6 Terrifying Stories Of A Spouse Hiding A Second Life (From A Divorce Counselor)

Having a second life is more common than you would think in marriages — and carrying on years of deception ends its fair share of otherwise-solid couples. To get some true stories of marital obfuscation, I spoke to a Georgia divorce lawyer to get his expert opinion. In partnership with 20th Century Fox for their upcoming film Gone Girl, here are six harrowing stories of true betrayal.

Trust is the foundation of all strong relationships. Mutual attraction and financial stability are tremendously important, but nothing comes close to trust in ensuring a lasting bond. No matter how skilled at deceit either partner may be, I’ve found in my years of practice that the truth eventually catches up with any couple. And when one partner is revealed to have been lying to the person they claim to love, it is difficult and often impossible to salvage a romance. It’s like architecture—when the foundation is cracked, sometimes the best solution is to raze the building.

I’ve seen several marriages wrecked by mere petty lies. But as crippling and often fatal as basic dishonesty can be to a marriage, it takes on an entirely more catastrophic dimension when your husband or wife is cheating. Even worse, when it’s not mere infidelity but also bigamy—or even polygamy—you’re dealing with someone who is not merely dishonest, they are deceitful to a degree that can only be described as sociopathic. Nearly everyone can be lured into the occasional affair, but bigamists not only attempt to deceive their spouses, they openly deceive the legal system. This is why such cases frequently end up not only in divorce court, but in criminal court.

Here I will detail six specific cases where dishonesty led to pain and, in some cases, tragedy. (Names and identifying details have been changed for legal reasons.)

1. Michael and Jessica

These were clients of mine who met at a sales firm and quickly formed a romantic relationship. Even though Michael’s job as a traveling salesman meant that he’d be gone for weeks at a time, Jessica fell deeply in love with him and trusted him enough that within a year they were married. Over the next seven years they had two children and bought a house in the suburbs. But as their arguments escalated, they came to me for counseling. Then one morning mere weeks after starting therapy with me, Jessica answered the phone while alone at home. On the other end was a woman who claimed to be not only Michael’s wife of sixteen years, but also the mother of three of his children. Jessica hung up the phone and quickly called Michael, who was on the road and denied everything. The next day their savings account, which had nearly a quarter-million dollars in it, was drained of every last cent. Neither Jessica nor Michael’s other wife ever heard from him again.

2. Christopher and Ashley

This is perhaps the saddest case I’ve ever dealt with in all my years of practice. The pair met in a drug-rehab clinic. Christopher persuaded Ashley that not only was he a recovering heroin addict, he was also dying of cancer but had no health insurance. Although she developed romantic feelings for him, according to Ashley the primary reason she married him was to get him on her health-insurance plan at work. After they were married, Christopher claimed to be too sick to work. He even took his charade to such an absurd level that he wouldn’t leave their bed for weeks and depended on her to cook his meals and feed them to him. The stress this placed on their relationship drove Ashley into personal counseling with me. Christopher’s web of lies and alibis unraveled the day that a police officer served him with divorce papers at their home. As it turns out, Christopher wasn’t dying of throat cancer at all; his first wife, whom he’d abandoned to be with Ashley, was the cancer patient. Christopher was merely waiting for her to die so he could collect an insurance settlement. Both women successfully divorced him, and he pleaded guilty to bigamy but only received probation and community service.

3. Matthew and Jennifer

They lived a picture-perfect life in suburban America—two kids, two cars, nice house, white picket fence, shaggy dog, membership at the local church, several community organizations—what could possibly go wrong? Matthew was clean-cut and an obsessively accurate Certified Public Accountant who handled the finances of many of his town’s wealthier clients due to his sterling reputation as a penny-pincher. But when Jennifer started noticing that their personal bills increasingly started coming in with late fees and threats about collection agencies, she discovered that Matthew had been leading a double life—while saving money for others during the day, he was blowing his family’s money at night by gambling, both online and at a local horse track. Luckily they sought counseling in time. They have repaired their marriage and are paying down their debts.

4. Joshua & Amanda

A criminal-defense lawyer, Joshua become romantically entangled with Amanda, his personal secretary. When they got married two years later, she was unaware that the fine print of their prenuptial agreement stipulated that should anything happen to her, Joshua would assume ownership of a country estate Amanda had inherited from her family. After Amanda was rushed to an emergency room complaining of severe nausea and dizziness, physicians determined that someone had attempted to poison her. Police detectives concluded that the “someone” in question was Joshua. Following a long paper trail, they also discovered he’d been romantically involved with another woman for over a decade. After a criminal trial, both Joshua and the other woman were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. Amanda is now happily married to another man.

5. Daniel & Sarah

Daniel was an evangelical preacher who met Sarah at a revival meeting in New Mexico. Their extended courtship lasted more than five years, mostly because he was almost always traveling. Their eventual marriage yielded one son. Unfortunately, this would-be man of God didn’t cover his tracks very well. One night Sarah realized that Daniel hadn’t logged out of his email account. Perusing his messages, she realized to her dismay that he was married to another woman in another state while conducting affairs with several other women. He is now serving a two-year prison sentence for bigamy.

6. Ryan & Amy

Ryan was driven and successful—perhaps a little too much so for the overall health of his marriage. Rare was the week he didn’t work at least 80 hours—40 in his business office, and 40 in his personal office at home. He gave Amy everything she wanted—except for attention. After years of feeling neglected, she got a daytime job as an erotic dancer at a men’s club nearly thirty miles from home—a safe distance, she thought. Her double life came crashing down one day when a friend of Ryan’s caught her act. Ryan was furious and Amy was mortified, but they both sought counseling through me. I’ve only been seeing them for a couple months, but I’m hopeful because they’re meeting each other halfway—he realizes he needs to show her more attention, and she knows that she can never lie to him again if she wants their marriage to work. TC mark

This post is brought to you by 20th Century Fox, for their upcoming film ‘Gone Girl.’

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.