Should You Lie About Past Marriages?

Hi Evan,

I have an unusual situation. I am divorced after a 15-year marriage and dating someone about 5 months now. It is starting to get serious. This guy knows a lot about me including a 6-year marriage prior to the recent long one. What he doesn’t know is that briefly, as a teenager, I was married for 6 months. It ended in divorce and religious annulment. My therapist tells me I need not disclose this information, but I kinda feel like I am being dishonest. The relationship was so long ago and I never discuss it. But it happened. Should I wait until things get more serious or should I have already fessed up?

LJDear LJ,

Your situation isn’t all that unusual. While the subject about which you’re lying happens to be a brief, distant marriage, it may as well be ANYTHING.


Just name your past skeleton and insert it into this sentence:

(              ) was so long ago and I never discuss it, but it happened.

So the real question is… whether one has the right to keep ANYTHING to oneself in a relationship.

The felony…

The strip club gig…

The lithium…

The adoption…

The homosexual phase…

So the real question isn’t whether one should lie about past marriages, LJ. It’s really whether one has the right to keep ANYTHING to oneself in a relationship.

And I think you’ll find that this is a perfect case of different strokes for different folks.

If I’m going to play philosopher, however, I think we need to parse these old skeletons and come to some conclusion about what it’s fair to hide, and when, if ever, you should confess your past sins.

I’m just going to come out and say it: if it doesn’t directly impact your partner RIGHT NOW, you have every right to keep it a secret.

If you don’t know whether your secret would impact your partner, flip the whole situation over. Would you want to know…?

And no, your first marriage does NOT impact your relationship whatsoever.

But there ARE things that DO matter to a partner:

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Credit Card Debt

The aforementioned homosexual phase and drug/alcohol/depression issues.

And if you don’t know whether your secret would impact your partner, flip the whole situation over. Would you want to know if your future husband was an alcoholic, or has genital herpes, or has fought anxiety, on and off, for 10 years?

I think you would.

So if we’ve established that the criteria for telling a secret is the secret’s ability to impact a relationship in the future, the question remains: when do you say something?

That’s a little trickier.

If it’s a health thing, like STD’s, you have to come clean right away.

But if it’s something that is deep in your past, doesn’t impact you today, but is something you would want to know about your partner, I’d hold onto it until you’re sure that the confession would not impact the relationship.

If it’s something that is deep in your past… I’d hold onto it until you’re sure that the confession would not impact the relationship.

I told my wife about my past anxiety within the first 2 months. She didn’t tell me about her credit card debt until 9 months in. She thought I’d be judgmental, and she was right. But I also loved her, and wasn’t going to give up the relationship because of poor fiscal decision-making. It was just another challenge we’d have to tackle together.

Anyway, while I admire your conscience, LJ, I frankly think you’re making too big a deal out of this.

The guy already knows you’re twice-divorced and you think he’s going to flip out that there was a third time, back in the early 70’s?


If that ancient tidbit manages to break up your relationship, let’s face it: it wasn’t a very strong relationship to begin with.

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  1. 31

    I think dismayed has his or her own agenda regarding previous sexual activity and shoehorned it into these comments.
    i don’t know how many sexual partners my boyfriend has had, it could be none given that he was brought up in a strict Christian home and came to dating late. He hasn’t told me and I don,t ask.  It may come out later, or not. I don,t need to know except to satisfy my curiosity.  i found that doesn’t justify my asking. 
    He knows I,ve had previous sexual partners but I haven,t sat him down, disclosed how many, who they are, and what we did. Does anyone actually do that?  I,m not a liar, i,m not an angry person, i don,t feel dirty, i don,t view people as sluts so i wouldn,t see myself that way. I just don,t think it,s a helpful topic especially when i,ve been celibate over five years. it really is in the past! Mind you when I was having sex it didn,t come up then either. 
    I did get a clean sexual health screen a while ago though and not had sex since. That would be relevant.
    i,m not sure dismayed is talking about no. of partners , he or she sounds too mad. Sounds like something way out there that I daren’t ,t even speculate upon. If it really is just no. of partners, cut yourself a break and get over it. People have pasts, they make mistakes, so do you; and you,re not a priest taking confession. The pupose of which is forgiveness anyway.
    if they really did something terrible you still have to move on. Future partners cannot pay for the sins of former partners. You won,t get a good relationship from dumping your baggage on them. And more importantly, is this worth your peace of mind?

  2. 32

    Its dangerous tell everything to a guy. Unless its relevant its ok to not tell all. People can use information against you when things go wrong

  3. 33

    You could just mention it.  Imagine the embarrassment if you ran into him.  And your new boyfriend didn’t know about a past marriage.
    You were a teenager.  Just say it casually but make sure you say it.
    Otherwise, if someone else mentions it casually, he’ll think you’re a liar.  This isn’t necessarily true about you, but it isn’t that honest either.

  4. 34

    I just don’t understand why a therapist would tell someone not to disclose a past marriage in a new relationship? Why would the therapist think this as irrelevant. I’ve been in a serious  committed relationship for 2 years. In fact we’ve been engaged since January of 2013 and set 2 wedding dates but, Kevin keeps changing the date. He has a 27 year old son with a mild form of mental retardation although he’s never been diagnosed as such. Shortly after I met his son I asked Kevin why he & his ex divorced and he said they were never married. (They married after she became pregnant from a 1 night stand, this much, he’s shared with me). They only lived together for 4 years then the relationship fizzled and he moved out. I’ve found clear evidence that they were in fact, married and I’ve asked him about it, while not disclosing that I know, hoping he’d open up & talk about it & say “yeah, we were married blah, blah, blah” but he just will not talk about it. Lying by omission is unacceptable. 

  5. 35

    i have met men in the past who have lied about their marital history/age when asked, they turned out to be narcissists or sociopaths….lying about age, marital history during dating is a BIG RED FLAG, which must be taken seriously. avoid such people at all costs so you can protect yourself from future mental abuse they will put you through. no respectful honest individual lie about themselves. if they lie now, they WILL lie later, and always!

  6. 36

    My OLD profile  said divorced.  There is no drop down box for “how many times”.  When I told men I dated that I was married for 23 years they assume it’s was  my only marriage.  If they ASK if it was my only marriage I tell them that it was my 2nd.  If they don’t ask, I don’t tell.  A brief, one year, no kids marriage.  There’s really no reason to voluntarily disclose this.  It’s irrelevant.

  7. 37
    James dunn

    I have been married for 14 years and just found out that my wife was actually married to someone she had told me was just her roommate I’m only upset because I had proof in my hand showing it to her and she looked me in my eyes for 2 days after I showed her I knew the truth but now I can’t help but to think she still has feelings for him she lies and tells me she is on her period so she doesn’t have to have sex with me I just feel she was hiding him because she would rather be with him but he cheated on her and she is not the type to be with a cheater I’m having trouble putting this behind me I can’t get it out of my head it’s been 4 months and she has never really even really apologized for the lie we had the perfect relationship then I found out she was a liver I have never lied to her I have never cheated I have only loved her and now everything I thought we had blew out the window

  8. 38

    I’ve been married twice … once at 20 years old for 4 years which I talk openly about with new bf’s as both my children are from that marriage … but was married again when I was 32 for 4 years again.  My second husband started gambling, doing crack cocaine, hiring prostitutes, faking illness so he could steal from insurance companies, etc. after he lost his job 3 years.  At the end .. he had to take a wack of medication that was being monitored (in his blood) in order to keep them money coming in so he went absolutely NUTS!  So in desperation to save my self and my children, I had no choice but to leave.  But I left no stone unturned.  I gave it everything I had and was heartbroken when I had to finally admit defeat.  I used to tell new bf’s about the second one but found it pointless.  We had no children together, we have never spoken since our divorce 10 years ago, and have zero contact.  It’s like it didn’t happen but .. it did.  In any case, I have stopped brining it up when I date and felt a bit bad about that.  Like I was being dishonest.  If I was ever to get get serious with a partner as in .. to the point of living together or marriage, I likely would tell them … but I see no point in doing that until then.  It makes absolutely no difference in our relationship now or going forward.   I also feel I had zero control over what happened.  I basically watched my ex slowly kill himself.  I’ve never spoken to anyone about my decision to not bring it up in dating situations but am glad the question was asked .. and even more pleased with Evan’s response.

  9. 39

    I knew my husband was married before. But after his niece died I found multiple wedding pictures with my husband with different women. He was married 4 times before me! Did that bother me? Damn straight it did. I don’t know if I want to be married to him anymore.  I loathe liars.  Finding out about the mental health issues in his family and the two times he was in rehab were just icing on the cake. Counseling starts on Friday.

  10. 40
    James dunn

    Me and my wife have been married for twelve years I knew she had been married once before but recently found out about two other marriages she had she admitted to one of them but denied the other one i just don’t understand why she would not admit to both at the same time her lie makes me think she is not over him she only gets fighting mad when i bring it up and she will not talk about it she says he was nothing but I know they bought a duplex together so he had to mean something our relationship isn’t what I thought i keep nothing from her

  11. 41

    I accidentally ran across info on the internet that indicated that I was my husband’s FOURTH wife, not third, like he told me. I feel hurt, angry and deceived. He states he was not honest, because I wouldn’t have dated him, had he been honest. Probably not, but lying makes me feel like I was fooled into staying with him.

  12. 42

    Although it’s not that serious, I think she should just tell him about it. It’s a silly thing to lie about/omit and it could potentially cause more problems if it somehow accidentally comes out in the future over a family dinner or via slip of the tongue or something else like that.

    It would make me consider that if she chose to lie about something so insignificant, that she could be lying about other things as well.

  13. 43

    I had the same issue with my fiancé.  He told me he had been married twice, but I found out from his son that he was married a third time.  I don’t understand since he had been candid about not only his marriages to the two ex wives I’d been aware of, but also about other ex girlfriends that he’d had long term live-in relationships.  When I’d told him about my knowledge of the third wife, including her name, he said it was too painful to talk about and he’d put it out of his mind.  Now I wonder what else I don’t know.

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