Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Problem Marriages #3–Marriages That Begin in Subterfuge

Susan* had always been agentic, had known from her visit to Cornell that she wanted to and would go there, had known from her initial interview with Price Waterhouse Coopers that she wanted to and would work there–and had known very shortly after meeting Chris that she wanted to and would marry him. Susan, it seemed to me, didn’t believe in vulnerability–even in therapy, it seemed at times–and didn’t believe in not getting what she wanted.

So she put on the full-court press, and within 6 months after her meeting Chris, the parents had been met, a diamond was on her finger, and a wedding date was set. I wanted to talk in therapy about her emotions regarding commitment, about second-guessing, but Susan wore a hard shell, and I often wondered what brought her in to me, since she showed no signs of weakness.

“Oh, just anxieties about all I have to do–and you teach me such good coping techniques,” was how she explained her presence in my office, and while I felt we had made progress there, I also felt I had barely scratched the surface of who Susan was as a person.

As the wedding date approached, Susan seemed uncharacteristically nervous. I tried several ways to access her feelings, but was blocked at every angle.

The wedding was a roaring success, as Susan had tremendous planning skills, and she said the honeymoon was a joy, and she was planning children for the next event when she came into my office uncharacteristically shaken.

“My husband says he hardly knows me,” she told me. “He says he wants to talk more intimately, to spend time opening up to each other. Maybe even in session if we don’t succeed any other way.” And the polished Susan burst out in tears.


I’ve found that sometimes, the best way to the heart of an issue is silence on my part, and that did elicit what should have come so long before. Susan had been date-raped at Cornell, and had conceived. She had never thought for a moment that she should keep the child, and she was able to arrange for an abortion–and for recovery–so quickly that she lost no time in school. She had never spoken about it to anyone.

“But you did to Chris, certainly,” I half-asked, half-stated.

She looked appalled. “Never,” she vowed to me, in nearly a whisper. “Never, Candida, and I mean it.”

Lest you think Susan stands alone, think of secrets you can imagine having yourself.  What if you had been quite obese and had had gastric bypass surgery. Now with a handsome figure, you never planned to tell your fiance about past struggles with weight.   Maybe you’ve been married before, briefly and never plan to mention it to your spouse to-be.  Maybe you’d be honest about one marriage. but what it you’d had two mistakes?  Would you be too scared about scaring off future lovers to reveal both?

I firmly believe that if you carry a secret–a major one–that you’re not willing to share with your spouse-to-be, this is what you’re saying: “If ‘X’ really knew who I was, s/he would never marry me.” You’re saying with your actions that your partner wouldn’t value you if they knew the truth about you.

And I think we can all see, pretty clearly, that entering into a contract in which you only feel accepted if you lie about your true self can yield serious problems down the road, including, of course, the threat that you can be found out.

So if you ever want to leave this marriage, and are debating whether you should go or stay, you’re going to have to think long and hard about how you will make things different in another relationship, or if you’re even capable of that [see question #3 in first post on this topic.].

You can look at my posts on secrecy to help you consider some of the problems created by keeping secrets from those you love, especially at the start of a new relationship–or, alternatively, you can just think about it for a little bit.


**As with all characters in my blog posts, there is no real Susan or Chris, whose names have been changed to protect their privacy.  They are teaching characters, composed of bits and pieces from real life humans plus details from my imagination which make the story more interesting and, hopefully, instructive.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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