Are You Living a Double Life?

by: Jim Duzak, JD

 Having been, at various times, a divorce lawyer, a divorce mediator, and an advice columnist, I know that in marriage things aren’t always as they seem.

 I’ve had people tell me they’re gay but that they’re terrified of breaking the news to their spouse. I’ve had people tell me about their sexless marriages or their extramarital affairs. An ostensibly happily-married woman once told me that she can’t wait for her husband to die so that she can start living again.

Another woman told me she wishes her husband would be unfaithful so that she’ll have an excuse to divorce him. And a married man once confided to me that his fantasy is to fly to Alaska on a hunting trip, fake his death, and start a new life under an assumed name.

What these people have in common is that they feel trapped in unsatisfying marriages. They either don’t know how to make their marriage better or they lack the courage to do something about it. Instead, they live a kind of double life: “normal” on the outside, tortured underneath. And they pay a price for it.

Engaging in extramarital sex may be “doing something” about your frustrations, but it’s something that’s almost guaranteed to end badly. Denying your true sexual orientation means denying yourself a chance to live an authentic life, and denying your spouse a chance to live one, as well. Looking forward to the death of your spouse, or hoping that he or she will fall for someone else, is proof beyond doubt that things have gone horribly wrong.

When I was a kid, I thought that a double life sounded exciting. I remember TV shows about ordinary people who were really spies, or Superman posing as mild-mannered Clark Kent. But in the real world, most people living double lives are not spies or action heroes. There may well be danger in their lives---usually in the form of the risk of having an affair exposed or a secret revealed---but never satisfaction or true happiness.

If you’re living a double life, you’re dying a little every day. You’re expending more time and energy covering up your misery than it would take to deal with it head-on. And you’re probably not even fooling anyone; unhappiness can’t be disguised forever.

The way to start dealing with your unhappiness is to figure out what you want in your marriage and why you’re not getting it. The answer may be obvious, or it may take months to uncover. It may require outside help in the form of a therapist. But, if you look hard enough you’ll find it.

After that, you’ll need to speak with your spouse. You’ll want to do this at the right time and the right place, and in a sensitive and non-accusatory way. A constructive conversation with your spouse is a big step toward working together to come up with changes that will benefit both of you.


But don’t make things worse by rubbing salt in the wounds. Don’t rehash old arguments and don’t blame your spouse for everything that’s gone wrong. If you’ve been unfaithful, don’t cause your spouse needless pain by blurting out a confession, especially if there’s no chance he or she would ever have learned of the affair otherwise. (Someone once said that we hurt ourselves with our sins, but we only hurt others with our confessions).

If you can be honest with yourself without being self-pitying, and honest with your spouse without being cruel, you should be able to stop living a double life and start living a life true to your core values, a life that defines---not disguises---who you really are.

Jim is a graduate of Boston College Law School, and practiced divorce law in Boston for over twenty years. After moving to Arizona, he became a full-time mediator for the family and divorce court in Phoenix. His experience in working with divorcing couples, plus his own life experiences---he was a 20 year-old husband and father, and a single father for several years after his divorce---prompted Jim to write a book (“Mid-Life Divorce and the Rebirth of Commitment”) that helps people avoid divorce by teaching better ways to communicate and resolve disputes.Jim is currently an advice columnist, relationship writer, and personal coach. He also puts on workshops dealing with marriage, divorce, post-divorce dating, and other aspects of men-women relationships. See Jim’s website at www.attorneyatlove.com



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