[This article is Part 3 of a 3-part series for partners on how to practice self-care before, during, and after Formal Therapeutic Disclosure (FTD).
If you haven’t read Parts 1 & 2, start here with Disclosure Self-Care for Partners [Part 1]]
In Disclosure Self-Care for Partners Parts 1 & 2, we covered what you need to know or do prior to—and on the day of—your FTD session, including:
- Getting clarity about your wants and needs
- Compiling a list of questions
- Making a plan for post-disclosure
- Planning communication for polygraph results
- Making any necessary requests
- Reviewing pre- and post-disclosure calendar
- What to take to your FTD session and why you need to take separate vehicles
- How to set physical boundaries during a FTD session
- Post-polygraph communication
In this article, I’ll talk about self-care following formal therapeutic disclosure.
After Your FTD
Immediately following your disclosure session, you may feel:
Any—and all—of these are natural responses to finding out how your partner has been unfaithful, and the ways you’ve been deceived, lied to, and manipulated.
Acknowledge Your Courage & Resilience
Once the disclosure session is over, acknowledge and honor the courage and resilience it took for you not only to get through the FTD session, but everything that happened before you got there. Most partners wait for months—even years—for disclosure. FTD is a significant milestone for the partner, the addict’s recovery, and the couples’ relationship.
Making the choice to go through the FTD process is a profound act of courage for partners and addicts alike.
When FTD is successful, it provides the foundation from which to build trust and restore a relationship severely wounded by betrayal and deception.
Before You Leave the Session
Before leaving the disclosure session—and especially before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle—make sure you feel as grounded as possible, and that you’re not in a state of high activation. An easy way to tell whether you may be too distressed to drive is to check your heart-rate. If your pulse is above 100 beats per minute, it’s best to take some time before driving.
I sometimes recommend that clients spend even a few minutes outdoors—looking at the sky, trees, or anything that connects them with the solidity of nature—before getting into their vehicle and driving.
Receiving Polygraph Results
If your FTD session will be followed by polygraph, your immediate attention post-disclosure session will be on the results of the polygraph. As I mentioned in Disclosure Self-Care for Partners [Part I], I don’t under any circumstances recommend that a partner go to a polygraph exam with the addict.
Prior to leaving the disclosure session, there should be an agreement about how you will receive the results of the polygraph. I always recommend that the addict be the first person the partner hears from with the results. However, if the addict fails the polygraph or passes with additional admissions,* he/she should talk to his therapist before sharing this information with his partner.
If your spouse passes the polygraph, you may not need the support of your therapist. But if he fails (or passes with additional admissions) you’ll need to be able to contact your therapist to process the information and/or to make a plan about how to proceed depending on the nature of any new information.
Let Comfort, Safety and Preferences be Your Guide
It’s impossible to know in advance what you will hear, or how you will respond to the information you receive in FTD.
Because of the unpredictability of partners’ responses to FTD, trust your instincts to inform you as to what will help you feel safe, what brings you comfort, and anything else that will make this difficult time easier for you. Some partners want to be alone after disclosure. Some prefer to spend time with supportive friends and family. Others prefer to spend time with the addict.
None of these choices are wrong or bad—but each is unique to the partner and her situation. Pay attention to your inner guidance, and then take action around getting what you need, to the best of your ability.
Be Gentle with Yourself
In the days, weeks, and even months following disclosure, you will not only be processing all of the new information you’ve received into your awareness, but you’ll also be incorporating it into how you think about your history—both individually and relationally.
The addition of new, painful, and previously unknown details of your history can be highly disorienting.
For example, if you found out in disclosure that a vacation you once thought of as wonderful and connected was instead a time that your partner was secretly acting out—your perception of the vacation will never be the same. Photos, mementos, and memories of that time will be deeply impacted by this new information.
These experiences often cause partners to say, “My whole relationship was a lie.” These altered memories are one of the most painful impacts of betrayal trauma—your life as you remember it isn’t what you thought it was, and no longer exists.
As you’re folding this new information into your memories and how you think about your past, be gentle with yourself. Most partners find—over time—that their thoughts and perceptions about pre-discovery memories continue to shift and change. They say that although they didn’t know everything about the addict’s behaviors during specific timeframes or events as they were happening, they are now able to separate the addict’s behaviors and choices from their own memories, perceptions, and even enjoyment of past events.
[A Note to Addicts]
Addicts often see FTD as an end-point. After all, you’ve known the information and the details of your disclosure for years—even decades. But in FTD, your partner is learning about it for the first time.
Your partner needs time to process and assimilate all the new information you’ve shared. For her, it’s a beginning. A beginning of knowing the complete truth, having the information she wanted and deserved, and seeing the “whole you” probably for the first time.
You may find that you’re frustrated that it’s not “over” even after you’ve gone through FTD. You’ll wonder why she wants to keep talking about it. You may think, “I did the disclosure, isn’t that what you wanted? Why are we still talking about this?”
I encourage you to memorize a version of “I know I hurt you. I’m sorry. What can I do to help?“
You may have to say this 100+ times. Your shame may get in the way. You’ll be tempted to react with defensiveness or tell yourself that you’re a victim.
However, if you learn this simple skill of responding with validation, empathy, and willingness, you will exponentially speed up your partner’s healing process. You’ll become safer, more reliable, and more trustworthy in her eyes. She’ll know you have the capacity to hear her and take in her reality—one of the hallmarks of true intimacy.
It will take awhile to walk out from underneath the shadow of betraying the person you love most. But there are many who’ve walked the same path and come out on the other side. And I believe you can too.
*Additional admissions refers to additional information disclosed either before or during a polygraph that was previously undisclosed. Partners sometimes believe that the addict “failed” a polygraph when there were additional admissions. However, the official results of a polygraph exam are based on a determination of no deception at the time of the exam, rather than on comparing past admissions to admissions made during a polygraph.
If you’d like more information about the role of polygraph in recovery and trust-building, get an in-depth, 85-minute presentation co-presented by Vicki and Stephen Cabler (Licensed Polygraph Examiner) here.
(Related post: 5 Things Addicts Should (& Shouldn’t) Say to Partners)
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2017)
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