Responding to a Full Disclosure: Marital Restoral After Sexual Addiction or Adultery

full-disclosureThis post is an excerpt from Step 2 of the True Betrayal seminar manual. If you read the content and feel like this is a very weighty step, you are right. But it is a vital step in marital restoration. It is advised that you and your spouse have a counselor or mentoring relationship to support you in this process.

The main factual content of what your spouse should share with you is outline in the description of his/her “full disclosure” in Step 2 of False Love. This is meant to remove the I-have-to-ask-the-right-questions-in-order-to-get-the-full-answer game (not a fun or fair game). If your spouse is unwilling or procrastinates in completing this exercise, then there is not a “magic” way to ask questions that will produce the information you desire. Do not place the pressure on yourself to ask questions “just right.” In such cases, restraining from sexual involvement, sleeping in a separate bedroom, requesting a higher degree of counseling involvement, and contacting your church leaders for an additional level of disciplinary involvement may be appropriate responses.

While completing the full disclosure exercise is good and beneficial step in the right direction for your spouse, it will likely be very difficult to hear. Realizing this will help both of you during the disclosure process.

“[Testimony] It was the best and worst day of my life. I knew for once that he told the truth at the risk of great personal cost. It gave me hope that he could grow up and face life’s responsibilities. It was the first time his words and his actions were congruent. I felt outraged and sick, yet I also felt respected and relieved. It gave me hope for our relationship (p. 31).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

“Adultery is like a funeral, and you need to view the body. Mates need a thorough, honest confession (viewing the body) to validate that a real loss has taken place. Then they can slowly grieve and reclaim the marriage. If confession comes out in dribbles then trust continues to be broken (p. 349).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

Read Job 1:13-22. Hearing reports of evil invading your life is incredibly hard. Notice that when you read Job’s intensely emotional response (v. 20) you admire him rather than view Him as weak. Even as you read His words that are factually true but border on despair (v. 21a), you naturally read them as filled with faith because they are still addressing God and looking to Him for hope (v. 21b). Use Job’s initial response as an example for your initial response to your spouse’s disclosure – emotionally honest, physically expressive, and directed God-ward. It is wise to take your spouse’s disclosure and discuss it with God before you try to discuss it with your spouse.

Discussing the disclosure with God before your spouse does not replace bringing your questions to your spouse. It would be tempting for both of you to believe that one intense, honest conversation should “put this subject to rest.” Repent and forgive in one lengthy talk, right? Wrong. In False Love, your spouse has been taught that disclosure and confession are two separate actions. Rarely does the shame, deception, recidivism, and defensiveness of sexual sin allow these actions to occur simultaneously, although most people giving their disclosure would (at that time) consider it fully confessional.

“The first thing you need to realize is that disclosure isn’t a one-time event—it’s a process (p. 32).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

For this reason, it is false to think that asking additional questions only makes the situation worse. There does come a time when additional questions are counter-productive, but that is when either (1) the questions are being asked as a form of punishment to force the offending spouse to relive their shame, or (2) you already know the answers to the questions and are holding on to the false hope that eventually the answers will become untrue. Otherwise, questions can be a healthy part of assimilating the hidden sin into your life story and gathering the information necessary to know that future decisions are being made with adequate awareness.

“We wrongly believe that to love or forgive means never bringing sinful realities into focus since they would result in pain. Such thinking is dangerous and debilitating; it avoids pain at the expense of healing (p. 79).” Earl & Sandy Wilson, et al in Restoring the Fallen

Full Disclosure Follow Up

After your spouse’s full disclosure and you taking time to think about and talk to God about what you’ve heard, you will still have questions. You will have questions to clarify what you’ve been told and you will have questions that just randomly pop into your mind. If you bring these to your spouse in a random fashion, it will make assimilation of the new information harder. When you are hurt these randomly ordered conversations negatively affect the trust built through the additional disclosure. Random emotionally connected questions produce random logically unconnected answers that seem “fishy” even if true (and your current hurt makes it very hard to be objective about this).

For this reason, it is suggested that you write out your questions as they come to you (“popcorn” style), and then organize them. Having your questions grouped together will help your spouse’s answers fit into a cohesive history and, thereby, help you assimilate the answers. Now that your spouse has put the effort into writing out his/her full disclosure, this reciprocated effort is warranted. There are several ways that you can organize your questions.

  • Based upon the full disclosure outline – The recommended outline for the full disclosure was organized around the different expressions that sexual sin can take. This would allow you to ask questions based upon different aspect of the sin. This structure is often most helpful when you still do not feel like you know or understand what your spouse has done.
  • Based upon the history of the marriage – In this approach, the questions are arranged based upon a time line that may begin with dating and comes to the present. This structure is most helpful when the lies associated with sexual sin removed the confidence that you know your spouse or your own personal history (the theme of “disrupted story” will be developed more in Step 4).
  • Based upon subject areas – You may find that your questions better cluster around certain subjects (i.e., behavior at work, guy’s/girl’s night out, taking phone calls outside the house, etc…). This structure can be more helpful when your uncertainties gather certain events, devices, or people.
  • Based upon the dominant emotions you are feeling – When the other structure prove ineffective, you can arrange questions based upon the emotions they come from or illicit (i.e., anger, fear, sadness, etc…). This structure is recommended for when you believe your spouse has been honest with you, but you do not think they “get it” about their sin’s impact on you.

The “Why?” Question

This is the most common question with the least satisfying answer. Most of the time the “why?” question creates a Catch-22 scenario: either the answer comes across as blame-shifting (i.e., “Because you/we weren’t…) or ignorant (i.e., “I don’t know. It just kinda happened.”). One is insulting; the other infuriating.

“The reality is that we will never find a good enough reason for some of the wrongs done… Neither of us found ‘the answer’ or ‘the reason’ Gary chose to risk everything for an affair. He just did. Mona had to accept that as fact so she could move forward (p. 172).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

In order to get anywhere productive with this legitimate question, we must grapple with the nature of sin. Sin is ultimately foolish and foolishness will never be explained rationally. When we try to explain sin rationally it always results in some form of blame-shifting.

“All sin is ultimately irrational….. Though people persuade themselves that they have good reasons for sinning, when examined in the cold light of truth on the last day, it will be seen in every case that sin ultimately just does not make sense (p. 493).” Wayne Grudem in Systematic Theology

As you ask the “why?” question, you need to recognize that the best answer that you are going to get is either an expression of repentant dissatisfaction (i.e., “I was upset with you for not appreciating me and, wrongly, I found someone who would,” or “I was under so much pressure that I used porn as a form of escape”) or acknowledged foolishness (i.e., “It doesn’t make any sense now, but I wanted to learn about different sexual experiences and porn was a fun way to do it ‘without risk’,” or “Once I started getting attention, I liked it and never did anything to stop it from escalating”).

No answer to the “why?” question will be satisfying. Ultimately, when asking the why question you are looking for the idolatry at the root of the sin – what did your spouse wanted so badly that he/she was willing to sin in order to get it? Your spouse may not be able to see his/her desire as an idol at this stage. In Step 3 of False Love your spouse will explore the motives of his/her sin. This is when you can anticipate more productive conversations about “why” to begin to emerge.

Playing the Detective

You might ask, “What if I don’t think my spouse is telling me the whole truth? How far do I go to get the truth? Should I check his/her computer, phone, bank records, etc…?” Ideally, in this situation, you would be honest with your spouse and say, “I am having a hard time believing you and would like for you to live transparently enough to settle my fears.” In Steps 5 and 6 of False Love, your spouse will learn that transparency in marriage is normal rather than a punitive response to sexual sin.

If your spouse responds negatively or negligently to your direct request, then verification of your concern may be something you choose to pursue. If you do seek to verify your concerns by checking on your spouse’s activity without his/her awareness, then you should adhere to the follow principles.

  • If your spouse is actively engaged in False Love with a counselor, mentor, or group and participating in the restoration process, it is not advised that you not seek information without your spouse’s awareness.
  • Before taking any investigative step, you should be seeing a marriage counselor or, at least, a personal counselor. A relationship at this level of trust deterioration will have a hard time surviving, even if you fears are disproven, without outside guidance.
  • You should resolve before you check anything to tell your spouse what you have done, what you found, and why you deemed this step necessary. Gaining information you will not share will only serve to further damage the relationship and you.
  • You should not do anything illegal in the pursuit of information. Your spouse’s past or continuing immoral action does not warrant you taking illegal actions no matter how hurt you feel.
  • You should not make this your regular practice. Investigation, even when it finds nothing, does not build trust. If your search finds problematic materials and your spouse will not acknowledge clear facts of sin, then you may need to take the next step outlined in Appendix A. If your search proves empty, then you should inform your spouse of your search, your concern, and trust that God will expose your spouse’s sexual sin (if ongoing) as He was faithful to do on the previous occasion(s).

“It is important for the wife to walk the fine line between trust and caution. One extreme keeps a wife in ignorance and the husband in his secret sin. The other extreme keeps the wife in a miserable life of fear which never disappears completely, no matter how hard the husband is trying (p. 34).” Kathy Gallagher in When His Secret Sin Breaks Your Heart

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Pornography” or “Favorite Posts on Adultery”  post which address other facets of this subject.