The Secret Marriage
April 24, 2010 7:11 PM   Subscribe

Two years ago I entered into a marriage of convenience for health insurance. But the person I married was my live-in boyfriend -- someone I already loved and was committed to. He was the one who asked me. It's just that neither of us really wanted to go all the way and be husband and wife. We both come from broken homes and are very cynical about marriage. We thought we could have our cake and eat it too. Now things have changed.

I am ready to be "out" and he's not. We didn't even tell anyone we'd eloped, but eventually his family found out because they know someone in the county recorder's office who mentioned it. Then I told my family. Aside from my best friend, none of our friends know.

We separated briefly over the summer so we could both work on some of our personal issues (mainly involving being overly dependent on each other for things we should've handled on our own). We both grew a lot during this time and things are more balanced in our relationship. During the separation, I realized how much I loved him and that I was ready to be his wife in the eyes of everyone else.

He now says he didn't think the marriage through and doesn't want to be married because he doesn't like marriage itself, but still loves me. He thinks I'm letting society's expectations of marriage influence me. I asked him if he wanted a divorce and to just go back to living together -- which I don't want. He said he didn't know. He hasn't been pressuring me for a divorce and seems to want to keep it the way it is -- where we can have all the conveniences of marriage but not be publicly married.

There are other issues going on in our relationship that bother me. He's a much less affectionate person than I am and he's not very verbally expressive. He seems like he doesn't know himself very well in some ways and struggles to express his feelings.

I asked him if he would consider couples counseling and he said yes. My personal therapist recommended we try Emotionally Focused Therapy. I'm wondering if any MeFites have tried this and how it worked, if it worked. I'm leery of couples counseling because I've heard it can make things worse, but I don't want to give up on this relationship without knowing we tried to make it work.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't put a lot of stock in most types of talk therapy outside of cognitive behavioral therapy and it's variants. I've found dialectical behavioral therapy to be the most successful for me.

Other styles that I've tried have been harmful, or ineffective.
posted by fnerg at 7:17 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Couples therapy can of course make things worse, because it forces you to confront some hard things that you as a couple you are likely avoiding. But going through hard things together can make you closer, which is the goal. I'd really recommend this book I have seen posted on here before. It is all about the counseling process and the need to take risks in a relationship to help it grow.
posted by carpographer at 7:23 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hmm. It sounds like your husband needs to figure out what he wants to do — whether he wants to continue sharing his life with you, and if so, what that will be like. You know what you want, and you seem prepared to take any reasonable steps you need to in order to get it.

I'd consider asking him to go to counselling by himself at first, to help him decide what he wants. When he reaches that point, the two of you can proceed from there.

But honestly.... I'm hearing a bell toll when I read your question. Your situation is unusual, but this has all the hallmarks of a man who has been going with the flow without really being committed to being with you, and who now is having difficulty telling you the painful truth and taking definitive steps towards ending your relationship. I could be wrong, of course, and it could be worth giving your husband the space to get his ducks in a row. Again, this situation is unusual.

Best wishes to you, however this turns out.
posted by orange swan at 7:27 PM on April 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

Who was the one who got the health insurance?

He thinks I'm letting society's expectations of marriage influence me.

Actually sounds like the other way around to me. He doesn't want people to know because then he will think be pressured by society to have certain responsibilities towards you. I wonder what he thinks those things are, I think it would be telling.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:52 PM on April 24, 2010 [38 favorites]

Ashley801 has put it exactly right. You guys should go see a couple's counselor. Maybe that might help.
posted by anniecat at 7:58 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Couples counseling really helped me. Find someone you both like. Compared to other things my friends have addressed through counseling (e.g., different desires around having kids), this difference over whether or not you're public with your married status seems eminently solvable. I suppose it could turn up other weaknesses in your relationship, but it could also help solve them. Knowing that you're on a path to fixing them could give you the hope and patience you need to stay while he gets to know himself better. I suppose alternatively, it could turn up an unsolvable problem, but it'd be better to know that now, right? And since as you point out, the alternative to addressing this current problem is "giving up on the relationship," how would finding some problem that truly couldn't be fixed be any worse? At least then you'd know. But more likely, you'd find a way to get through it, particularly if you are both interested in changing and growing, and if you find a therapist that you like and respect and whose style works for you.
posted by salvia at 8:14 PM on April 24, 2010

P.S. My guess for what his issue is specifically is that he doesn't want to be seen as having promised to be with you forever. He may want to be with you right now, so he doesn't want to get a divorce right now or break up, etc. But he doesn't want to be held to that as a promise.

That's just my guess.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:28 PM on April 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

Check out Marriage Clinic by Gottman.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:39 PM on April 24, 2010

I don't have a comment about your particular situation, but EFT is highly supported by existing efficacy research (and it's one of the highly regarded evidence-based therapies named by the American Psychological Association), and it has definitely been shown to be productive for a good number of couples.

I don't really think that anecdotal opinions are all that helpful regarding the efficacy of therapy modalities (particularly of the "everything is dangerous except for the one thing that worked for me" variety, because things like DBT and CBT are simply not clinically appropriate for some people--and if the person giving this recommendation were qualified to make a judgment like that, s/he would recognize that fact), because therapy is not the same for everyone, because people are individual and have individual ways of thinking/feeling/acting. I'm saying this because I think it's very important that you consider that some opinions are not informed opinions, and could actually be quite unhelpful and/or dangerous themselves, without meaning to be.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:22 PM on April 24, 2010 [8 favorites]

Here's my question; legally, he's already on the hook by being married, so that shouldn't make a difference to him as far as "going public." You didn't mention exclusivity, but it doesn't sound like either of you have pursued other relationships or expressed an interest in doing so.

So what exactly is gained by the secrecy, for him? If he's not looking elsewhere, why couldn't he just acknowledge his already-existing status? And if he doesn't want to be married, then why doesn't he want to get divorced?

That is the key question to me. If he hasn't cheated, and he isn't in the closet, and you've already been together for a long time, and you're already legally bound, and there are no real repercussions in acknowledging your marriage, then keeping this non-secret a "secret" is just strange.

The only other thing I can think of is that he is paralyzed by inertia, but even that seems odd, because you're not asking him to do much of anything that he hasn't already done.

So yes, counseling, definitely; he needs to tell you, specifically, why he doesn't want to go public. Until he does that, none of his actions make any sense.

I have to say--the whole thing would make me feel insecure and weird, especially the bit where he's turning it back around on you to say you are the one afraid of society's expectations! When, in fact, he is the one who's afraid to be open about a life he shows no sign of being ready to leave.
posted by emjaybee at 10:04 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

seconding Gottman. he has some interesting research on what makes marriages work and such. there are some trade books he's written that are good that I've recommended to clients before (the seven principles for making marriage work).
posted by gilsonal at 10:10 PM on April 24, 2010

fnerg: "Other styles that I've tried have been harmful, or ineffective."

Just because it doesn't work for you doesn't mean it won't work for someone else. I tried the controversial EMDR and it worked great for me.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:05 PM on April 24, 2010

The word "married" carries a lot of baggage, witness the ongoing culture war over gay marriage. It is completely understandable to me that someone would be very uninterested in attaching all that baggage to a relationship they like and is going well. Especially when you take into account all of the media cues about how "Marriage changes everything." He's already made the commitment to you, and he doesn't want to break that commitment. Both of you had previously expressed concern over getting married and what that means. It's not unreasonable that he's still thinking those same things. If this is truly important to you, you're going to have to sit down and talk through what you would gain and what you would lose by publicly identifying as married. Talk about your fears about continuing as you are now and his fears about change. Part of it may be that he doesn't know how to deal with making a secret public. From your question, it's not clear if you understand and sympathize with his reasons for not liking marriage.

I also don't think you're being overly clear about why you want to come public with it, at least in your question. If you're not being clear with him, it just sounds like going back on this thing that you worked out and now suddenly you want a change. You're clearly not his dirty little secret, since you're living together and publicly together. So, what would you gain from using the word "husband"? Why does it matter how other people are perceiving you? From your question, this does seem to be all about other people and their perceptions. Really investigate with yourself why that's important to you. If it's crucial to your happiness in this relationship, that's worrisome. Your relationship happens between the two of you.

If after having a serious heart to heart you can't reach a common ground, it's time to see a counselor.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:20 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe it would help to deconstruct what each of you mean by "marriage".

Clearly you already have a legal marriage. Then there's also the cultural aspect of being married, where you have a ceremony in front of your family and friends and ask them to recognise the importance of your relationship. It sounds like this is the part that you would like! Then there's the private personal side of it, with the commitment and the promises. (Well, and the religious side of it, but I guess that's not relevant to you).

From my point of view, with only the legal marriage in place and not the other parts, you are really not very married at all. You just have a legal contract that the government likes to give out when people get married. If you were to tell people that you were married, when you have not made any personal commitment to one another, that would seem almost untruthful to me.

Therefore, as I see it, your choice is not whether to publicise your legal marriage. Your choice is whether to marry at all: whether to make a commitment, and whether/how to involve your family and friends in celebrating and recognising it. This choice is just as major and important as anyone else deciding whether and why to marry. Lucky for you, if you do marry you won't have to visit the register office on the way!
posted by emilyw at 2:13 AM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

His family knows. Your family knows. Your best friend knows. I'm sure you don't lie on forms and applications, since the original intention was to gain the legal benefits of marriage.

Really, you practically are publicly married. Only friends and acquaintances sound as if they're excluded from the knowledge.

Is there some reason he would not want to acknowledge your status with his friends? Or would not want you to do the same with yours? He can be cynical about marriage all he likes, but he's already done it. You need to examine why being "out" is important to you; he needs to do likewise about being secret is important to him. Therapy separately or combined may help.
posted by asciident at 2:26 AM on April 25, 2010

From your question, this does seem to be all about other people and their perceptions. Really investigate with yourself why that's important to you. If it's crucial to your happiness in this relationship, that's worrisome. Your relationship happens between the two of you.

This sentiment is symptomatic of the individualism and atomism that dominates our way of thinking in the West. But I think it's mistaken. Other people and their perceptions are important for the simple reason that people are important to our happiness. How others see us matters, and it should matter, because we're social beings who tend to be happy when we're in harmony with others. I don't think there's anything wrong with desiring marriage purely because of the social--rather than legal--functions it serves. The social functions of marriage are about publicly declaring your commitment, responsibility, and duty toward your partner. Marriage is about participating in a shared cultural narrative, and I don't see why it's wrong to desire that. This is what it seems like the OP wants. Her boyfriend/husband doesn't, for whatever reason.
posted by smorange at 8:16 AM on April 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

To be honest, your post strikes me as disingenuous, and I think many of the respondents here are missing some key points.

Let me recap: You love each other, and you got married for legal reasons. His family found out by accident, and you told your family and a close friend. Now you want to tell other people.

What's confusing me is what exactly you want to tell them. That you and your partner got married for health insurance reasons?

I think it's disingenuous to characterize your goal as "coming out " -- what you are actually aiming to do is change the terms of your relationship.

You are: in love, living with your partner, and married for insurance reasons. You want to be: in love, living with your partner, and married for romantic reasons. That's a change. It's a change you could make just by the two of you agreeing to it, but it sounds like your partner doesn't want to do that.

I'd be curious to know what you told your family and your friend. Because to me, "marriage for insurance purposes" is quite different from "elopement." It's possible you're confused or unclear about your actual situation. It's also possible that you're hoping to pressure your partner into a more serious emotional commitment than he's willing to make, by pretending to yourself and others that he's already done it.

Anyway, yes to couples therapy. You're right to worry it may just accelerate your progress towards breaking up. But that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world: your current situation sounds pretty uncomfortable for you both.
posted by Susan PG at 7:06 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

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