In my book, Moving Beyond Betrayal: The 5-Step Boundary Solution for Partners of Sex Addicts, I talk about the “honesty problem” in early recovery for sex addicts (to read an excerpt from this section of the book visit my blog article here).
Because deception and lying go hand-in-hand with all addictions—not just sex addiction—addicts must literally learn how to tell the truth again. My colleague Sharon O’Hara described it this way:
Addicts must learn to “Tell the truth, and tell it faster.“
Learning to tell the truth is a messy, painful process that develops at a much slower pace than partners would—understandably—like. And during this unpredictable journey to rigorous honesty, partners have many questions. The problem is that addicts aren’t yet capable of giving their partners the information they want and deserve in a clean and transparent way.
Because the consequences of being in a relationship with someone who has secretly acted out sexually are so high—and the level of deception in addiction is so great—the use of polygraph exams is increasingly being utilized as a tool for couples in the trust-building process.
Polygraph is not recommended immediately after discovery, but is typically utilized after the couple has completed a formal therapeutic disclosure, and may be used for a period of time after formal therapeutic disclosure.
How polygraph supports couples impacted by chronic sexual betrayal and sex addiction:
- Polygraph provides a baseline of knowledge of the addict’s past behaviors from which the couple can begin to build trust. When an addict passes a polygraph based on the disclosure he presents to his partner, she has more assurance that the disclosure was complete and accurate, and she knows the particular set of behaviors and issues the addict engaged in.
- Polygraph supports addicts to include all relevant information in their disclosure, and to avoid holding back information that will prevent them from passing. It is not uncommon for addicts to disclose additional undisclosed information either the night before a polygraph, or while sitting in the polygraph examiner’s office.
- Follow-up polygraph exams, sometimes referred to as “maintenance” polygraphs, provide the partner additional assurance that the addict is maintaining sobriety.
- Polygraph provides addicts the opportunity to experience what it feels like to be free and clear of the secrets that have kept him in a cycle of shame and unworthiness.
Polygraph isn’t a “cure-all” for couples impacted by sex addiction, and they don’t provide 100% proof that someone is truthful, or guarantee that a person will continue to be truthful in the future.
While polygraph can be extremely useful to verify that a formal therapeutic disclosure is complete and accurate, it should not be used as the only means of building trust, and it should never be used as a punishment or a means of controlling a sex addict.
Polygraph is, understandably, foreign to most people. Partners sometimes say they don’t trust polygraphs, or they believe that the addict can pass the polygraph while being deceptive. Some partners struggle to own their right to request that the addict take a polygraph exam.
Common questions partners have about polygraph:
- Is polygraph reliable?
- Can you fool a polygraph?
- How would you use polygraph for the sex addict?
- Does the addict keep lying after the polygraph?
- Can I ask any question I want?
- My husband said he can fool the polygraph. Is that possible?
If you’d like to know more about polygraph and how it’s used in sex addiction recovery and the couples’ trust-rebuilding process, click here to get the recording of my online presentation with Stephen Cabler, a Licensed Polygraph Examiner in the State of Texas who has administered more than 8,000 sex-addiction polygraphs.
In this 85-minute audio/video presentation, Stephen and I give an overview of the polygraph process, and cover the most common questions partners want to know about how polygraph is used to help couples impacted by chronic sexual betrayal and sex addiction. In addition, we answer several questions on the live, recorded call.
Get instant access to the presentation here.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2017)
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