The Trauma in Disclosure)
I’ve spent several weeks discussing different aspects of addiction and its effects on a relationship. I’ve talked about the journeys of both the perpetrator and victim of abuse, and the anger in the spouse after she learns how the addict has been secretly acting out behind her back. Today I will continue with these themes and analyze one other aspect of addiction and relationship, that of rebuilding a marriage after the initial trauma of disclosure.
It is essential for every addict to make a full and complete disclosure to his wife. Given that he may have decades of shameful behavior hidden away, it may not be possible or prudent to list every offensive action he has done, but he should be willing to go into as thorough detail as his wife asks of him. She has the right to know all the things that he should have been telling her over all the years. At the same time, the addict must understand that this disclosure is going to cause significant trauma. She deserves to hear the truth, but it’s likely to rock her to her very core.
After such a disclosure, it is entirely possible for the wife to question whether the marriage can continue at all. Even if the husband is sincere about his desire to recover, she may feel that irreparable damage has been done. One of the most common feelings a wife will describe is that all of their marriage had been built upon a lie. Every tender and sacred moment she thought she had with her husband is now marred by the fact that he was lying through his teeth all along. It is as if the man she thought she loved in all of these memories has suddenly been replaced with a monster she never knew. Where once thinking of these times gave her joy, now they only bring sadness.
As for the husband, his view is totally different. Yes, he knows he lied, and probably some of the memories with his wife are also marred by the shame of living a double life, but also he knows that some of those moments were truly genuine. He didn’t fake everything. His love for his wife was real, and many of his acts of kindness to her really came from an authentic place. Indeed, it might be that genuine love for his wife is a key reason for why he is fighting this addiction now. Recovery work takes one to some very scary and painful places, but he’s willing to go there in order to save the best part of his life, including his relationship to his wife.
And the fact is, neither the husband nor the wife is wrong in their perspective. Neither one of them should feel that their view of reality is invalid because it isn’t shared by the other. The wife really has had her whole life thrown into disarray. Even if her husband says certain moments of their past were real to him, that doesn’t mean they have to be real to her still. Similarly, the husband should not be required to deny the real moments of poignancy from his past. Just because the whole marriage has been painted black in his wife’s eyes doesn’t mean that he cannot have a more nuanced view of it.
Often the result of these disparate perspectives is that the husband and the wife struggle to know how to continue building their marriage. The foundation of their love is divided and eroded, and it feels like every good thing they try to add just breaks it apart even more. For example, a kind gesture from the husband might actually be hurtful because it causes his wife to remember how kind gestures in the past were part of his manipulation. Similarly, anniversaries and milestones might feel like phony celebrations of a sham relationship, undermining the sense of accomplishment rather than building it up.
Thus, it can become very hard to sort out the real from the fake and come to a shared vision of the past. Indeed, in many cases, the couple will find that it is impossible to resolve their different perspectives. Ironically, it is by coming to accept that the marriage is broken and cannot be repaired that a couple can finally save it. I realize that might sound paradoxical, but come back tomorrow as I will explain what I mean.