Formal Therapeutic Disclosure (FTD) is a milestone for any couple who wants to rebuild their relationship after the devastation of chronic sexual betrayal.
FTD—as experienced by partners of sex addicts—can be simultaneously terrifying, and greatly anticipated.
On the one hand, partners look forward to getting information they need and deserve. On the other hand, they feel as though they’re in the dark. And in the absence of the truth, partners understandably fill in the blanks with speculations and worries as to the behaviors and activities the addict engaged in.
Regardless of how much a partner knows—or doesn’t know—about the addict’s behaviors, disclosure is a difficult, painful, and often traumatic experience. And for that reason, it’s vital for partners to practice the best self-care they can before, during, and after disclosure.
This post is Part I of a three-part series to share with you a a roadmap for how you can practice good self-care before, during, and after FTD. This article covers pre-FTD self-care.
1. Get Clarity About Your Wants & Needs
Because FTD is such a milestone for a partner and her/his relationship, it’s important that you’re clear from the start that you want FTD, and that you have realistic expectations about FTD.
In my experience working with partners over the past 10 years, the overwhelming majority of partners want FTD. However, FTD is a choice. You may not want to go through the process, and there is no reason to if you don’t want to. Before making a decision not to go through FTD, I recommend that you educate yourself about the purposes of FTD, and talk to other partners or couples who have gone through the FTD process.
On the other hand, if you want FTD, it’s helpful to understand your expectations. The primary purpose of FTD is to give you—as a partner—the information you need and want so that you can make informed decisions for your future, and your relationship.
FTD is not a cure-all that guarantees sobriety or the survival of a relationship. It is also not the end of a couples’ trust-building process. It is better thought of as a starting point, and a foundation from which to build trust and repair the couples’ relationship.
2. Compile a List of Questions
In order for a FTD to be a vehicle for rebuilding trust and restoring your relationship, you must get your questions answered. You should have the opportunity to submit questions to your spouse’s therapist prior to the FTD so that they’re answered in the FTD session.
Questions can include those concerning specific people, incidents, or timeframes when you believe—or have an intuition—that the addict may have been secretly engaging in extra-marital sexual behaviors.
I highly recommend that you have a qualified, trained therapist as you navigate the FTD process. FTD is unlike any other disclosure, and it’s important that you have a professional who understands how FTD works.*
3. Make Self-Care Plan for Post-Disclosure
I recommend that partners schedule both an individual therapy session within 24 hours after a FTD, as well as at least one individual session the following week. If polygraph is part of your FTD process, keep in mind that you may need support or consultation once the results of the polygraph are shared with you and/or your therapist. If you find that you don’t need that level of support once you’ve heard the FTD, you can make adjustments to your follow-up plan.
Also, let your sponsor, program or other community of support know the date and time of your FTD so that they can be available for you if needed. You may also want to schedule time to meet with them in the hours or days after the FTD.
4. Plan Communication for Polygraph Results
If your FTD includes polygraph, talk to your therapist about how you would like to receive the results of the polygraph. Every partner is different in this regard. Some prefer to speak to the polygraph examiner directly, while others prefer to hear the results only from their therapist.
Your therapist may have a specific protocol for post-polygraph communication, but I typically recommend that the partner learn first directly from the sex addict the results of the polygraph. If you want verification of the results, you may be able to speak to examiner if he/she is willing to discuss the results with you.
5. Specific Requests
Before the day of the FTD, consider any specific requests you would like to make of the addict, your therapist, or anyone else.
For example, some partners know pre-FTD that they prefer the addict stay somewhere else other than the couples’ home the night of the disclosure. Some partners want a “no contact” period post-FTD to process their feelings and work with their community of support, including their therapist. The main idea here is to think about your needs, and make plans to get them met when possible.
6. Review Your Pre- and Post-Disclosure Calendar
Some partners request that FTD take place before a major holiday such as Thanksgiving, or after their birthday as a way to take care of and protect themselves. If there are any significant events in the days or weeks post-FTD—birthday celebrations, weddings, vacations, surgeries—you may need to either reschedule or create a plan for how to manage or alter the event in light of how the FTD may impact your experience.
*To find a therapist in your area, or one who may be able to work with you virtually, go to the website of the International Institute for Trauma & Addiction Professionals, the organization that provides training and certification for Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSATs).[Related Post: Self-Care: Your Foundation For Healing]
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2017)
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