Part Two: Your Partner Needs to Break Through Denial
In last week’s post, we began a discussion about why full therapeutic disclosure often takes longer than you, as a betrayed partner, might like. Mostly the issue is that a whole bunch of things need to happen to prepare both you and your partner for the disclosure process, and it’s important those things happen in a specific order.
The focus of last week’s post was on your cheating partner being properly assessed. It is important to know if your partner is dealing with simple infidelity or a sexual addiction. That question must be answered right at the start of the treatment process, before anything else takes place, to make sure the right treatment plan is implemented.
Once your partner has been properly assessed, the next stage of treatment, with or without addiction, focuses on two things:
- Breaking through your partner’s “denial” about the cheating. (Breaking through denial is the focus of this week’s post.
- Stopping the problematic behaviors – i.e., the cheating. (Stopping the cheating is the focus of next week’s post.)
Breaking through denial can be quite difficult, especially if your partner is sexually addicted. After all, addictions are engaged in not for pleasure but for escape. The goal of all addictive behavior is to numb out and not feel stress, anxiety, boredom, fear, loneliness, shame, etc. Sex addicts engage in extramarital behaviors not because they’re enjoying it but because they want to escape reality. Sexualized fantasies are, for addicts, less about pleasure and more about the avoidance of reality.
Even without an addiction, denial can be powerful. Cheaters do not want to face the facts that they’ve behaved badly and their bad behavior has hurt someone they love and the relationship they care about the most.
Cheaters of all types create countless reasons why their behavior is OK. Usually these reasons start out as lies they tell themselves as a form of self-manipulation. (It is only when they come to believe their lies that they start repeating them to you and others.)
Here are some examples:
- If someone else was engaging in the same behavior, that person would have a problem, but it’s OK for me because… (I’m special, I’m different, I deserve it, etc.)
- What he/she doesn’t know can’t hurt him/her.
- Everyone behaves this way, so what I’m doing is not a big deal.
- My behavior doesn’t qualify as cheating because… (it’s not in-the-flesh, I’m only flirting, I don’t even know the other person’s name, etc.)
The list of justifications, rationalizations, minimizations, and the like can be almost endless. Sometimes cheaters will even blame their betrayed partners as part of their denial with statements like, “If I got more love at home, I wouldn’t need to cheat.”
Cheaters utilize denial for two primary reasons.
- It defends against the shame they might otherwise feel about their behavior.
- It distances them from the damage they are causing.
Until your cheating partner can identify and debunk the lies (the denial) used to justify the infidelity, you can’t expect full honesty in the disclosure process. Until your cheating partner can identify and accept the damage done to you and your relationship, you can’t expect any understanding or empathy in the disclosure process.
The simple truth is that the self-manipulative defense of denial has protected the cheater from shame and pain about the infidelity – and it will continue to protect the cheater even after discovery. As a betrayed partner, you are naturally shocked and reeling, almost drowning in pain and confusion, and you want and need truthful answers about the extent of the betrayal. Your cheating partner, however, is still in denial, still avoiding the full truth and the full impact of the feelings that come with that truth.
This denial must be dismantled before your partner can see and admit to the full truth and consequences of the betrayal. This means you will need to be patient about disclosure, waiting for your cheating partner’s ongoing self-manipulation (denial) to break. This process happens with the skilled intervention of a trained therapist and takes time.
In next week’s post, we will discuss the cheater’s need to fully stop the problematic sexual and romantic behaviors – a process that is more complicated than it might seem at first glance.