Taking a Polygraph: No One-Size-Fits-All Panacea For Trust-Building

Taking a polygraphTaking a polygraph too early in the discovery/disclosure process (whether with strong evidence … or just the suspicion or perception of betrayal or dishonesty) is usually ill advised for several reasons.  Until they are better informed some spouses will be suspicious the counselor or polygrapher are somehow “in cahoots” and either directly conspiring or indirectly “coaching” the client on “how to pass” the polygraph (as if there were some secret or universal trick that could deceive the machine). Keep in mind that most clients view the polygraph as a forensic experience (i.e. for suspected criminals) and so may have some strong stigma to overcome to see this as a helpful and healthy part of their recovery. Also, even if the poly reveals the presence of new or suspected behaviors a couple will not have a therapeutic context or “container” with which to process the meaning, duration, frequency, or cessation of behaviors, … or to explore various options going forward, unless they are seeing a professional counselor.

Polygraphs often flow from very fear-based agendas that are unintentionally too broad or too narrow to bring helpful information. For example, if upon experiencing first awareness of secrecy or betrayal a spouse might rush to learn immediate truths around a “red-handed” discovery (i.e. porn viewing) but fail to inquire about a variety of other suspicious behavior areas (e.g. travel, spending, phone use, physical infidelity, etc.) which they are “overlooking”, either by knowingly avoiding for fear of the truth (e.g. “spousal denial”) or because they are fixating all their energies in just one direction. They may be “hyper-focused” by the trauma of their discovery (or discoveries) and consumed with their current “check list” of suspected behaviors (e.g. porn, infidelity, emotional affairs, etc.) sometimes overlooking a variety of other non-sexual behavior that is secretive.

Conversely, the spouse might incorrectly assume the accused is dangerous to children or committing a host of extreme behaviors that are very likely not in the accused partner’s “arousal template” (i.e. not a temptation for them). In this scenario the polygraph questions are being used to “rule-out” the worst case fears but not to hone in on the truth of what is happening. This is usually because the spouse’s own internal “truth detector” is askew or “off”, sometimes due to crazy-making or long-standing patterns of dishonesty or hiding.

Blessings, Jeff VanZant

Edited by Justin Vorhees