For years, famed attorney Johnnie Cochran maintained a "second family" that included a son, yet his wife was oblivious to his double life until their divorce proceedings. CBS broadcaster Charles Kuralt carried on a clandestine affair that lasted 30 years, which wasn’t discovered until after his death. Scott Peterson juggled both a wife and a girlfriend and went undiscovered until his wife’s murder investigation was underway.
If you’ve just discovered your spouse has been living a secret life with another wife or husband or maybe even an entire other family. What do you do? “Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to protect yourself emotionally once you discover your partner is leading a double life,” says Dr. Carl Shubs, a Beverly Hills psychologist specializing in relationships.
“If they are deceiving you, your trust is being betrayed. The only way to protect yourself from that is to be less trusting, which has the negative effect of undermining the relationship and can then foster the cheating rather than preventing it. However, if you are also participating in the deceit, through your own denial of recognizing inconsistencies in their behavior and faulty logic in their explanations, then you have responsibility in the emotional distress you feel once their double life is exposed.”
Approaching this from a slightly different point of view is Tina B. Tessina,
Ph.D, psychotherapist and author of "Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage." “As a counselor, it always puzzles me why wives (and sometimes husbands) can be so blind to what's going on,” says Dr. Tessina.
“I think we see what we want to see, and certainly in Mrs. Cochran's case, she was probably very comfortable and didn't want to rock the boat. Wives need to understand that sex is important to men, especially wealthy and powerful men. If he's not having much sex at home, he's having it elsewhere. Also, don't exclude yourself from his business life or his friends. If you draw a sharp line around what you will and will not do, you're liable to create a big space for someone else to move in. Don't think being married protects you from infidelity — there are plenty of women out there who are willing to have sex with a married man. Don't get into the role of his surrogate mother: nagging him, cosseting him and whining or bitching at him. You need to cultivate your status as his equal, be inviting enough that he's open with you, and keep your value in his eyes by maintaining a certain level of independence and autonomy.”
Over the years, divorce attorneys and private investigators have uncovered a pattern of eight key deceptions used by spouses leading a double life
. The signs include:
1. Change in sexual appetite.
2. Hidden money or financial records.
3. Regular clandestine contact with an ex-spouse or ex-girlfriend/boyfriend.
4. Hidden or inaccessible pagers, cell phones or e-mail accounts.
5. Frequent travel.
6. Exclusion from the usual “couples events.”
7. Deceptive body language.
8. Mysterious use of cash for “incidentals” or poorly explained expenses.
If you discover several of these indicators or a pattern with any one, insist on an explanation. If your spouse confesses and says it’s over, you’ll have to decide whether your spouse’s double life is truly in the past. Don’t spend time blaming yourself for trusting him or her. “People who discover that their significant other has been unfaithful must be kind to themselves,” says Rachael Stracka
, a Board Certified, therapist, coach, counselor and speaker.
“It’s not their fault that their mate made the decision that he or she made. It is important to have a safe place to talk and explore the wide range of feelings that will come up. It could be a with a friend, a family member or a therapist. Most times people find they feel better emotionally going to a therapist in these kind of situations because they find that their family member or friend is too close to the situation and has their own agenda, making it hard for the person to get the true support that is needed. I think that when there has been an infidelity in a relationship, though painful, it can be a chance to grow as a person individually and maybe as a couple. There are definitely steps that can be taken to begin to repair the relationship if that is what is desired, or to heal, learn, and grow, if that is what is desired.”
Most therapists agree that professional intervention is the best course of action. Dr. Aimee Vadnais,
a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, advises, “If you and your spouse decide to recommit to your marriage and your spouse has agreed to sever all extramarital relations, together you must begin the process of rebuilding the relationship; couples therapy is necessary in that venture. It is best to avoid talking about the intimate details of the affair with each other without the aide of a therapist because of the highly intense emotions that are involved. Your therapist will provide you with a safe and neutral environment, helping you navigate through raw and painful emotions and guiding you to improved communication and understanding.” RECOMMENDED BOOKS: Getting Past the Affair: A Program to Help You Cope, Heal, and Move On -- Together or Apart.
Douglas K. Snyder, Donald H. Baucom, and Kristina Coop Gordon. After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful.
Janis Abrahms Spring and Michael Spring