors that might significantly impact your ability to feel emotionally and physically safe in the relationship. For example, if your addicted spouse has a slip that involves viewing pornography or masturbating (if those are behaviors he has agreed to avoid), you might feel that you do not need to know about this as long as they are being honest with their therapist, sponsor, and recovery community, and working it through. If, however, their loss of sobriety involves hooking up with an ex-affair partner, this is something you would probably have strong feelings about and would want to know about so that you could make fully-informed decisions about your relationship.
You have a right to know who your partner is seeing for therapy, what their credentials are, and how they approach the issue of treating infidelity and betrayal. You have a right to ask to meet this individual so you can increase your comfort level and trust. You have a right to ask your partner what they are working on in therapy and to expect them to share with you about what they are learning. A word to the wise, though: Pick a sensitive and appropriate time to ask your partner about therapy if you choose to do so. Most people need some time to process and absorb the content and emotions resulting from a therapy session. So a phone call to your partner right after their session or a number of pointed questions even the same day are probably not going to get you the best information. Give them time to process what was talked about and come to a place where they are ready and able to share it with you.
You have a right to know about the scope and breadth of your spouse’s acting out behaviors. How this information gets disclosed to you is a lengthy subject that I will address another time. For now, suffice it to say that you have a right to know about the level of betrayal that has occurred, the ways that you have been put at risk, and the agreements that were broken in your relationship.
I have used the words ‘you have a right’ a lot in this blog post. That is because it is important that you as the betrayed partner feel validated in your desire to be involved in the recovery process. If you have chosen to stay in your relationship to see if repair and restoration are possible, then recovery is not something your partner should be doing by theselves. You are both in recovery – individually and as a couple. It is important that you are able to invite each other into your individual process while also coming together when it is time to work on things as a couple.