Healing an Addiction-Damaged Relationship: Active vs. Passive Truth-Telling – Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S

In a previous post to this site, I wrote about the ways in which active addicts damage important relationships, especially their intimate connection with a spouse or partner. In that blog, I noted that the most significant damage, in the eyes of a long-suffering significant other, likely centers not around what you did in your addiction, but around the loss of relationship trust created by your addiction.

In short, when we’re active in our addiction, we lie to ourselves and everyone else in our lives—especially the people closest to us. In addition to outright lies, we keep secrets, we blame, we manipulate, we gaslight, and we abuse relationship trust in a hundred other ways. We do this habitually, often without thinking.

To repair our addition-damaged relationships, the lies, secrets, and manipulation must stop. As far as our partners are concerned, us getting sober is great and they’re very happy about that. But they’re unlikely to forgive us and to fully love us the way we’d like them to until we start to rebuild relationship trust.

To accomplish that herculean task, we must become rigorously honest. We must tell our significant other about everything, all the time, starting right now. We tell no more lies; we keep no more secrets; we stop blaming our spouse for our own behavior. We tell the truth, and we tell it faster.

As part of this, we need to understand the difference between active and passive truth telling. And yes, there is a huge difference between the two.

Active truth telling means we get honest with our significant other without our partner prompting us. If there is something we think he or she might want to know, we volunteer that information, and we do it sooner rather than later. We voluntarily tell the truth. And yes, our significant other might get angry about whatever it is that we did, but not as angry as he or she would be if we tried to keep it secret. With active truth telling, we become fully transparent about every aspect of our life. Our spouse doesn’t have to guess, doesn’t have to ask probing questions, doesn’t have to play detective, doesn’t have to make up stories in his or her mind that explain our behavior, because we are actively disclosing the truth no matter what.

Passive truth telling, on the other hand, forces our significant other to do the work. Even when our partner already knows or suspects that we’ve done something wrong, we wait to be asked about it. And when our partner does ask, we tell the truth about what was asked, but you don’t volunteer other pertinent information. Instead, we withhold this other information, telling ourselves that what he/she doesn’t know won’t hurt him/her. We might also try to convince ourselves that we’re not a liar because we answered our partner’s questions truthfully. However, failing to disclose is just another form of lying. This means that passive truth telling will not help us rebuild relationship trust.

When we are working to rebuild trust in an addiction-damaged relationship, even when we’ve slipped up and done something that will anger our mate, it is best to disclose the truth. If we can’t bring ourselves to spit it out today, then we need to share it tomorrow at the latest—also letting our partner know that we waited a day to tell because we knew that he/she would rightfully be upset and we selfishly did not want to experience that.

So it’s just that easy, huh?

Well, no. Ongoing rigorous honesty (active truth-telling) is often difficult and painful. We don’t enjoy it, and ours significant other don’t enjoy it either. However, it is a necessary part of healing.

In my next post on using rigorous honesty to rebuild an addiction-damaged relationship, I will discuss the personal benefits of living an honest, open life.


About Robert Weiss

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is a digital-age intimacy and relationships expert specializing in infidelity and addictions—most notably sex, porn, and love addiction. An internationally acknowledged clinician, he frequently serves as a subject expert on human sexuality for multiple media outlets including CNN, HLN, MSNBC, The Oprah Winfrey Network, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and NPR, among others. He is the author of several highly regarded books, including “Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating,” “Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction,” “Sex Addiction 101: The Workbook,” and “Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men.” Currently, he is CEO of Seeking Integrity LLC, being developed as an online and real-world resource for recovery from infidelity and sexual addiction. For more information or to reach Mr. Weiss, please visit his website, RobertWeissMSW.com, or follow him on Twitter, @RobWeissMSW.
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