What is Formal Therapeutic Disclosure?Sep 19, 2023
Formal Therapeutic Disclosure
Formal therapeutic disclosure (“FTD”) is a mutually beneficial, strategically planned, and professionally facilitated event where one spouse reads a well-prepared document describing his/her history of sexual infidelity and the receiving spouse asks clarifying questions as needed.
The goal is less about information dissemination and more about rebuilding safety and trust for both spouses by having the whole story in the open at a level of detail that maximizes healing and minimizes trauma.
Every step in the preparation process is highly strategic and intentional for both the unfaithful and the betrayed. While this approach may take longer than simply prioritizing speed and raw information, the long-term advantages significantly outweigh the drawbacks.
As taught throughout the MRC curriculum, there are three "clients" that need to be address to create a holistic healing that maximizes outcomes and minimize recovery time. Those three clients are:
- the unfaithful spouse or "addict"
- the faithful spouse or "betrayed"
- the marriage system
A holistic view of FTD is able to recognize and accommodate the unique needs of each client simultaneously, while keeping each in balance with the others. While there are multiple purposes for each "client," here are the most significant:
- Unfaithful/addict: inventory all sexual events of life to gain insight into origins of destructive sexual behavior, to process shame around those events into guilt and subsequent freedom, to increase their ability to show up honest, empathetic and attuned to their spouse during FTD.
- Faithful/betrayed: learn the true extent of betrayal, to put past experiences into context, to gain the ability to finally begin the grieving and healing process and to reduce PTSD symptoms and aid restoration of sanity.
- Marriage system, to restore relationship safety by eradicating secrets and deception; to experience true intimacy and flourishing as both spouses fully know and accept each other in spite of imperfections.
As you can imagine, at times these priorities may overlap, but at other times they are divergent. Keeping them in healthy balance is a challenging feat and best done under the holistic care of a qualified professional, trained and experienced in navigating the tension between the three.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is "discovery," where a spouse accidentally or intentionally find evidence of infidelity. When confronted, the addict or unfaithful spouse typically seeks to minimize the damage by acknowledging ONLY what was discovered, but insisting there are no other betrayals.
The first time discovery occurs, the addict/unfaithful usually spins a tail to minimizes the extent and degree of infidelity and quell the concerns of the betrayed spouse. For a time, this seems to calms the storm, but only compounds the damage of later discoveries.
The moment another discovery occurs, a vicious cycle begins, which often looks like this:
- the addict acknowledges only what's been discovered, but denies or minimizes additional infidelity
- the betrayed spouse doubts and pressures for more details, often sleuthing for evidence
- when evidence of deception is found, trauma is multiplied and trust is eroded further
- the betrayed spouse confronts the addict and the cycle starts over
This process is called Staggered Disclosure, due to repeated incomplete revelations about the extent and depth of betrayal. It is extremely destructive for both spouses. With each additional path through the cycle, trust is fractured further and the chances of repair are diminished.
When a couple enlists the aid of a professional, they cross the line into "formal disclosure." The assumption is that the professional knows how best to navigate the solicitation and delivery of the whole story. However, as explained in the Bermuda Pyramid course, few professionals are trained in formal disclosure and even fewer are able or willing to consider the needs of all three clients.
Most often, the focus is strictly on soliciting a voluntary disclosure of "all the details" by the unfaithful spouse. Due to the voluntary nature of additional disclosures, void of deeper processing and verification by a polygraph exam, the trustworthiness of such disclosures are often quite low.
In addition, the betrayed spouse typically receives little to no support in the process and has minimal say regarding what she/he needs to feel safe.
There is generally no emphasis placed on the therapeutic healing for either spouse.
Formal Therapeutic Disclosure
In contrast, FTD prioritizes the therapeutic benefit of the entire process over the mechanics of formality and disclosure. The healing lies in the preparation work for both parties, which culminates in a session called "Formal Therapeutic Disclosure."
However, when navigated well, most couples experience this moment as only part of their ongoing journey of healing... a journey that has already yielded personal and marital healing.
FTD in essence becomes only a pit-stop on the journey of healing and flourishing for both the addict and the betrayed.... just part of the story. Even so, it is a significant moment in the overall healing for a betrayed spouse and a definitive moment of freedom for the addict/unfaithful.
While the guiding principles of FTD are consistent across couples, the specifics of what kind of information is needed will most certainly vary. Here are some examples of the kinds of information that may or may not be needed, depending on the circumstances of each couple:
- results of a polygraph exam verifying truthfulness
- answers to questions provided by the betrayed spouse in advance
- a history of sexual events prior to relationship with spouse void of unnecessary detail
- a narrative to provide context and insight into the addict’s story and newfound insights
To bring it all together, there is a wide spectrum of ways that information about infidelity can be shared. On one end of the spectrum is Discovery, marked by Secrecy, Denial and Chaos.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Formal Therapeutic Disclosure, marked by Openness, Accountability, Structure and Healing.
The content of a FTD is limited to the basics needed for truth without sharing graphic details in order to avoid creating unnecessary pain & triggers for the betrayed spouse.
There is no set timeline for when to start the process or how long it takes to complete; every person and couple is different.
FTD emphasizes the therapeutic aspect of disclosure, which takes preparation work for both spouses. While the disclosure session reveals information, information alone does does not repair a relationship or heal wounds... in fact, it often creates more.
However, having all the pertinent information about your spouse's sexual behaviors and infidelity is absolutely needed to achieve meaningful healing and genuine relationship repair.
For the addict, the preparation work of FTD is a powerful tool to break shame and experiencing true acceptance and forgiveness.
For the betrayed, FTD is often the first day they feel sane and able to start truly healing and putting their life back together.
Learn more about the FTD process and how it changed
Dustin's life, marriage and relationship with God.
- Part 2: When Is It Best To Do Formal Therapeutic Disclosure?
- Part 3: Polygraph Exams In Formal Therapeutic Disclosure
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