In these cases, a disclosure will be necessary to begin the healing process. Disclosures may also be needed when the partner is only partially aware of the addict's behaviors. He or she may have found online porn but may be unaware of the addict's anonymous sexual encounters.
I have rarely conducted a disclosure wherein the partner did not have some inkling that the other partner was indulging in some clandestine and perverse behaviors that were betraying the relationship. Very rarely have the offended parties been shocked and had no prior knowledge. Usually they had seen the symptoms, but they had ignored them.
Disclosures are not meant to hurt the partner, but rather to begin the process of relational repair. If secrets exist on either side of the relationship, healthy connection is not possible.
I have often been challenged or questions about disclosures in relationship to the ninth step of the Twelve Step model, which states that the recovering person has "made direct amends to such people wherever possible, expect when to do so would injure them or others." Making a disclosure is never pleasant, but, if it is done in a manner that supports both partners, the result is not "harm;" it is feelings of pain, which are real and necessary to acknowledge.
Pain is a healthy and necessary element of the healing process; it allows growth and awareness. To avoid feelings, or the possibility of feeling, is to avoid recovery.
Telling the truth in a supportive boundaried manner with the intention to heal a relationship may bring up feelings as pain, fear, shame, or guilt. The expression of these feelings in your partner may be painful to witness; however, the disclosure is not intended to injury them, but rather to allow for the truth to be revealed.
It is important to follow a specific plan when making disclosures in a respectful manner, ideally in a therapeutic setting that supports both partners. Often addicts jump the gun or are insensitive to their partners' needs. They may have difficulty knowing what or how to say it. They may have good intentions, but, in their haste to disclose, they reveal too much, perhaps without offering any emotional support. They may tell only part of the truth, attempting to control or ease the blow, and then "leak" information that prolongs their partner's pain.
Once the disclosures are made, the reconstruction can begin. Communication and boundary practice will be the most important aspects of early relational repair. Vital activities include scheduling couple and family check-in times, doing feeling checks, giving and receiving affirmations, focusing on what is right or working in the relationship, and learning to voice and meet each other's needs and wants.