Part Three: Your Partner Needs to Fully Stop the Cheating
In my previous posts on why the disclosure process sometimes takes so long, we discussed the fact that the cheating partner needs to be properly assessed and begin to break through their denial, both of which take time.
The next task for your partner is to completely step away and then to stay away from all cheating behaviors. For non-addicts, this means stopping the affair and any other behaviors that violate the relationship agreements. It also means cutting off all contact with the affair partner(s), blocking phone numbers and text messages, unfriending on social media, deleting contact information, and doing whatever else is needed to shut and lock the door to infidelity.
For addicted partners, the process is even more involved. Addicts must do everything listed above and then they must also learn about addiction, define and fully understand what sexual sobriety means for them, and step away from their problem sexual behaviors.
This, of course, is easier said than done. After all, addicts use their addiction as a coping mechanism. Any time they’ve felt stressed, depressed, anxious, lonely, afraid, or even just bored, they’ve numbed their emotional discomfort by engaging in their addiction. Often, they’ve been doing this for years (or even decades). Sometimes, the addiction is not just their primary coping mechanism, it’s their only coping mechanism. So stepping away is no small task.
To step away and, more importantly, stay away from sexual acting out, addicts must learn to manage the countless triggers (the emotional discomforts) that life brings them. Without their addiction to turn to, they must develop new and healthier coping mechanisms. This means therapy, 12-step meetings, social support, journaling, meditation, exercise, healthy eating, and, most of all, finding ways to become vulnerable and connect in emotionally intimate ways.
For cheating partners, there is a big difference between stopping the problematic behaviors and staying stopped long-term. In the beginning, they must clearly and concisely define the sexual and romantic behaviors that are not acceptable in their life and relationship, and step away from those behaviors. Easy peasy, right? However, staying away from those behaviors is another story entirely. For that, an entirely new set of coping skills must be developed.
The good news is that these skills can be learned, and long-term sobriety can be established. Yes, effort is involved. Yes, there is a learning curve. And yes, this is yet another step on the road to recovery that delays full disclosure. If, however, you can remain patient while your partner does this necessary work, you are likely to see the cheater slowly but steadily turning to healthy coping mechanisms rather than the sexual acting out. When this happens, it provides strong evidence that the cheating partner is becoming ready to provide full disclosure.
In my next post, we will discuss the next step on the road to providing full disclosure: becoming rigorously honest.