[Two Pronged] My boyfriend has a secret wife and child
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
I've been in a relationship with my boyfriend now for just over 3 years. From the beginning, we have had the most awesome time together, with a few major arguments that all ended in compromise.
We had both come out of long relationships. I was married and left my ex and he had a similar story. We didn't intend on entering a long term relationship, but we just rolled with it and here we are.
I've had this feeling that something just didn't make sense from the beginning and put it down to the fact that even though we get on like a house on fire and work extremely well together, his family may be unable to accept me due to our cultural differences.
His family, like mine, are a huge part of our lives and after three years, we both have not introduced each other to our parents. On my part, due to the feeling something just didn't sit right and on his part, many reasons under the sun like its never the right time for him or I didn't understand what impact his family would have on my life if he did and I wasn't ready.
He has always been honest with me about his commitment issues and I had pinned it on his ex, as he left his family for her and lost everything... on my part, his actions have been the complete opposite of what he has said. I've had nothing but commitment in his actions of time, planning, just life in general – say out of 365 days we have been together 360 of them.
He is 34. I just turned 30 early last year, and I'm just out of the "what am I doing with my life" moment, and I've realized what I need. He has walked with me during this coming of age process.
Up until one month ago I've come to completely trust him. Due to past relationships, I had been very clear about no cheating which he has completely agreed too also.
Last month, I found out through a friend of a friend that he is and has been married for the last 10 years and has a 4 1/2 year old son. See we keep our professional and personal lives very separate, which completely works for me, due to both of our histories, but now I can see why he has been okay with this.
Once I confronted him, he completely broke down and admitted this as the truth. However, they separated since they had his son.
His reasons for not telling me where due to the fact that he thought I would not have continued dating him if he had a kid and separated wife from the beginning. Before, during, and after turning 30, my obsession with planning, children, timing, have made it harder for him too, as his son was born with a disability and the possibility of his genetics causing complications again would cause me to leave.
So over the last 3 years he has chosen to hide this from me and knows how he completely misjudged me, as he denied me the opportunity to make that choice. Knowing this, I would have still chosen him.
However, now I'm back to square one, as I feel like I can't trust him. Is he telling me the truth now? I'm double thinking every conversation and interaction! He has expressed that this is the only thing, but it makes me question everything from the beginning. Like when he was busy that morning, was he looking after his son? Was he angry due to arguments with her? And I don't even know where to start.
I've tried to have a mind break from him and go away during my holiday, and yet I'm still in the same position... please help, I'm not sure what to do... stay as I am, in love with him and like he is the air I breathe, or leave due to mistrust and stand by my values for marriage, as he is not divorced?
This is weighing heavily on my heart, as I can't be in a relationship with him if he is still married, even if he is separated. My brain is saying no, but my heart is saying stay.
Thank you for your email.
I regret to say that your account has me confused on three counts. First you say "We had both come out of long relationships, I was married and left my ex and he had a similar story" yet it turns out 3 years later that only then do you learn that your boyfriend (let's call him Leo) is married.
Then you say, "I can't be in a relationship with him if he is still married" yet you yourself were married and left your ex, just as he did.
Finally, there is all this talk about divorce, yet here we all are in the only country on earth (apart from that strange place called the Vatican City, full of celibates, unparalleled wealth, and a population estimated at less than 1000) that does not allow its citizens access to divorce, whatever their religious persuasion. But your story does not really hinge on these issues, even if these inconsistencies do invite the reader to wonder if other parts of your email are also "inconsistent."
As I see it, you have two main problems: a) your "values for marriage" are incompatible with a relationship with a married man who has not divorced and b) after three idyllic years, you have discovered a major fact about Leo that he has concealed all this time.
You attribute your reservations about a relationship with a married man who is not divorced to your "values for marriage," which unfortunately you fail to explain. If they are faith-based, then they fall outside the purview of this column. Whichever sort of supreme power you believe in – tablets of stone, crown of thorns, holy grail, blessed carrot – faith is, after all, a belief that is not based on proof, and thus impervious to reason. So, if your faith does not allow you to consort with a married man, simply leave him. If, however, your faith decrees that he becomes eligible again following divorce, simply leave him until he gets divorced. The onus will then be on him to prove his love by getting divorced, thus presumably rehabilitating himself in your eyes.
However successful Leo may be in achieving eligibility, he will still face the issue of lost trust. Trust takes a long time to develop and very little time to destroy. Relationships tend to be built like a wall, brick by brick, with each party revealing more and more of themselves as the months and years pass. Secrets, on the other hand, can be destructive of relationships, especially if what is being hidden would not gain the approval of the other party. Of course there are many exceptions, such as legal/medical confidentiality, military secrets, etc., but in those cases, both parties are usually aware from the outset that one or both are professionally restricted in certain areas.
When it comes to secrets revealed, few come bigger than a wife and son (except perhaps two wives and two sons!). Children are a lifetime responsibility and particularly when they are minors, require fathers and mothers to remain in contact, if only to sort out mundane details like coordinating logistics.
There is a world of difference between a relationship where the partner is known to have a previous family and one where it becomes evident only 3 years later. In the former case, the partners can gradually reach a mutually acceptable understanding regarding the various priorities between those involved – the two principals, their ex-es and their offspring – and if they fail, it is relatively painless to discontinue the relationship. In the latter case, not only is it necessary to deal with the sense of betrayal caused by revelation of this secret family but also with a whole host of new family members that often one partner is asked to accept without ever meeting.
Given all the above, it seems the time has come for you to decide on your priorities. As you see it, it is a battle between your brain and your heart. If, however your faith in your "values for marriage" is in fact not really heartfelt as well, it seems likely that your heart will emerge the winner, though whether it will prove a long-term victory is much less clear.
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter. I shall not dwell on the seeming contradiction (N.B. “seeming”) between your values and the current status of your boyfriend, okay? The major reason is that I feel Mr Baer has dealt with this issue – including an almost-exhortation to examine your purported "values for marriage" more closely.
It is possible that your dilemma, as you see it, may not be quite as unsolvable as you seem to think it is, especially if you apply the same standard to Leo that you apply to your previous spouse, i.e. you left him and still consider yourself able to marry again. It seems the only difference between you (in terms of having exes) is that he has a child and you do not. IMHO, that alone is not sufficient reason to not be able to marry him.
Of course, the fact that he kept this from you would be considered reason enough by many, including myself. It doesn’t help at all that the reason you finally found out was not because he finally told you, but because you heard it from someone else.
Of course you can't trust him, wonder whether he is telling the truth, and double think every conversation and interaction. He has shown you have every reason to doubt everything he says now and everything he has told you in the past.
Your relationship is NOT “back to square one,” but more like “square negative 5.” However, even relationships that have become negative 5, 6 and even 7s and 8s can sometimes move on to positive 5s, 6s, 7s, and 8s.
The above sort of relationships is what I feel my very good friend and National Book awardee Gemma Luz Corotan-Kolb meant when she wrote in her Grace Notes:
“At the beginning of a relationship, all men are princes and all women princesses. We are perfect in each other's eyes; we can do no wrong. But LIFE and sh-t happens: laundry and dishes have to be washed, garbage taken out, bills paid, fights resolved, grudges mended. We become angry. We become jealous, disappointed, disillusioned. We become WEAK and UGLY from our weaknesses. We begin to think that love is about to end but this is actually the point where love BEGINS, because it sees EVERYTHING but does not flinch and does not QUIT from what it sees.”
Dearest Lydia, we cannot tell you if giving yourselves another chance is the way to go or not. My gut feel is that this is what you want to do and if it is, then go for it.
It is possible what the poet Robert Browning wrote: “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made,” is something Leo could still be telling you (and mean!) 50 years from now.
All the best,
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED.Unfortunately the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.