Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Your Turn: “My Live-In Boyfriend Keeps Me a Secret From His Family”

In 2010, I had lunch with an ex-boyfriend from many, many years ago that developed into a relationship even though he was still married. His wife had asked him for a divorce years before; however, they had decided to stay together until the kids went to college, and I met him three years before they did. The wife found out about me, and they agreed to separate on condition that the children NEVER meet me.

We have now been living together for five years and the children (now 19 and 20) still don’t know about me, and I am told they never will. I am 58, he is 63, and neither of us is in the best of health. I was due to have an operation on my spine two years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, so I have been living with tremendous back pain for the past two years as the cancer had to be treated as priority. I have no family at all — no brothers or sisters or children — except for a 91-year-old mom with Alzheimer’s in a care home, and I am quite honestly scared to be alone again, which I know sounds awful. I have been single most of my life and emotionally and financially independent, but not sure I can face being alone again at my age and in pain with no support.

My boyfriend and I do love each other – he tells me all the time, as do I tell him – and my friends say he is the best thing that has ever happened to me. But should I stay with him knowing things will never change in regards to his family — we will never be married, and things will just carry on the same? — Kept a Secret From His Family

***************

Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

28 comments… add one
  • avatar

    jlyfsh May 14, 2015, 12:19 pm

    I have to wonder if they actually thought that agreement would work? HOW in the world do you live together and them now know about you? For FIVE years? What kind of craziness goes on that they don’t notice that another person lives in the house with their father? Do they not visit? Do you have nothing of your own, no clothes, toothbrush, medicine, etc there? Honestly, I think they were both ridiculous to agree to that when they did. It’s not sustainable. But, they’re not asking for advice.
    .
    Sometimes being alone is better than being in a relationship and feeling like you’re alone. I hope that beside him you have surrounded yourself with a community of some sort. If you haven’t it’s not too late to do so.
    .
    I don’t think the right question is Should you stay with him. But, rather is it worth it to you. Do you find being kept a secret worth having what you do. What happens if you have spine surgery and you need around the clock care? Will he provide that? Are you personally ok being kept a secret?

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      Gill D May 28, 2015, 2:10 am

      Dear all,

      My boyfriend keeps me a secret – this is me.

      Thank you so much for all your comments and helpful advice – I have never done this before and didn’t realise this had gone ‘live’ till a few days ago, so apologies for not responding sooner. I am also aware that there are highs and lows in any relationship and it’s easy to hit a low spot and hit the Internet – it’s not all bad but I really, really appreciate your comments. Some facts that I missed from the original post – yes my boyfriend is still married, but has been physically separated for 5 years. They have sold the family home, and his wife has bought a house in her own name. Kids at uni, they stay with Mum during the holidays, and occasionally with Dad at his villa in Portugal (holiday home).

      Whilst I live with him in his flat, I have my own place in the same complex, which I did when he bought his – so I still have my independence and own space as and when I need it. I have spent most of my life as a single person, have a close network of girlfriends who are very supportive and have been for 20+ years. I guess I have suffered from low self esteem for most of my life given a slightly troubled childhood (Dad died when I was 11, didn’t get on with Mum, sent off to boarding school immediately, left home immediately after school etc) so have never really known what being part of a proper family is like.

      I have spent most of my life trying to build secure foundations and this has manifested in financial security and friendships rather than depending on a single relationship – too scared of being dependent and hurt. Materially I am not at all dependent on this man – financially and property wise. I have through hard work and determination got several homes of my own, and financial security. Poor health was not planned, but my network of girlfriends have been fantastically supportive, my partner also.

      So my conundrum is whether I a better off compromising with this relationship and never knowing the kids, or moving on? I agree with other comments that they will never really like me given the circumstances so will have to let this play out. If/when wife wants a divorce then that will be her decision. So I think there are emotional risks for me in this relationship longer term – but overall does he make me happy? Yes. Am I better off with him in my life – yes. But I am very aware that things can always change, and hence I am very mindful of having my own life and friendships which I nurture and are very important to me. There is no easy solution!

      Gill

      Reply Link
  • juliecatharine

    juliecatharine May 14, 2015, 12:23 pm

    I guess I don’t understand why your boyfriend is acquiescing to his (ex?)wife’s demand that his adult children never know about you. What is the rationale? If I understand correctly, his wife wanted a divorce, they decided to stay together for the kids, she found out about you, and they separated five years ago. Keeping you a secret presumably means his kids have never been to the home you share. What about holidays? How much interaction does your boyfriend have with his kids? Keeping you a secret means avoidance and lies–why is he still lying to his children? They are old enough to realize that their parents’ marriage wasn’t a happy one so why keep lying to them? Some more info about your conversations about this topic would be helpful. LW, please chime in with feedback!

    Reply Link
    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom May 14, 2015, 12:42 pm

      I’m assuming if the kids find out about the LW their mom will tell them how and when he met her and that she was an affair in their marriage. Then his kids won’t want anything to do with him. The threat is real enough that he is keeping his end of the bargain. I don’t think I’ve ever met a kid who liked their parent’s affair partner.

      Reply Link
  • coconot

    coconot May 14, 2015, 12:44 pm

    My guess would be your bf and his ex don’t want the kids to know about you because of the cheating angle or because they don’t want them to know how long their parents have been unofficially separated. Would they be willing to tell the kids that you met after they went to college and the parents (presumably) separated physically? If the two are actually divorced you probably have more leverage; if they are not the wife may have something on the husband (money?) that gets him to keep up the charade. Maybe she would also try to turn his children against him (or as @skyblossom says, maybe the children would turn against him on their own) if you reveal your relationship, so I wouldn’t advise telling the children yourself.
    .
    I agree with @juliecatharine that we need more information to advise you. I can say that you need to think about if being married means more to you than being in a relationship with this man, and if never getting to see his children really is a deal-breaker. There’s no guarantee his children will become like family to you whether you are officially married or not, so that probably shouldn’t factor in. Maybe you need to focus on your non-familial relationships from now on. If you feel like you are missing young people in your life in particular, have you looked into some kind of mentorship programs like big-brother-big-sister or college advising or volunteering at the community center ?

    Reply Link
    • juliecatharine

      juliecatharine May 14, 2015, 1:23 pm

      I think you two are probably correct about the cheating as what’s being covered up. Even if that’s the case I still think it’s time to stop the lies. LW, it concerns me that your boyfriend is able (and willing) to continually lie to those close to him and keep you in the closet. His actions seem to betray a weakness of character. I would focus on his actions because they speak a lot more honestly than his words. You say he tells you he loves you. Does he show you?

      Reply Link
      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom May 14, 2015, 2:16 pm

        I think he’s not willing to risk his relationship with his kids for a more open relationship with the LW. He knows his kids and has a good idea of how they would react. The LW has the choice of continuing as is or breaking up and living without him.

        Link
      • juliecatharine

        juliecatharine May 14, 2015, 2:30 pm

        You’re probably right Sky, I guess I doubt he is terribly close to his kids if they’ve never been in the house he shares with the LW. It’s pretty hard to be close with people while hiding a significant other of five years who you live with. I’m assuming that if they met in 2010 and have been living together for five years that he moved in with her.

        Link
      • avatar

        jlyfsh May 14, 2015, 2:34 pm

        Yeah I want to know how that happens. How do you live with someone for 5 years and have your children not know! It’s just mind boggling to me.

        Link
  • avatar

    TheTruth May 14, 2015, 1:54 pm

    “But should I stay with him knowing things will never change in regards to his family — we will never be married, and things will just carry on the same? ”

    Yes

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    d2 May 14, 2015, 1:58 pm

    My guess is that the ex-husband was close to his kids, and didn’t want to divorce because he didn’t want risk weakening the bond with the kids. When he got caught having an affair, the ex-wife probably wanted him gone, and the best deal he could negotiate was to forever keep the LW a secret.
    .
    Given that the boyfriend/ex-husband has stuck to the deal for so many years, I doubt that things would change. My guess is that he would do nothing to jeopardize the relationship with his kids.
    .
    LW, while you didn’t negotiate or agree to the deal, you are now stuck with it. The question now is whether or not you can embrace and support the deal. Can you accept never being part of his friends and family? Only you can decide that. That is where you will find the answer to your question “Should I stay with him?”

    Reply Link
    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom May 14, 2015, 2:19 pm

      This is the kind of thing that happens when you start a relationship as an affair. In the future the LW should pick a man who is available to have a relationship. He may have already decided to leave his wife, who knows whether that was actually a mutual decision or a story he was telling the LW. If he is keeping you a secret because he is married he isn’t available for a relationship, no matter he tells you about the marriage.

      Reply Link
    • avatar

      d2 May 14, 2015, 6:17 pm

      Initially when I read this letter, I assumed that the BF was now divorced. But after re-reading, I now think that he is still married and is just separated from his wife.
      .
      If that is the case, LW I would suggest moving on because you do not have the partnership that you think you have. You mention both of you being in frail health. If you get sick, you will not likely get as much support from him as you need, because he will have to continue to maintain the secret. If he gets sick, you will not even be allowed to see him, let alone provide any kind of support. Thus, even if you “stay together” you will in reality end up “being alone”. Such is the fare of dating a married person.

      Reply Link
  • Moneypenny

    Moneypenny May 14, 2015, 2:38 pm

    Im inclined to think that the kids DO know about you. Or they suspect. This is a difficult thing to keep hidden for this long. And frankly, I’d feel bad that I was being hidden. Like jlyfish said, sometimes it’s better to be single than to be in a relationship that makes you feel so lonely.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      L.G.J May 14, 2015, 8:51 pm

      I thought the same thing, I’d be concerned about my dad if he’d been split from his wife 5 years and showed no interest in seeing anyone new. Also that whole lets stay together for the kids then divorce later thing never works, the kids know when their parents aren’t happy, especially by the time their teenagers. I feel terrible for the LW she’s with a man who supposedly loves her but decided years ago that she would never be more than a piece on the side and shows no signs of changing that.

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    judge sheryl May 14, 2015, 3:01 pm

    I’m really confused by the timeline… They have been living together 5 years, so presumably moved in together immediately?

    Also, sounds like the separation, but not divorced decision happened before the LW and husband started having an affair, so it really wasn’t an affair? I think?

    There should really never be a ‘never find out’ rule, if both sides are still alive and other people know about it. This just seems silly now that the children are adults. A big way for the bf to start repairing his children’s relationship is to tell them the truth. It just doesn’t seem feasible for the kids to have no idea what is going on, unless they really don’t visit or talk to him ever anywayr, or the lw’s bf is so available/accommodating to them, in which case I would question if he is in fact a good bf then.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      MsMisery May 15, 2015, 11:31 am

      “Also, sounds like the separation, but not divorced decision happened before the LW and husband started having an affair, so it really wasn’t an affair? I think?”
      .
      This. I mean, ” she asked for a divorce but they decided to stay together for the kids” could mean they were just living together until the kids went to college or they were actively working on their marriage for those years. One is way different than the other, and if it is the latter, then yes, I’d be inclined to say the LW contributed to an affair. But if the wife and LW’s boyfriend were just faking it until some date on the calendar, I don’t see any cheating.

      Reply Link
  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom May 14, 2015, 3:13 pm

    She doesn’t say whether her boyfriend and his wife have divorced.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Cleopatra Jones May 14, 2015, 3:41 pm

    When the ex-wife said NEVER, did she mean never as in the rest of y’all’s life or did she mean never, as in until the kid’s were gone to college?
    .
    I kind of feel she meant, they should never find out about you while they were going through a divorce and she was probably hoping your relationship wouldn’t last thus she’d never have to explain that dad had an affair. Y’all may need to clarify that. And if she meant NEVER as in never ever as long as the kids are alive, I wouldn’t be OK with that. If she never expected him to move on then she probably shouldn’t have divorced him.
    .
    I have never understood parents who try to keep their adult children from finding out that they aren’t happy together and/or stayed together for the kids. I dunno, I think once you become an adult and have had your own relationship ups & downs, you understand what your parents have been through and why they want to get a divorce.
    .
    But then again, I used with work with someone who never forgave her parents for getting a divorce when she left for college. She was damn near forty when I met her and she would still go on about how her parents divorce caused her so much anxiety & unhappiness, needless to say, she got a whole lot of side eye from me.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      MsMisery May 15, 2015, 11:34 am

      Was it a particularly acrimonious divorce? Mine split when I was in 5th grade and my mother still $#it-talks my father and brings up things that were happening when they were getting the divorce if I let her. Because they were both yellers, I get what I call “kicked puppy syndrome” when people around me (or even on tv sometimes) raise their voices. I very nearly panic. The struggle is real, though that doesn’t mean the lady you know isn’t just a drama llama 🙂

      Reply Link
  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom May 14, 2015, 4:11 pm

    The LW doesn’t say that he got divorced, just that they separated and that she has been living with him for five years. If he moved in with her but didn’t divorce he may be going home to the family home when the kids are there. The bottom line is that he has no intentions of making the LW a known part of his life. She is his secret and if she wants to continue a relationship with him she will remain a secret. If she wants more she needs to move on because this relationship doesn’t meet her needs.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      Cleopatra Jones May 14, 2015, 8:07 pm

      Wait a minute, hold up!
      Are you saying that he never divorced his wife and the LW has been living with him for 5 years?
      .
      That means she’s in sidepiece limbo. 🙁
      .
      I assumed that since they had moved in together, he went through with the divorce to his ex wife but if he didn’t, she’s not his ex–she’s his legal wife. That means he might be living with both the wife and LW. Egads!
      .
      LW, you have to end that relationship because he if he wanted a real relationship he would have divorced the wife, so you could be together. But he didn’t so you should probably move on.

      Reply Link
      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom May 14, 2015, 8:15 pm

        We don’t know. She doesn’t say, but I assume that she would tell us when he divorced if it had happened because she talks about when they decided to separate and how long they have lived together. Surely it would have been relevant to say how long he has been divorced, not just how long he has bee separated. We all assumed that he was divorced but when I reread it there was no mention of his divorce.

        Link
  • muchachaenlaventana

    muchachaenlaventana May 14, 2015, 4:14 pm

    I get you love your man and he doesn’t want to hurt his kids, but you just *can’t* remain in his life and a secret forever. What about when his kids start having grand kids… and visiting…you won’t be a part of any of his life. It just isn’t feasible. I think your partner needs to respect his children enough to give them the truth, and respect you enough to make you an important part of his life. He left his marriage for you (more or less) so it seems absurd to be hemming and hawing now. He needs to take that power away from his ex. Honestly I know two of my closest friends who are privy to the fact that their fathers had affairs (yes multiple) and their mothers were treated pretty poorly throughout the course of their marriages due to those affairs–but those same people are mature enough to realize they have no clue what went on in their parent’s relationships and its not their place to be judge and jury, just child. Yeah it sucks but hopefully his kids can over time realize the same things, but if he never even gives them that chance its just lying and deceitful and hurtful to everyone involved. You cannot stay with someone forever who keeps you a secret, and honestly why would you want to? You are missing out on a lot of life settling for that.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Margo May 14, 2015, 4:55 pm

    OK so what happens if he gets sick and when he dies? – are you supposed to stay away so his kids don’t see you?

    Maybe you want to approach his ex and explain your concerns. It would be easy enough to lie to the kids and tell them that you met after their parents divorced. If the wife isn’t a vindictive person, she might agree to go along with that.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      MsMisery May 15, 2015, 11:38 am

      Alternately, what if LW’s health takes a turn and she needs someone to sign papers, take her to the hospital, do some heavy-duty caretaking, or even make end-of-life decisions? If the LW literally has no family in her life and doesn’t have a will/DNR, etc, then is he going to step up or what?

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    Mimi LaTour May 14, 2015, 6:12 pm

    First of all, congratulations on your apparently successful treatment for breast cancer – I’m sure it was a life changing experience and that you (like I did) discovered who your real friends were and just what kind of support you really had in your life. Is it safe to assume that this man is and has been a great emotional and practical support to you while you’ve struggled with treatment and back pain? If he is, then that is a huge check mark in the plus column.
    If you spend any time reading advice columns, you have to know how often guilt plays a difficult role in relationships between divorced dads and their kids. Your guy has been in exactly this position the whole time you’ve been with him. He definitely hasn’t changed his point of view in that time, so what has changed for you that this is a problem right now?
    You don’t say that you yearn to know and love these young adults for their own sakes. It sounds like you just want to establish the legitimacy of your position. Is that more important to you than thankfully living in the moment and enjoying the loving relationship you have with a good man? You’re the only one who can answer that question.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Anna May 15, 2015, 9:29 am

    This arrangement isn’t fair to you. Are you really ok with being so low on his priority list that you will never be included in his social circle? The tone of your letter tells me that you’re not, but you don’t have the self esteem to believe that there’s another man in the world who could love you and would actually treat you right. For the record, I don’t think this man actually loves you. If he did, he wouldn’t allow you to be so disrespected and neglected. He would fight for the relationship, tell his ex to suck it up, and be honest with his adult children.

    If I were you, I would talk to him and tell him how you feel. If you want more out of the relationship, tell him. If he’s not willing to give you what you need, MOA and find someone who will. You just have to know that you’re worth someone ‘s true love.

    Reply Link

Leave a Comment