Those who struggle with pornography addiction and other compulsive sexual behaviors often wonder how to handle disclosure about their struggle. Many of them spend years trying to keep their addiction secret. However, there comes a point where they desire to share the burden with another. This may happen accidentally when they are discovered by a loved one, an employer, or a friend. Sometimes they decide that they are finally going to say something and decide to break the silence on their own.
Living with a secret like this creates a fiery inner conflict that is hard to quench without opening up to another person. For those who haven’t told anyone of their struggle, my advice to you is to tell someone who you trust. There doesn’t need to be any script or rehearsal. Just open up and tell them that you are struggling. You’ll feel better and then you can start planning what to do next.
If you were discovered accidentally, it’s important that you acknowledge that you have a problem and then commit to get help for it. Please know that it will probably be more difficult to restore trust since you didn’t initially come forward. It will most likely appear that you are only changing because you got caught.
Once the secret is out, the next question is usually, “who else needs to know?”
In the beginning, there is a lot of caution and anxiety around what people will think of you when they find out about your addiction. Sometimes partners feel like they don’t want others to know as well. This is normal. I recommend that you tell people who can keep confidences. This may be a parent, a friend, a church leader, or a therapist. Additionally, the people you tell should be good listeners and non-judgemental.
If you are married or in a committed relationship, it’s important that you tell your significant other about your struggle. There will be a point in your recovery where you will go through a full disclosure with your partner, but it’s important to let them know as soon as possible that you struggle. The partner will typically have a strong reaction and may require some time and space to figure out what to do next. This is normal and should be allowed. The addict will often feel a sense of relief while the partner goes through a sense of shock, trauma, and feeling burdened by the disclosure. As a result, the partner will often want to seek outside support.
I often counsel couples that it’s important to respect each other’s need for privacy and confidentiality. This can be done by letting your partner know who you want to talk with about the addiction. This goes for both partners. I’m not encouraging couples to keep secrets. Instead, I’m asking them to respect privacy so that there is a better chance for safety and healing.
Including others in your recovery process is critical. Again, addictions thrive in secrecy, so having someone to talk to about your situation is therapeutic and healthy. Whether you choose to disclose to a therapy group, a counselor, a church leader, family, or friends, please know that your courage to speak up and come out of hiding will make a huge difference in your healing.