There are two ways partners find out about the addict’s secret life – disclosure and discovery.
Disclosure is when the addict comes to the partner with the truth about his/her sexual secrets. This usually happens either because the addict has advance knowledge of information about to become public or because the addict has entered into a recovery process that requires them to come clean. Disclosure can come in stages (partial disclosure) or all at once (full disclosure).
Although disclosure can be a positive step forward in the addict’s recovery, it is rarely experienced that way by the partner who more often feel ambushed by the unexpected information. It is helpful to have therapeutic resources in place to support the partner in managing feelings and figuring out what to do with the unwelcome news.
Discovery is the process by which the partner either stumbles upon sexual secrets (for example, an open laptop or anonymous email) or becomes suspicious and actively starts searching phone records or computer logs.
For partners, discovery is most often a traumatic event . The reaction can be extreme grief, anger, or a combination of both. Faced with “proof” that challenges the addict’s denial, defensiveness may escalate. This highly charged couple has the potential to become a danger to themselves, each other, their children and friends.
Both disclosure and discovery are painful processes that also provide needed impetus for change.