The thought of asking a sex addict to take a polygraph seems extreme to many therapists. It is something you do with a criminal, not with a client who has come for help with sexual addiction.Some time ago I led a formal disclosure with an addict and his wife. He disclosed “everything” about his history of acting out including online contacts, massage parlors, and prostitutes. As you may suspect, there was more to the story.
Later in a group meeting he was discussing the fact that his wife still doubted he was completely truthful. I suggested that often a polygraph test can resolve those gnawing fears for a wife. He replied that he didn’t want to take a polygraph because there were still secrets he hadn’t revealed to her. It turned out that these were significant details. In this case he later agreed to a polygraph and he came clean with himself, the group, and ultimately his wife.
So what is the rationale for the use of a polygraph? In short, it usually benefits both the addict and the spouse or partner.
Benefits for the addict
Dishonesty plays a significant role in perpetuating the addiction. If they stop lying, what might happen? Well, they’d likely have to quit acting out and face the pain they’ve inflicted on the people they love. What if they don’t stop lying? The outcome is certain. They remain trapped in the cycle of lies, the double life, numbing emotions, and acting out behaviors.
I once saw the statement, “No addiction without lies, and no recovery without truth.” Obviously addicts cannot be treated if the nature or extent of their problems is kept secret. One goal in sex addiction treatment is abstaining from compulsive behavior patterns. Another goal involves breaking down the compartmentalization of the addict’s life: the public life vs. the secret sexual acting out life. We seek to assist addicts in pursuing a life of integrity. The new and healthier way of living is one in which the two parts of the addict are integrated. When an addict becomes integrated he or she can incorporate sex into life in a more healthy way.
[tweetthis]Dishonesty plays a significant role in perpetuating addiction. Lies energize addictive thoughts & behaviors.[/tweetthis]
Lies energize addictive thoughts and behaviors. For many addicts, the lie detector at first seems a huge threat but it brings an immeasurable relief in the end. I’ve heard comments such as, “I’m so relieved to have gotten it out in the open” or “I didn’t realize how much the lies added to my anxiety!” Many times I’ve heard addicts say that “the relief from the need to lie” is the most attractive aspect of addiction recovery.
Honesty is also essential as a way to reduce the shame that many addicts feel about their acting out behavior. Shame thrives on secrecy and when the addict comes clean he/she can begin to deal with the problem with much less self-condemnation. It becomes possible to believe that God’s love is more powerful than one’s imperfections or flaws.
There is another benefit that frequently comes from the polygraph. Most addicts have a strong inclination to control everything, especially how they are seen by others. In order to do the polygraph test, the addict must let go of this “image management.” It offers a great experience for the addict to know that even with the admission of their secrets; they are still accepted and affirmed (whether by their therapist, their partner, or a group).
Benefits for the spouse or partner
Disclosure of a sex addiction is typically a little at a time. Addicts hold back from telling the truth unless they believe they have to do so. They often say, “I didn’t want to tell the truth because I knew it would hurt my spouse.” Surely, there is an element of truth in their statement—yes, their partner will be hurt, and they have already been hurt a great deal. It is more accurate to conclude that their failure to disclose is largely motivated by damage control.
Many partners want to know the truth. Most of the pain comes from the lies, the deception, not being able to trust. It is frequently said by partners, “What you did hurt me greatly, but your ongoing lies have hurt me more.”
I’ve frequently witnessed partners relievedwhen finally knowing the truth. The continuing discovery of more secrets (bit by bit) is part of what makes it so hard on the spouse or partner. I frequently warn the addict, “When you make your disclosure, you need to them the whole truth. In my experience, most can handle the truth, but they cannot handle future disclosures withadditional lies being revealed. If you want to recover and possibly rebuild your relationship, tell the truth.”
It is understandably difficult (and painful!) for the partner or spouse to determine whether to trust the addict. They can get caught in a pattern of investigating and verifying everything the addict says or does.
The willingness of the addict to take a polygraph can bring relief to the spouse or partner. It enables them to feel that they can stop the second guessing of what the addict says. The polygraph is a reliable tool in recovery helping to get to the truth.
A key here is how the therapist presents the polygraph test and assembles the questions with the support of the spouse or partner. Carefully written questions that express the core issues of the spouse or partner can go a long way to set the stage for honest recovery and accountability. It also offers the partner some hope that trust can be restored one day.
We have seen the hurt and devastation of lies and shattered trust. Partners quite naturally feel that they will never be able to trust the addict again. In time, many of them can and do with recovery. One of the tools of recovery is the polygraph test.