When a woman finds out that she’s been betrayed, it’s usually only the beginning.
Most often, she first finds out about a single betrayal, which leads to more.
Much, much more.
A lot more than she ever thought was possible.
At some point, she realizes that her entire relationship with her husband has been built around lies.
Her life has been a lie, sometimes for years.
As she begins her healing journey, she may begin to wonder, “What is the truth? What was REALLY going on?”
Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, asks Jeanne Vattuone, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and sex addiction specialist, for answers to the most important questions about disclosures. Listen to the free BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
Two Types of Disclosures
A full therapeutic disclosure can be helpful, healing, and validating to victims of betrayal and abuse. A full therapeutic disclosure is:
- Guided by a trauma and abuse-informed professional
- As detailed as you need it to be, including the truth about all sexual behaviors past and present
- Accompanied by professional care for you before, during, and after the disclosure
A “trickle” or “random” disclosure is harmful, devastating, and traumatizing.
This disclosure usually contains bits and pieces of the truth, shared over a period of time. Some women experience trickle disclosures over and over again. This type of disclosure can cause severe trauma. Men use trickle disclosures to:
- Relieve an aching conscience by confessing bits of the truth
- Answer for pornographic material or other incriminating evidence
- Assuage their partner’s concern over the abuser’s suspicious behavior
Disclosure Is A Safety Issue
If a man is truly willing to respect his partner, he will engage in a full therapeutic disclosure for her safety. When men withhold important information from their partners, they are willingly keeping their partners from being able to make healthy and safe decisions for themselves.
With a full therapeutic disclosure, a woman can know the full truth about the person that she has committed to and decide from there how much more time and energy she wants to expend on the relationship
Jeanne explains the importance of being extremely thorough in the disclosure process:
When I’m working with an abusive man and helping him prepare his disclosure, we’re looking at all 21 of the categories of sexual behavior in sex addiction. He may not have behaviors in all categories, but I want him to do a thorough inventory of every category. A partner should know what is automatically included in a disclosure when an abuser is doing a disclosure with his therapist.-Jeanne Vattuone, LCSW
Will He Disclose His Lies?
Many women are severely harmed by their partner’s consistent lies and manipulation. Victims deserve the truth. Because abusers are often steeped in layers of their own lies and manipulation, Jeanne has a specific protocol that women can use to elicit answers about lies and manipulation:
“[Lying] is a hard one for abusers because they’ve lied for so long and it’s hard for them to go through all the lies and correct them all in a disclosure. One part of the disclosure is when the partner creates a list of questions that the abusers responds to. This is where she can say, basically, her suspicions, and usually, that’s where the lies come up.”-Jeanne Vattuone, LCSW
Victims of Abuse and Betrayal Can Determine What A Disclosure Includes
The truth is painful, but the truth isn’t what puts our lives and our children’s lives in danger, the lies do.Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Some therapists encourage abusers to omit details about their past sexual behaviors, regardless of what the victim has requested. It’s important for victims to avoid using professionals who do not make the victim’s needs the priority.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself as you prepare to request a full therapeutic disclosure:
- What answers do I need to keep myself sexually safe?
- What information do I need to determine whether or not I want to stay in this relationship?
- How much detail do I need to understand how my partner has betrayed me?
- What kinds of details will further traumatize me?
Start with the least amount of detail. You can ask more. You have the right to more information, but let’s be slow and careful about where that line of too much information is for your brain. Some of this information is going to be traumatic for you. That doesn’t mean you don’t receive it, but let’s do so in a careful way. I always ask them, ‘Do you want to know this because it’s going to be helpful in your healing?’Jeanne Vattuone, LCSW
Should We Attend Couple’s Therapy After The Disclosure?
Couple’s therapy isn’t recommended unless the abuser has been in true recovery for several years.
Why? Because betrayal and emotional abuse are not marriage problems, they are the abuser’s problems.
I don’t think anyone needs to rush into couple’s [therapy]. The addict needs to be ready, in a heartfelt way, to do the couple’s work, because in the couple’s work the addict is going to be called upon to really show and demonstrate the regrets, the new behavior, and working towards the rebuilding of trust.Jeanne Vattuone, LCSW
Disclosure is An Abuse Issue
Whether or not you have financial or locational access to a trauma and abuse-informed therapist, a full disclosure is absolutely necessary for your safety.
The disclosure is important because one person has knowledge and information about the relationship that the other doesn’t. The disclosure is really the re-balancing of power by re-balancing the information. Giving the partner the information of what’s been the truth, that the partner hasn’t been aware of because the addict’s hidden it. it’s a real re-balancing and truth-giving.-Jeanne Vattuone, LCSW
BTR Can Help You In The Disclosure Process
At BTR, we understand the complexities and trauma that can accompany disclosure.
Every victim of betrayal and abuse deserves a safe place to process trauma, ask questions, share stories, and create connections with other victims. The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone. Join today and receive the validation, compassion, and support that you need as you go through this process.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I’m so excited to have Jeanne Vattuone. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has been for over 20 years. She has extensive experience working with traumatized children and adults in a variety of settings, including Child Protective Services, private practice, and natural disasters.
She has worked with betrayed partners and addicts for the last ten years, and co-owns and runs Willow Tree Counseling in Santa Rosa, California. Jeanne has been an advocate of the trauma treatment modality for betrayed partners for the last ten years.
She is passionate about her work as well as her family. She enjoys organic gardening, volunteering with local animal rescue groups, and hiking through the beautiful hills of Sonoma County.
Before we get to the interview, if you’re listening right now and feeling very anxious or worried or tomorrow something happens and you think I really need to talk to a safe person who understands this, Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group has multiple sessions per day in multiple time zones.
Now, let’s get to today’s interview. Welcome, Jeanne.
Jeanne: Thank you so much, Anne. I’m very happy to be here.
Anne: Today Jeanne and I are going to be talking about disclosures and what that means for a betrayed wife. Jeanne, as you know, here at Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we speak in a gender-segregated way because our audience is only women. When we talk about disclosures, we have two different types of disclosures.
We have a random disclosure, where your husband might just say, “I’m having an affair,” or, “I use porn,” or something like that. Then, we have a disclosure that’s more therapeutic in nature and is planned for or something that you’re working toward, with the help of a professional. Today, we’re just going to covering a therapist-led disclosure or a professionally-led disclosure.
My assistant, Kari, sent out a call for questions about disclosure throughout our community. These are the questions that we received, so Jeanne is going to be answering your questions today, which is pretty cool. Just a shout out to my assistant, Kari. Thank you for gathering up all of these questions.
Who Decides What’s Included In A Disclosure?
Question #1. Shouldn’t it be up to the wife to be able to know or ask anything she needs to? Even if it hurts her and causes her more pain? Is pain really the enemy here? Isn’t unknowingly being in an unsafe situation far more dangerous? Again, yes, the truth is painful, but the truth isn’t what puts our lives and our children’s lives in danger, the lies do.
Let’s start there with this member’s question.
Jeanne: I think it is up to the partner to decide what level of detail they want in the disclosure. I think what she might be talking about is how some therapists will start out with less information or less graphic detail. For me, when I am leading disclosures or doing training about disclosures, I encourage partners to start with the least amount of detail. You can ask more. You have rights to more information, but let’s be slow and careful about where that line is of too much information for your brain.
Some of this information is going to be traumatic for you. That doesn’t mean you don’t receive it, but let’s do so in a careful way. Sometimes, people get caught up in the motion and they want to know more and more, and that’s fine if that’s what they want to know, but I always ask them do you want to know this because it’s going to be helpful in your healing? Let’s just slow it down.
Anne: What about safety issues? Do you think that women should know things so that, regardless of her healing, that the safety issue is the most important thing? Because how does she know if it would help her healing if she doesn’t know what it is?
Jeanne: Yeah, absolutely. Safety is first. I think safety always trumps everything. Physical safety comes first. We have to take care of our bodies, and medical safety. There’s also financial safety. Safety comes first and then there are the details.
For example, knowing if someone has sexually betrayed with whom and how so, I think that’s a very important piece. I always encourage partners, even before disclosure, to go to their doctor and have an STD screening because we don’t know yet, but I want their bodies to be safe. Safety first, always.
How Much Detail Is Too Much In A Disclosure?
Anne: When you say what will facilitate their healing in the level of details? Sorry, we will focus on the questions from our community, but I have a lot of questions, so I’m just going to dig in here too.
One of my concerns is, if an abusive man is lying on purpose to manipulate or control the narrative and if you don’t know everything, then how do you know what details will hurt you and what wouldn’t hurt you? Part of my concern is how does a woman determine her level of safety, if she doesn’t know the full truth?
Jeanne: I work with addicts and partners. When I’m working with an addict and helping him prepare his disclosure, we’re looking at all of the categories of sexual behavior in sex addiction, and there are 21 categories. He may not have behavior in all categories, but I want him to do a thorough inventory of every category.
I would want a partner to know what is automatically included in a disclosure when an addict is doing a disclosure with that addict therapist. Because, for some, what’s automatically included is if there was sexual contact, what kind, how frequently? Was there vaginal intercourse, anal, oral, hand? Protected or unprotected? Did it cost money or no money? Those, for us, are automatically included in the disclosure.
Anne: What about other questions that aren’t related specifically to sexual behavior like lying?
Jeanne: That’s a hard one for addicts because they’ve lied for so long and it’s hard for them to go through all the lies and correct all the lies in a disclosure. It’s more of a living in the moment. One part of the disclosure is when the partner creates a list of questions that the addict responds to. In the way that we do disclosures, at Willow Tree, an addict prepares a disclosure document and then the partner creates a list of questions, and these are data questions: Did you do, when did you, that kind of thing.
This is where she can say, basically, her suspicions, and usually, that’s where the lies come up. “You said you were at the grocery store for four hours. I asked you where you were. You said you were at the grocery store. Was that true?” Sometimes, the disclosure can be a time for lies to be clarified, but sometimes there are so many lies, and the addict will never be able to go out and say the truth about them all. The question is: Is the addict trying to live honestly, going forward?
Lies are protective, and they are trying to protect their addiction. Usually, that comes from a behavior much younger, at another time of life. It doesn’t excuse it, but it does explain why the lies tend to be so frequent, and the lies tend to be the most destructive part for partners.
Anne: Well, from the addict’s point of view they’re protective, but from the partner’s point of view they’re abuse. For her, she doesn’t need to worry about why he’s lying. What she needs to worry about is this is an abusive behavior that will harm me, right? If the lying continues, I’m going to continue to be harmed because lying about behaviors that you have set boundaries around for your sexual relationship is sexual coercion, just plain and simple.
I think that’s one of the things that victims need to be aware of. That this lying is not just a form of him protecting himself, it is also abusive to you. Women need to make sure that they understand the implications of the lying, which I think is really important.
Let’s talk about what if a wife has no money or has zero access to a well-qualified therapist to carry out the therapeutic disclosure?
Jeanne: This is where there’s recently been some really positive changes, I think, where there are more resources these days than there ever were before, and I’m really happy about that. There’s been developments—I don’t know if folks know, but in the past, there were some books that were available that were really quality books by Corley and Schneider.
The new set of books by Dan Drake and Janice Caudill is very much how-to books. They talk a lot about coping and preparing and truth-seeking and truth-telling. These are some excellent resources and, of course, BTR.
Disclosure is one of the topics that is provided and trained and discussed in the consultation. I think it’s going to be a better resource than it ever has been and, hopefully, continues to be. I know that we have a lot of folks who are far from us and can’t always get to therapy.
Anne: Yeah, I think this whole disclosure issue is so fascinating because, really, the purpose of it, seems to me, to be a safety issue, first of all, but also a training issue of teaching the addict new skills. The skill of being honest, which he has not had in the past, so he’s also learning a new skill of being honest, which is difficult when you haven’t practiced that skill ever.
Jeanne: For me, I think the disclosure is so important because one person has knowledge and information about the relationship that the other doesn’t, so the disclosure is really the re-balancing of power by re-balancing the information. Giving the partner the information of what’s been the truth that’s been happening, that the partner hasn’t been aware of because the addict’s hidden it. For me, it’s a real re-balancing and truth-giving.
Anne: That is also another reason it makes it an abuse issue is because of that power and control issue. He’s in control and owns that information that his wife really needs to know to make decisions. I’m really grateful you brought that up because that imbalance of power is really something to be aware of.
Okay, here’s another question from our community.
Should We Start Couple’s Therapy Right After Disclosure?
Question 2: Why do so many therapists push for couple’s therapy right after disclosure rather than giving the betrayed spouse and the addict time to work on personal healing from which to build a stronger foundation for the marriage?
Jeanne: I love this question, Anne, because I don’t understand it either. As a therapist, I would never have clients go into couple’s therapy right after disclosure. I completely validate anyone who’s out there who’s having disclosure, who needs to be with their individual therapist for a while.
I think it makes complete sense that individual therapy becomes the place to process after disclosure and to stabilize if there is a trauma experience after the disclosure. I think it’s a place to figure out needs and boundaries that need to be set, if the partner is deciding to stay in the relationship. It’s a place for stabilization. Then, if the partner is deciding to stay in the relationship and to work on the relationship, then we move into couples.
I don’t think anyone needs to rush into couples. The addict needs to be ready, in a heartfelt way, to do the couple’s work, because in the couple’s work the addict is going to be called upon to really show and demonstrate the regrets, the new behavior, and working towards the rebuilding of trust. The rebuilding of trust is going to take a very long time. I’m not sure and haven’t heard of therapists pushing for couple’s therapy, but I would not agree with it.
Anne: Yeah, we don’t recommend that either, here at BTR. I’m happy that, in your professional opinion, you concur with that.
In your professional experience, would you recommend that each person has a different therapist and, if couple’s therapy does happen down the line, would you recommend three therapists be involved or just one therapist? Where have you seen the most success?
Jeanne: Thanks, that’s a great question. That is what we do in our agency. The individual’s therapist is a separate person than the couple’s therapist, who is a separate person from the partner’s therapist.
Anne: You have them seeing three different therapists, during this time?
Jeanne: We do. It’s also agreed upon, when they enter our program, that all three therapists are going to be discussing the case. Everyone has a release to discuss the case, in that situation, I want to make sure the clinicians and coaches, if coaches are involved, everyone is discussing and talking about the couple and the individuals and treatment-planning together.
I think this is important because everyone needs to have their own safe place. Individual therapy is where each person can have their own safe place. Then, the couple’s therapy is where they’re working out the communication and the trust and putting their best selves forward and working through the pains and the wounds, trying out the new behavior that they’ve practiced and prepared for in individual, then putting it into the couple’s therapy. I like it to be different people, but only when those three people are in good communication.
What About Gaslighting And Fake Empathy?
Anne: Yeah, agreed. Do you ever have a concern about, what I would call a “super abuser,” who is utilizing what he learns in therapy to manipulate more or to groom more? Like, he’s learning, “Oh, if I act this way, she’s going to trust me more and then I can get away with more in the background.” Basically, as a grooming method. Do you ever have concerns like that, and if you do, how do you address those?
Jeanne: I haven’t seen it from a grooming perspective, I have seen it from more of the abusive perspective. There are those individuals who learn a little bit more, and then they use it against their partner. When they do that, they’re breaking down the trust in the relationship.
Anne: Right. The reason I say “grooming” is because grooming is part of the abuse cycle. It’s the honeymoon phase when they’re saying, “Oh, this is good.” That’s what I’m saying. That grooming phase of the abuse cycle. That they’re using it for that. That’s the context in which I intended that to be interpreted. Sorry, I didn’t make that clear.
We see that a lot with women who tell us their stories. Like their therapist horror stories, for example, that they go in and the things they learn—for example, the addict will learn about gaslighting, and then he’ll start accusing her of gaslighting him, and then the tables get turned.
We also see that he’ll be given some empathy scripts, or something like that. Then he’ll go home and he’ll start using those and she feels like, “Oh, he’s really getting it,” but he’s just doing it to make her feel like he gets it, when really, he’s like, “I know how to shut her up now. If I do this then she won’t know that when I say I’m going to go golfing with my friends, I’m really taking off to see a prostitute or something.”
I’m very concerned about that, that they’re learning how to be more fake empathetic, but they’re not actually learning true empathy.
Jeanne: I love that you brought this up. Empathy scripts, I haven’t heard them called that before. I’ve called it parroting. The way I look at that is, if he comes home and is using words that I gave him or taught him, I always say this is a good thing.
Now, I’m assuming his intentions are true and his intentions are to be good, because he’s trying new skills and he doesn’t have his own language yet. He’s not fluent in this language so he’s grasping at somebody’s language. He’s trying to mimic, because he thinks this is a good time to say that, and then the more he practices the better he gets, and he creates his own language.
Now, if it’s for mal-intention and he’s doing it as manipulation, that’s a different ball game. I often see it because he is trying to connect, he is trying to listen, he is trying to hear what his wife has to say, and the words of the therapist or the script that he learned in group are what comes first.
Anne: Right. What advice would you give to women who are concerned about this and being able to tell the difference between is he practicing a new skill or is he using this to manipulate her further? I mean part of me is like, “Time will tell.”
Clearly, time always tells, so you can just watch and continue to set boundaries if you need to and just observe, hopefully from a safe space. You’ve learned how to set boundaries or learned how to emotionally detach a little bit, to observe. Do you have any thoughts about that for women who have this same concern?
The reason I bring that up is that my ex was this type of person. The more he learned about recovery, the better he became at manipulation. I think I’m just personally concerned about it, but I’m not sure if I’m projecting this on to all four million women who are going through this too. What advice would you give for a woman to be able to tell the difference between the two?
Jeanne: Yes. First, what you said, time will tell. I think that trust is built over time. I always say, “Sit back and watch and let’s see. Trustworthy behavior over time is what is going to build that trust, so just watch.” Note that it looks like an effort of an attempt of good genuine want and desire to connect and we will see over time.
The second part I always say to look for is does he seem transparent? If you asked him how did it go, is he sharing genuine insight of what he’s learning about himself? Is it more than parroting? Is he trying to find words to express what’s going on inside his internal process? He’s maybe not finding the exact words so he’s gathering someone else’s words, but he’s trying to really explain and share what’s going on inside.
I think that’s always a good measurement, but sitting back and watching is really that “time will tell” thing.
Anne: One thing that came to me is, if I would ask my ex—again, a lot of women have had a lot of different experiences, but if they can relate to at least this piece of it, that if I would ask him, he would always give me what I thought were really legit answers, which is why I found him so manipulative. What I didn’t see from him which I now know, is that if I didn’t ask him, he wouldn’t say anything.
He wouldn’t say, “Oh, I’ve really been thinking about my thought processes and what I’ve done.” He would never initiate some type of self-reflection. It would only come when I asked him or when I pushed him a little bit. I think what he thought was, “Well, if I don’t give her a great answer then she won’t buy it, so I’ve got to give her a really good answer.”
Had I detached a little bit, but I didn’t have that skill at that time, and set boundaries—which I also did not have that skill at that time—then I think I may have been able to observe it better. My ex is an attorney. I think I would have been able to observe it a little better and think, “Okay, he isn’t really bringing this up. This isn’t on his mind.” That might have been a sign to me, I’m not sure.
Jeanne: I think the initiation, I do look at and I think looking at initiation is an important piece.
Anne: That’s interesting. Yeah. If we could all go back in time and practice these skills. It’s interesting, looking at it now, because now I feel like I have so many more skills, but because I’m divorced, I’m not able to practice those skills and it’s kind of a bummer.
I’m looking forward to the future, if I have a relationship, to be like, “Oh, this is where I get to practice observation,” because I have yet to be able to practice those things. When I talk about them, I want my audience to know that frequently I’m like, “You just detach and this is what you do,” but for me, it’s still all in theory because I haven’t had the opportunity to apply it yet, and I look forward to that time if it ever happens.
I mean I have practiced detaching and I’ve practiced boundaries with my ex, but I haven’t practiced these skills in a current relationship. There’s the rub, huh.
We’re going to be talking to Jeanne again next week about disclosures. The same topic continuing with questions that we had from our community, so stay tuned for that.
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