Disclosure: Who to tell and who needs to know?

When struggling with a pornography addiction and other compulsive sexual behaviors, it is often difficult to understand when to move forward and disclose to others.  One may ask: Who should I tell and who needs to know?  Consequently, some individuals trapped in compulsive cycles spend several years keeping their unhealthy behavior under the lid. It’s emotionally burdensome and physiological draining to maintain a double life. The problem is that addiction thrives in secrecy.  It is the lifeblood that keeps the cycle in perpetual motion.   In secrecy, the person may think they can overcome their addiction by willpower alone.  Periods of abstinence can last for weeks or sometimes months.  Unless the person is in full recovery, old patterns will return and acting out in the addiction is inevitable.   

Maintaining a secretive life requires one to live a life in constant turmoil.   A key step in breaking the cycle is to disclose to someone who you thoroughly trust.   It may not be easy. Years of internalized shame create significant walls that make it seem virtually impossible to consider healing as a way of life.  Yet disclosure is a necessary step in the process.  For a single person, disclosure to a parent who can support your recovery is crucial. For those who are in relationships or are married, disclosure is essential.  However, the timing and the actual disclosure should be considered after seeking guidance with those who are experienced in recovery or a professional therapist.

For those who are married, once this burden has been shared, reactions from the spouse may be varied—anger, hopelessness, shock, betrayal, to name a few.  A desire to separate or divorce may also surface.  Some spouses state that they “do not know who their spouse has become” and others state that they have already felt the pain of a damaged relationship.

Free and voluntary disclosure is a better approach than discovery.  When an individual is “caught,” the last thing to do is minimize or outright deny the addiction.  This will only prolong healing and rebuilding trust in relationships. If your addition is “discovered,” it’s important to acknowledge the problem and commit to getting help.

Once the behavior is out in the open, the next question is usually, “Who else needs to know?” Initially, there are high levels of fear, phobia and anxiety surrounding what others may think and say about your addiction.  Many of these concerns can be expected and are normal.  Sometimes partners feel like they don’t want others to know as well.  I recommend that you tell people on a need to know basis.  Disseminating information to others is unnecessary and could be hurtful to others.  Discretion should be used.

If you are in a relationship or are married, it’s better to let your partner or spouses know sooner than later of your struggle.  A full disclosure will eventually come in your recovery.   When this happens, the individual who discloses will often feel a sense of liberation and relief.  The partner or spouse, on the other hand, will go through a sense of shock, trauma, and feelings of grief and loss.  The partner will go through their own recovery– a recovery that requires hope and trust to be restored.  In most cases, the partner will often want to seek professional help or outside support.   When this happens, it’s important to respect each other’s need to heal, which includes privacy and confidentiality.  It is critical that each party communicate who you want to talk with about the addiction.  This approach is respectful and provides a better environment for safety and healing.   Addictions thrive in secrecy.   Disclosing can feel like the end of the world, but it can also be the beginning of a much better world and a whole new way to life.

Providing Comfort

We all need to connect with other human beings, especially when we are in distress or pain.  As children, our central connection or attachment is with our parents.  As we grow, we learn to connect to others and for many adults, our main connection is with a spouse.  The need for connection is legitimate and healthy.  It is as strong as our need for food and water.


For many, pornography has become a substitute for real human connection.  In their book Love You, Hate the Porn, Dr. Mark Chamberlain and Geoff Steurer write, “The most devastating thing pornography does is come between a man and woman at the worst times and in the worst way.  Right at those moments when a person is struggling and in emotionally, pornography offers an alternative–a relationship counterfeit.  Pornography becomes something that person can go to for soothing and an illusory sense of connection and vitality.  And that, perhaps, is pornography’s real virulence, its ultimate price:  When he’s going to it, he’s not going to her.”


Wives often report they knew something was wrong even before they knew about the pornography use.  They feel the distance and the emotional detachment, as their spouse turns to something else for comfort and becomes less empathetic with them.  The disclosure or discovery of pornography use, or other sexual acting out, by a partner further disrupts this primary connection.  The spouse who has just learned of the pornography use feels real betrayal, even if the sexual acting out was “virtual”.  And the person who they would normally turn to for comfort, is also the person causing the pain.


Regaining this connection, even the ability to connect, requires significant time and effort from both partners.   However, the responsibility for starting this process lies with the person who has been using the pornography.  This can be a difficult step, as he is usually very aware of the pain he has caused his partner and she may push away the usual methods of comfort, such as hugs.  It is important for him to remember that there are ways he can offer closeness and comfort.  He may offer to go on a walk with her, spend more time being involved in family activities, and simply sit with her while she cries.  These activities can be difficult, but ultimately rewarding.  He can seek professional help and involve his spouse in his treatment.  Efforts such as being on time and keeping commitments also take on new meaning as the couple struggles to being the process of building trust.


One study on this issue focused on couples who were involved in 12-step groups for sexual addiction.  They found that giving the partner time is essential:  ”A key finding in the survey was that the addict must be actively involved in a recovery group for at least a year before the partner is willing to forgive and begin to trust again, even when he or she is also working on their own healing from codependency. We have encountered many addicts who are perplexed, resentful, or impatient because they have been doing “all the right things” for several months and yet their partners are still distrustful, angry, and keep rehearsing the past.”  They acknowledge the need for patience in rebuilding trust.


This same study found that “despite enormous past hurts and significant relational, financial, legal, and health problems faced by many of the couples, most were actively working on their marriages and were committed to a future together.”  Efforts to provide comfort to the partner are a good start to building trust and show commitment to these important relationships.




“Couple Recovery from Sexual Addiction/Coaddiction”, Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 3:111-126, 1996.  Jennifer P Schneider, MD and Burton H. Schneider, MA, M.ED.

Love You, Hate the Porn, 2011. Mark Chamberlain, PhD and Geoff Steurer, MS, LMFT.


By Jacci Jones, LMFT

Why LifeSTAR?

Pornography leads people into a fantasy world that is disconnected from real life and real relationships.  The fantasy of pornography is a compelling and seductive element that makes stopping very difficult. Because of the fantasy element of pornography it is important that treatment is provided through authentic experiences with others and connected to everyday life. Doing treatment online or in other isolated ways keeps the recovering individual disconnected from the very thing that is needed most – real face to face relationships that are supportive and affirming.


1.     You will receive program support, as the addict or the partner.
LifeSTAR is the only program we know of that provides comprehensive treatment for both the addict and partner. Our couples learn to fight the addiction together and heal together. After all, as humans we’re stronger together.

2.     We help you combat ISOLATION.
Sexual addiction is an intimacy disorder that includes problems with honesty, isolation, and connection with others. We offer human contact and human contact is healing. Simply showing up and having contact with others in a supportive environment is highly therapeutic for those in recovery.

3.     You will receive a complete assessment.
Addicts and partners often struggle with other conditions, such as ADHD, depression, PTSD, anxiety, other addictions. Many of these conditions contribute to the severity of the presenting issues for both individuals. At LifeSTAR our trained professionals will help you complete a full assessment. Knowing the scope of your difficulties is a positive step towards recovery.

4.     You can experience healing, not just learn about it.
Recovery is a full-mind/body/emotional experience. It requires restoring trust and reconnecting to oneself and others is something that can’t be done by merely passing along good information. LifeSTAR is much more than the workbooks and handouts the program provides. You won’t just be taught. We help you learn, feel and have a new experience with yourself and others. You will learn how to release shame, have confidence in yourself and connect to others. Healing requires real people in a real building having real exchanges with each other. We provide that to you at LifeSTAR.

5.     You’ll have a treatment program that’s customized for you.
For a problem as complex and far-reaching sexual addiction, a one size-fits-all approach to treatment doesn’t work. In LifeSTAR you will have a treatment plan that informed and customized by a therapist that knows and understands what you’re up against


By Brent Cichoski, LPC

Thoughts on Single Adult Men and Sexual Addiction

In 2008, Hollywood actor David Duchovny, former “ X-Files” TV series star, made headline news as he voluntarily entered treatment for sexual addiction. Alleged reports claim that Mr. Duchovony, married with two children and a holds a master’s degree from Princeton, did not seek treatment because of an extramarital affair, but because he had a longstanding addiction to Internet pornography. Click here for link. Mr. Duchovny’s issue supports statistics from the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health statistics, which conservatively estimates 3% – 5% of the U.S. population suffers from sexual compulsion disorders. The estimate is considered low because it is based on those seeking treatment for sexual addiction. Many of those afflicted avoid exposure and cannot be easily tracked.

Sexual addiction is prevalent in our society whether you’re married, educated or single. In fact, current statistics show that 70% of 18 to 24 year old men visit pornographic sites in a typical month. Today’s single adults have been exposed to more pornography, and research is showing that they’ve become more accepting of it. (First-person: the culture of pornography, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Baptist Press, 28 December 2005.) As the median age for men to marry hovers at 28 years old, it is apparent that single adult men struggle with Internet pornography. Chronic viewing of pornography distorts healthy intimacy and causes many men and teenagers to develop a complex set of faulty beliefs. There are distortions surrounding four areas: self-image, relationships, needs, and sexuality.


Self -Image: How do I see myself? Most addicts see themselves as bad and unworthy—unhealthy shame. Acting out in sexually destructive ways and not being able to stop or control these actions confirms this faulty belief. Addicts can spend a tremendous amount of time living with the debilitating fear that they will be found out. These things contribute to an unhealthy image of themselves.


Relationships: Most addicts feel unlovable. They believe that no one could ever love them as they really are so they must hide their true self. Some single men develop distorted thoughts such as, “these lustful thoughts are normal. Once I get married these sexual urges will be satisfied and go away.” In working with men over the years, I have tried to help them understand that this is false assumption. Having an intimate relationship in marriage does not cause a sexual addiction to instantly stop or fade away. Many men in addiction have reported that addiction returns within weeks or months after they were married–see Featured Video my Dr. Liz Hale, LMFT.


Needs: As a general rule, addicts find it hard to trust and feel that they can’t depend on any one person or source. Sexual addicts commonly feel that they can cure themselves and that they don’t need a therapist, 12-step program, group therapy or religious support. They believe that through their own willpower, they can manage and control their sexual addition.


Sexuality: For many adults, life becomes unmanageable when their addiction becomes more important than anything else. Addicts often confuse sex for intimacy and feel desperate to have it. In their eyes, life without sex seems impossible or terrifying. But there are tools and education to help them understand healthy sexuality more fully.

There is hope for single adult men to embrace recovery and shed faulty core beliefs.

Recovery from sexual addiction isn’t an event. It’s a process of making regular course corrections and learning how to live a more congruent life free from denial, blame, distorted thinking, unbridled lust and shame. True recovery involves the heart and mind and is a process that many will be working on for the rest of their lives.


by Brent Cichoski, LPC