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Shrink Wrap: A boyfriend with two identities?

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Helpless in San Diego writes:

I just found out that my boyfriend has an extra cell phone, email, and porn.

I first noticed him acting strange over two years ago. I later found out he was hiding tons of porn and swinger material. He's very secretive and always acts like he has to go get something out of his truck.

I also found a photo of a nude couple in his coat pocket, and they were looking for a man to join them in sex. He no longer sleeps in the same bed with me, he brings his phone with him everywhere, and he even removed our photo out of his wallet.

Help! What do I do?

Dear Helpless in San Diego,

It sounds like your boyfriend has a bad track record of secretive behaviors and hiding things from you. Your red-flag alarm that is going off is accurate and should be listened to. Don't over look this any more or make up excuses.

Better yet, his excuses or defensiveness can no longer be okay. He obviously has some behaviors that he is not fully disclosing to you, which then has you feeling insecure in the relationship.

All of his behaviors are screaming that he is either having a problem with out-of-control sexual behaviors or having an affair. I see these issues over and over in my therapy practice and the relationship needs to have a big turn-around to make it salvageable.

You now have to make a few decisions to make:

1. Decide whether you are open to working on the relationship. His behaviors are RED FLAGS. You need to be very aware of what exactly is going on to really evaluate if you want to stay or go. How much is he putting you at risk? What type of sexual acts is he involved in? That being said, he may not tell you the entire truth. Most people who have these types of behaviors often only share a small part of the entire truth. You need to be fully educated on the ins-and-outs of rebuilding trust. Seek counseling to get an expert on this arena.

2. You MUST address the issue! If you still want the relationship (with or without the full information), you will need to address this issue straight on. In order to stop the trust issue, you need a very detailed list of things he needs to do for you to even consider staying and rebuilding trust. What behaviors would you need to see that would help you feel safe? Would you need to see him wearing his wedding ring? Get rid of his cell phone and show you all his emails? Maybe see a therapist, attend Sex Addicts Annonymous (if he is addicted)? How about changing jobs? Write a list of what you need to know, see, hear, etc. If he loves you, he will do what it takes to save the relationship.

3. The secrets must stop: All of his secretive behaviors will need to stop, plain and simple. He will need to jump through any and all hoops to rebuild your trust. Once again, I suggest meeting with a trained therapist to explore exactly what you need to see to even consider rebuilding trust and seeking help for him.

4. Prepare for the worst: I hate to say it, but you may need to prepare for the worst, as well. He may be struggling with something bigger and darker than you could imagine. If you don't know in detail exactly what he is involved in, you may never fully feel comfortable. Most of my clients say they need to know EVERYTHING in order to even consider staying in the relationship. Some may not want to know all, because it hurts too much. This is for you to figure out -- the depths of information you require -- but then recognize you may not ever get to know the full truth. He may be fearful of sharing all the dark dark secrets and may not be able to do it. Or he may be ashamed of his behaviors or afraid of losing you. Better yet, he may be on his way out of the relationship. Prepare for the worst to protect your heart.

5. Take care of YOU: Remember, you probably have a blender full of emotions and may be feeling anxious, devastated, overwhelmed, angered, saddened, depressed, etc. Make sure to seek out support to help you sort through it all. I like to call this as "chaotic fog time," where your mind is all jumbled up. Reach for friends and family for support. Write your thoughts down to sort through them. Your heart may ache and will need some healing.

Please know that my heart aches for you. Hang in there and good luck.

Jennine Estes is a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego with a private practice in Mission Valley. She has appeared as a Relationship Expert in Redbook Magazine, Martha Stewart Publications – Whole Living Magazine, Social Work Today Magazine, San Diego local news stations, and more. To learn more relationship advice from the author Jennine Estes MFC#47653, visit her relationship column Relationships in the Raw or her new San Diego Couples Therapy website.