Dear Dr. Archer,
My wife reconnected with a guy she had previously been married to. She found him online recently and they have talked over the phone many times about their old times together. They live in two different countries.
I recently learned about this and confronted her. My wife did not realize I knew about her previous marriage so she was shocked. But it gets worse, in fact. I just learned that she had even never been legally divorced from her first husband!
What do I do now? Should she simply forget her first marriage? Confront her with this newly-found knowledge? My wife is often hostile to me, although we currently have a considerable amount of love for each other.
Some other details I think you should know are, despite them living in different countries, my wife and her "ex" plan to see each other soon, which is causing incredible stress for me.
I have a recording of the conversation that shows they had, in fact, married when they were seeing each other over twenty years ago without their parents' knowledge. However, from what I gather, their marriage lasted only a short period.
My wife does not know anything about this audio recording discussing their marriage. I think that by revealing knowledge of her first marriage it would bring about the end of my marriage, and frankly, I'm not mentally strong enough or prepared to call it quits.
What I did was confront her about her contact with him; I told her I found out through their emails. I did not tell her everything I told you.
We have two daughters; one is going away to college; the other is in high school. Her "ex" is also married, and has one daughter who is in high school.
My question is this: should I tell my wife about the audio recording to make her feel guilty and then just get on with our life as it is? Or, should I just remain silent about the recording?
I'd like to get some advice to the best of your ability -- legal or psychological. Thank you so much.
I am no attorney, but I do know that bigamy is illegal not only in the United States, but in many other countries, as well. In these cases, generally it is the first marriage that is considered legitimate, any other marriage is considered invalid. The moment you found out your wife's first marriage never ended in a legitimate divorce, your marital status changed.
There is nothing you can do in terms of this, it is up to your wife; she can make your marriage valid by divorcing her first husband. You cannot do this -- in the law's eyes this is not your matter. It is strictly up to your wife.
So, Jeff, what you both need NOW is an experienced family lawyer. For you to understand your options and for her, if she wants to go through a divorce, to make your marriage legal.
Now that you know she is still married there's no turning back. If you want to continue this marriage, you must speak up. If she gets angry, she gets angry. This is very serious, as it is a felony which carries jail time.
If they plan on seeing each other soon, she could have the divorce papers ready and waiting, and they could be signed when they meet. Also depending on the state, you may have some liability here now that you know what’s going on.
As for the psychological side of things, I don't even want to know the circumstances as to why you were recording your wife's personal conversation, but that could involve federal wiretapping laws.
You're in a mess, Jeff. You're afraid of your wife becoming angry and possibly ending your marriage, but the fact remains that in the eyes of the law, you are not married at all, so there's nothing to end.
I wouldn't expect her to feel guilty once the issue of audio recordings come out. She may become hostile, but you now know the facts; unless this is rectified, the two of you will continue to simply cohabitate.
So my advice is to see an attorney, learn your options and then you must talk with her. I suggest marriage counseling if you are concerned about talking to her on your own about such an important issue. I'm a firm believer in picking your arguments.
Sometimes we can let things slide, but this is not one of those times. This is a very important matter, Jeff, and must be rectified. Good luck.