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.