Part Four: Your Partner Needs to Get Honest
In my previous posts on why the disclosure process sometimes takes so long, we discussed assessment of the cheater and the problem, the cheater’s need to break through denial, and the cheater’s need to fully step away from the infidelity/addiction. All these tasks take time and need to be addressed prior to therapeutic disclosure.
That said, possibly the most important thing that needs to happen before the cheating partner provides you with full disclosure is getting honest. This should be happening through all three of the tasks we’ve discussed. In fact, honesty is a key element of proper assessment, breaking through denial, and establishing and maintaining sobriety. Now, however, honesty needs to move to a new level.
The honesty that is needed before the cheating partner is ready to provide disclosure involves not just rigorous honesty with you, it involves rigorous honesty with self. Cheaters must learn to identify when they are lying to their betrayed partner, and how to correct that in a timely fashion. More importantly, they must learn to identify when they are lying to themselves and manipulating their own thinking.
For every lie the cheating partner tells the betrayed partner, they tell themselves three or four lies to justify and rationalize their behavior. Rather than thinking about the damage done to their relationship and the pain their partner will feel when the betrayal is discovered, they squash the truth. This is a shame reaction. They don’t want to feel bad about or judge themselves, meaning they don’t want to feel shame, so they lie to and keep secrets from themselves. And then they lie to and keep secrets from their partners.
Often, as this process of developing honesty and integrity occurs, cheaters will find themselves bargaining with themselves. They think, OK, I’m going to tell this and this and this, but there’s no way I’m telling that. That one is going with me to the grave. And that’s OK because I’m being honest about everything else and this one that I’m going to hide would hurt my partner too much to hear about it. It would totally kill our relationship, and neither of us wants that.
Bargaining is normal. All cheaters do this to some extent. This is because bargaining is a stage of grief and whenever the cheating partner is reckoning with getting honest, they are simultaneously facing the loss of the affair or addiction. When facing loss, we will all try to bargain because we want to avoid the pain the loss will bring us.
When cheating partners bargain with themselves about being fully honest they are really bargaining about whether they are willing to give up the addiction or the affair or other problem coping strategies. Keeping secretes is a way of holding onto the behaviors and keeping the possibility of returning to them an open option. This is why getting honest is critical to recovery.
For cheating partners who feel great shame about themselves and their behavior, or who’ve been hiding big chunks of their life from not only others but themselves, this type of honesty and vulnerability is a scary thing. It takes time to work through the fear and come out the other side. But it can be done.
Lying and keeping secrets from oneself is a deeply ingrained habit for most cheaters, especially those who are addicted, and learning to catch themselves and correct their thinking is a process. Usually it is two steps forward, one step backward. But with effort, the level of honesty that is needed for full disclosure can be achieved – particularly when the individual is motivated to repair their relationship.
Before cheating partners are ready to begin the process of providing full disclosure, they need to come into congruence with themselves. They need to break open the compartments in their minds that hide their problem behaviors – even from themselves. They need to become whole rather than a sum of parts that are never fully examined. And until this happens, even they don’t fully know or understand the extent of their cheating.
It is this last, final chunk of self-manipulation by the cheater that needs to disintegrate before full disclosure. Otherwise, you will not be getting full disclosure.
You are probably wondering, after four posts talking about all the things that need to happen before your cheating partner will be able to provide you with the full disclosure that you so desperately want and need, how long will all this take? There is no set timetable getting to disclosure. Usually, you can expect the process to take five or six months from discovery and entering treatment. That said, every cheater has different levels of shame, different levels of lying and keeping secrets, and different levels of tolerance for emotional discomfort as the process of becoming honest unfolds. As a result, timeframes can differ.
In my next post, we will discuss starting the actual process of full therapeutic disclosure.