Advice Column: How To Survive As A Secret Wife

Advice Column: How To Survive As A Secret Wife
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Allef Vinicius

Dear Chelsea,

Please help, my heart is breaking. My husband and I eloped three years ago on the promise we wouldn't tell his parents or family for a year. Then, we would have a small family wedding in a church. "For his mother’s sake…” You see, my husband was married before me for 20 years and has two grown children. He claims his mother was heartbroken when she found out he eloped with his first wife and didn't speak to him for two years because she is Catholic and needs a church wedding. Now that she is in her early 70s, he doesn't want to break her heart again. Needless to say my husband’s ex wife said that isn't true, and their non-church wedding had nothing to do with his parents not speaking to him for two years. He also has a brother and sister that does not know we are married. But we finally did tell his children. All my family and friends know. Well, I posted a picture on social media of our wedding day and posted the date of our three year wedding anniversary. He freaked and got pissed at me and he took it off. It truly broke my heart. I agreed to his promise of not saying anything for one year, it's now been three! But yet I'm wrong for posting the picture. Am I??

Thank you,

Secret Wife

Dear Secret Wife,

Of course you aren’t wrong for posting a photograph of your wedding day. It’s your wedding day. However, suggesting that your intention was that one-dimensional won’t benefit you any. My guess is you posted the photograph and the accompanying details to challenge your husband, to see whether he is ready to give your marriage the visibility and respect it deserves.

What you’ve found out is he isn’t ready, and he hasn’t been for three years. Which begs the question, does this have anything to do with readiness? Or, have you married a man who has no intention of honoring his promise? This is what my heart would be breaking over. Waiting for the first scenario but living deeper and deeper into the reality that maybe I have been conned into expecting what will never come.

Listen, when it comes to dating, the advice I’ve always given is say yes to another date only if you are happy with how you feel after the last one. That is, say yes because you are confident and comfortable with experiencing more of the same.

The point being, you only commit yourself to more if you are satisfied with what you have and how that’s got you feeling already. My advice going into an engagement as well as a marriage would be exactly the same.

When you say yes, you must be saying yes to what you have, not what you hope to have.

When you say I do, you must be saying if the conditions of your love were to remain forever as they are, that will be enough to hold on to, to stay for, to celebrate, to marry all over again.

The impression I’m getting is you didn’t say yes to what you already had. You said yes to the relationship you were being promised a year down the line.

From the story you’ve given me, this is the only wrong move you’ve made. The catch is, it’s a significant one. Don’t get me wrong, these moves happen and they happen innocently. We say yes to what we are picturing, not to what we are feeling or what we know. That’s the romantic in us. Rather than leaning on our history, we lean into our dreams. We chase down visions. We think ahead. We look forward to better days. We wait for everything to fall into place and we bet on it happening. The romance is believing that it will.

But what if it doesn’t?

What if what we think we’re getting never comes? What if the vision we’re promised is never fulfilled?

You see, the only people who can really afford to be a romantic, who can afford to fantasize about what isn’t yet theirs and may never be, are those who do not feel letdown by the reality of their lives. They are the ones who can comfortably indulge in daydreams because, while they may want more, they are perfectly aware that they do not need more to engage happily in their lives.

Seth Doylee

My concern is, you’ve romanticized your marriage and your husband especially. You’ve romanticized who he is and who he can be for you, and you’ve romanticized him in order to escape the reality of him.

My concern is, you’re looking forward to your marriage as if you weren’t already married right now. And you’re doing this because what your marriage is today does not feel right. Maybe it doesn’t even feel real.

My concern is, you think time changes circumstances when it’s not time, it’s the effort we give over time that changes not circumstances but, first and foremost, ourselves. You see, circumstances change because we change and that effects how we wish to show up in life.

My concern is, you’re romanticizing what you’ll have once your husband comes clean about the two of you. You expect your love will fall perfectly into place after that.

And let’s say he does come clean. Let’s say he does step up and reveal you as his wife.

Have you ever thought about how the challenge could be arriving at that day and feeling no more confident about your husband? That’s the problem with secrecy. We underestimate how keeping secrets can degrade our trust in the person we are keeping them for. But this happens. We wind up thinking less of the people who store their secrets inside of us, who have stories they hoard and even more they hide behind.

We don’t start off thinking less of them, of course. We start off thinking about what more this must say about us! We start off flattered that we are trusted enough to be in on the secret, so flattered that we fail to acknowledge what having a secret says about the person who has it.

So this is how it goes. We go on thinking that carrying another person’s secret only proves our loyalty to them, that it places us in the inner circle, as if knowing more than others means we’re one of the privileged ones—one of the loved ones—but what if it just makes us more aware of how crafty that person can be, how capable they are of hiding a portion of their heart and a segment of their lives? What if being privy to one secret only makes us suspicious that there could be more, many more?

Isn’t that the reason you spoke with your husband’s ex-wife? Because secrets breed suspicion. Because eventually we suspect that secrets also pave the way to lies.

You rushed over that bit in your letter. The part where you realized your husband has lied to you. Why are you minimizing this and emphasizing a deleted Facebook picture? Because you don’t want to believe that some truth is also being kept from you? Because the extent of his deception intimidates you?

Listen, if this were me and I felt trapped in the jaws of this marriage, the mystery surrounding this man would provoke a suffocating degree of misery in me. So much so that as much as I may want to love him, I couldn’t—and I mean it, couldn’t—respect him.

I’m sorry, there’s too much darkness surrounding this all. The fact that he has turned the lights off on you (for three years!) so no one in his world can see that you exist is demeaning, self-serving, sociopathic, disconcerting, amongst many other troubling words.

And don’t get the wrong impression. Do I think there’s something off about you that’s a good enough reason to hide you? No. Look at all the other relationships in your life. Look at the people who have and would step into the world with you and easily introduce you as the person—the sister, the friend, the daughter—that you are to them.

The only thing “wrong” with you is, perhaps, your capacity to not demand more for yourself, your capacity to not stand up and say this is how it’s going to go. At the heart of it, the problem is you aren’t doing enough. You aren’t showing up powerfully. You’re standing by and letting another person call the shots and run the show.

But if you don’t like the show that you’re starring in, you’re going to have to learn how to drop the act and become the director.

Larm Rmah

You’re going to have to learn that the only person who can make anything happen for you is yourself. That’s right, you’ll need to stop depending on others to make you feel seen and worthwhile.

I’m not saying don’t trust that people can live up to their word, I’m just saying don’t wait around for it. You can’t afford to depend on their words if you want life to fulfill you on your watch. If you care about the timing of your life, if when something happens makes a difference to you, then you’ve got to make promises to yourself and you’ve got to follow through on those promises. That’s what a healthy commitment looks like. It looks like you declaring what’s yours and going the distance to make that true. It feels like effort and integrity and persistence and showing up everyday because showing up is what you promised.

My advice is stop waiting for the day when your husband reveals you as his wife. Stop waiting for that moment to make your marriage feel real. Stop waiting for your marriage to begin. It has begun and this is either it or a part of it.

So quit looking at your husband and his honesty as your answer, as your relief. As of now, it seems like he's only been a hindrance to both.

Quit counting on anything outside your control to happen for you, especially not in the way or at the time that you wish.

Rather than a romantic, be a realist in relationships. Be realistic but open to surprise. Let the surprise be the romance.

Find out where you want to go and direct your own ship. If your husband isn’t ready to board, move into those deep, dark waters on your own. Trust me, they will move you right along.

Because. You. Are. Ready.

Stop expecting life to be any different once you reach your destination. Time carries you but it doesn’t change your makeup. Only the effort to change, changes you in time.

Importantly, don’t expect anyone to be different just because they finally do something different. I mean it, this expectation will break your heart. The reality is too many people do things and they do it out of obligation, not because they finally feel like it.

I hear and see this play out all the time. This fantastical idea that women so often have, that once a man finally commits fully, then she’ll finally be fine. She’ll finally feel free of the suspicion and resentment that comes from being loved not completely but almost. It’s this idea that all our heartbreak stems from a man not totally committing to us. And yet, then he does some action that falls under commitment, and the anxiety doesn’t just wash away. How does this upset happen? Why do we think that someone’s going to suddenly start acting present and we’re going to suddenly feel their commitment just because one move we’ve been waiting on has been made?

You see, people think that if actions are made, the feelings will follow. They think that to do something the feelings have to be there. And oh, how I wish that were the case. But so many people don’t operate this way. Again they act out of obligation without being motivated by their own feelings at all, and because they feel trapped in and by that decision, they ultimately hoard their feelings and self-expression because it’s the only thing left that they can control.

This could very well be your husband’s antics once he comes clean about you being his wife. What I’m warning you of is, he might say the magic word but you may not feel it. So the question becomes, what will happen then?

Allef Vinicius

The reality is all you can depend on is knowing what you want out of your relationships and ultimately what you want for yourself. There’s only two ways of knowing this, too, and they go pretty hand in hand. First, you know what you want out of your relationships by experiencing what you can’t bare. And you know what you want for yourself by discovering what no one else will give you. Then, you get really honest about what that looks and feels like. Finally, you either accept what you can’t bare or won’t be given or you let go of the unbearable and give to yourself.

My advice is depend on your own honesty to guide you, even if that honesty crushes you, even if it catches you off guard and begs you to leave your husband.

My advice is let go of his stories. Let go of his excuses and his timelines. None of it makes sense. Clearly, if he was so committed to not breaking his mother’s heart, he never would have eloped with you in the first place. Period. Stop waiting to hear what he has to say for himself and start listening to what you need to say for yourself, for your sanity, for your integrity, for the betterment of your life.

My advice is ask better questions.

Ask yourself whether a marriage needs to be acknowledged by others in order to feel real?

If the answer is no, then give up on the social media posting. The world doesn’t need to know. Go out to dinner with your husband, be his secret, and hold his hand.

If a chill doesn’t run down your spine, if you don’t flinch when he touches you, or ache when he pulls away, then hold him closer and let your love play out one day at a time.

But if a marriage is only as real as its visibility and respect then your husband may need to become your ex.

And in the future, you’ll need to live by the rule that when you say yes, you must be saying yes to what you have, not what you hope to have down the line.

If you let him go, don’t worry, I’m here for you. So many people are.



A Breakup Coach trained and certified in Solution-Focused Life Coaching, Chelsea Leigh Trescott helps her clients turn their sob stories into silver lining breakups. Seeking advice? Send situation and question to for a chance to be featured.

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