People in recovery struggle to establish honesty in their relationships. One of the consequences of addiction is lack of trust, stemming from the history of half truths and outright lies that were employed to cover up the addictive behavior. This is especially the case with sex addiction, because when violations of marital vows are involved, there is even more pressure for secrecy.
The obvious antidote to the all this lying would seem to be simple: just tell the truth. But how do we do that in a loving way. Does “ruthless honesty” mean telling the “whole truth” all the time?
Tian Dayton has this to say in her book Forgiving and Moving On: “Honesty in my relationships does not mean that I share all the thoughts in my mind or feelings in my heart. Honesty is the place I come from and the person I most need to be square with is myself. There are times when it is destructive to a relationship to talk too much or to share each and every detail.”
Just to be clear, it is important for sex addicts to have full disclosure with their spouses about their addictve behavior. I’ve written about this in previous posts on this blog. But note that even in the context of “full disclosure” of addictive behavior, most addiction experts warn against sharing all the “dirty details.” Such “honesty” can actually do more harm than good.
But there is more to living in honesty in relationships than just dealing with the issue of disclosing sobriety violations. What about lustful thoughts or fantasies? what about resentful thoughts or fantasies of leaving the relationship? What about critical thoughts, or angry thoughts that rise up in the midst of a conflict? It seems clear that there are some thoughts best kept to oneself.
Just because a thought or fantasy pops into my head doesn’t mean that I need to share it. There is a fine line here, because I know some addicts still struggle with keeping too much inside, and lying to their spouses and friends. I am writing this for the benefit of those who swing too far the other way on the pendulum in their recovery. Some couples – in their desire for honesty and openness – lose their sense of boundaries.
We practice “ruthless honesty” with ourselves, and with our sponsor in matters pertaining to our recovery. With spouses, family, and friends we practice honesty, but hopefully it is more compassionate than ruthless. We also maintain compassion for ourselves. In some ways the pressure of feeling that I need to share everything I’m thinking or feeling – even if it’s hard or reflects badly on me – can stem from feelings of shame.
Living in an ongoing relationship requires honesty, but honesty doesn’t mean saying everything you think.