in Marriage Therapy
Why even take a polygraph examination?
Ok, so you’ve been working your program of recovery diligently. You are going to therapy. You attend 12-step meetings, and are working your steps. A significant goal of recovery is learning to be honest again. Most spouses say the deception and lies were worse than the actual compulsive behavior. A polygraph exam specific for fidelity can help you in your individual and couple’s recovery.
How do you go about becoming more honest? It can seem like lies come out of your mouth without a thought passing through your brain first. It almost feels automatic. Even unconscious dishonesty is a major stumbling block to rebuilding trust again with your partner.
Disclosure (done the right way) can set a foundation for honesty. In the disclosure process, all the facts: types of acts, number of times, safe or not safe, total dollars spent, etc. are laid out. The spouse, even though she may know most of the acting out, gets the chance to hear it in a complete and comprehensive sense.
But sometimes the disclosure is paired with a lie detector test. Sometimes they are called fidelity polygraph examinations. This can be a significant step in helping both of you reset the direction of the relationship from lies and defensive behavior to integrity and healing.
When is it appropriate?
When is it not?
We never recommend disclosures and polygraph exams when divorce is on the line. There are other ways to come to answer around divorce. This isn’t one of them. Both parties can be extremely nervous, traumatized, defensive and anxious as they begin a healing process from sex addiction. Each needs to be grounded in solid support and ready to hear a disclosure and take a polygraph. There is a lot of prep work with a therapist who specializes in sex addiction recovery and spousal support before taking the polygraph step.
For the spouse, critical steps of treatment includes:
- Establishing healthy boundaries
- Safety planning
- Assertiveness training
- Self-care: nurturing and self-soothing
- Emotional regulation
- Stress management techniques
Polygraphs work best as part of a healing process. Think of it like cleaning out a wound. The wound needs debridement (a good analogy. Debridement is the surgical removal of foreign matter or dead tissue from a wound). Cleaning out the wound completely is painful. But the anguish is strategic because it lays the foundation for honesty, integrity, and commitment to the recovery process.
How exactly does a
polygraph exam work?
Can the polygraph examiner tell the difference between my nervousness and a real lie?
The short answer is ‘yes.’ The first step is to establish a baseline for you. This sets a standard for how nervous you are. The questions ask for intentional truthful answers and deceitful answers to different questions. This is the comparison mark to all of your other answers.
There are three parts to the exam:
Part 1: Interview
Called the pre-test, the examiner interviews the examinee. The examiner uses the disclosure statement to ask questions or voice any concerns they may have. Also this is the time for the examinee to be qualified as a good candidate for a polygraph. There are some medical conditions and prescription meds that may not make you a good candidate. The examiner will review each of the actual questions to be used (word-for-word) in the examination.
Part 2: Examination
Once the questions have been reviewed and answered either yes or no, the polygraph test is administered to verify the answers given during the pre-test. Your fingers will be wrapped in sensors, chest strap for heart monitoring, and other assessment equipment. The identical questions that you reviewed in the pre-test interview are asked while you are monitored.
Part 3: Results
Interpretation of the results. Polygraph examiners are trained to read the output and determine the level of truthfulness or deceit. The results are printed up and given to you before you leave the exam office.
Is it possible to
Beat a polygraph exam?
Polygraph exams are highly accurate, but they are not infallible. Both false positives and false negatives are possible. A false positive says that you lied when you actually told the truth. The false negative is the miss of a lie. Some studies indicate that false negatives can occur more frequently than false positives.
That’s why the examiner’s qualifications are so important. Any error – either way – can be catastrophic. An examiner will use the education and techniques that he or she was taught to ensure integrity in the test process and eliminate possibilities of false responses.
What kind of questions
Can be asked?
Emotional questions can’t be tested well. There is too much variability in responses to provide an accurate result. Questions such as, “Do you love only me?” won’t typically be asked for that reason. Likewise, gauging your future intentions is impossible. You are not able to ask, “Do you intend to work your program for the rest of your life?”
Examples of factual Yes/No questions:
- Since xx/xx/ xx date, besides what you have already disclosed, have you had any physical sexual contact with anyone else other than your partner?
- Since your sobriety date of xx/xx/xx, have you ‘acted out’ (masturbation, viewed internet porn, had physical sexual contact with anyone other than your partner?
- Besides the 3 that you reported, did you have sexual intercourse (oral, vaginal, anal) with anyone else in your lifetime?
The process of a polygraph exam should only be done as part of a healing process. It started with a complete disclosure where the timeline, events, and circumstances of acting out are communicated WITHOUT traumatizing details. There is no healing in the gory details. Remember, once heard, a thing cannot be unheard.
If you are serious about your recovery and want to take this step in rebuilding trust, disclosure and a fidelity polygraph exam can help hit the reset button. This is your opportunity to get everything out on the table and to restart your honesty and integrity.
requirements to take an exam
at our office
Polygraph exams are only approved for couples in ongoing therapy.
Most examiners refuse to conduct exams for individuals or couples who are not currently, actively pursuing marital healing and under the care of a professional. Test results are released only to the therapist for interpretation and not to either individual.
How many sessions are typically needed before both parties are ready for the exam and Formal Therapeutic Disclosure?
There are so many complex variables at play for both parties, that this is difficult, if not impossible to answer. The average couples working on marital restoration typically copmlete 15-20 sessions each before the exam and disclosure are considered therapeutically beneficial and thus the exam approved.
Original content created by Alex Young
Modified by Jeremy Smith