Part Five: Disclosure Itself is a Process
In my previous posts on why the disclosure process sometimes takes so long, we discussed the fact that proper assessment of your partner and the problem, your partner’s need to break through denial, your partner’s need to fully step away from the infidelity/addiction, and your partner’s process of becoming rigorously honest all take time and need to be addressed prior to therapeutic disclosure. As a result, moving forward into the disclosure process usually takes five to six months of recovery.
What happens when your partner is finally ready to provide you with full disclosure? More time and more process, that’s what. For starters, your partner, now fully willing to be rigorously honest, still needs time for all the elements of the cheating (even the ones they have tried to forget or suppress) to rise to the surface – time to remember the behaviors that were tucked away and hidden (even from self) as a way of defending against shame.
As the full scope and depth of the cheating become clear they must be written down, fleshed out with details, organized, and then vetted for blame that your partner might initially attempt to push onto you or others. (The purpose of disclosure is for your partner to come clean about all cheating behaviors and to accept full responsibility for the choices that were made. Thus, disclosures must be vetted for elements of blaming.) Your partner must get it all on paper and then rewrite it and rewrite it again to make the disclosure a clear and concise document that answers any questions you’ve asked and provides a fully honest account.
During this process, cheating partners may need to work on the shame they feel. For most, this is the first time they’ve ever sat down and fully examined the depth and breadth of their betrayal and its impact on you and your relationship. This is a painful process that may leave them feeling like the worst person on Earth.
Additionally, there is fear about how you might react. In the same way that uncertainty about the extent of betrayal can cause you to jump to the worst possible conclusion, uncertainty about your potential response to disclosure can cause your partner to jump to the worst possible conclusion. They fear seeing contempt, disgust, or rejection. They fear losing the relationship. They fear that you will find them unworthy, broken beyond repair, and unlovable. As with shame, these fears may need to be dealt with as your partner prepares the disclosure document.
So again, we’re looking at time – anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. And this puts you six, seven, even eight months past D-Day before you get disclosure, even though you came into therapy on day one and said, “I need disclosure. I need to know what has happened. I need to know what the secrets are. I need to know where the betrayal begins and where it ends. I need to know exactly what happened so I can start to heal from it.”
I get it. Waiting to know the truth is excruciating. But if you really want the truth – all of it, not just parts of it – waiting is necessary.
For betrayed partners, this is difficult to accept. It’s hard to be told that you have to wait for something that you absolutely have a right to know, and that you absolutely need to know. But when you don’t wait, when you don’t let the disclosure process unfold the way it needs to unfold, you end up getting round after round of partial disclosure followed by more discovery, more arguments, more Sherlocking, and then you’re back to another partial disclosure. Trickle truth. Death by paper cut.
Unsurprisingly, improper disclosure makes your trauma symptoms worse rather than better. It deepens the damage and amplifies the pain and distress you’re dealing with.
As you face impatience while waiting for disclosure, it helps to focus on what you really want, which, in addition to knowing where the cheating starts and ends, involves seeing your partner’s heart and mind change. You want to see your partner move away from infidelity and addiction and toward you and your relationship. If you rush the process, not only are you less likely to get the full story, but you are also less likely to see real change in your partner. So it’s best to wait while knowing that when the time is right, you will get the information you crave, and you will get it in a way that both you and your partner can handle, accept, and move forward with.
In the interim, stop Sherlocking. Stop digging for more information that will repeat and exacerbate your trauma. Instead, set a boundary with yourself that you are going to wait for disclosure, you are going to trust the process, you are going to follow the guidelines of disclosure to make sure you get a good one, even if that means you must wait longer than you’d like.
You will also need to decide what level of relational connection you can tolerate with your partner while you wait for full disclosure. You can discuss this with your therapist and your support network, and then you can set boundaries with your partner about what your relationship needs to look like while you wait for disclosure. As you think about these boundaries, remember that every person and every relationship is different. You need to figure out what will work best for you. What others have done may or may not be useful as a guideline. Only you can decide what feels safe or unsafe to you.
Lastly, I want to once again acknowledge how hard it is to wait for full disclosure, and how hard it is to set and keep boundaries that help rather than hinder the process. I know how challenging it is to stay disconnected from your significant other emotionally because you don’t know the whole story yet. That said, a full disclosure, properly done, is worth the wait. When your partner finally does give you a true and full disclosure, it reestablishes a foundation of honesty in your relationship in a way that nothing else can. It provides an opening for safety to return and trust to be rebuilt.