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My husband doesn’t know I have lesbian lovers

Q: I am a happily married woman with a beautiful home and a successful career. I am a closet bisexual. I have met more than two dozen women through online connections and have had torrid, intimate sex with them.I still enjoy my husband sexually, but I fulfill another part of myself with people who are strangers rather than steady, ongoing lovers. I can't seem to stop my behavior. If this situation

Q: I am a happily married woman with a beautiful home and a successful career. I am a closet bisexual. I have met more than two dozen women through online connections and have had torrid, intimate sex with them.

I still enjoy my husband sexually, but I fulfill another part of myself with people who are strangers rather than steady, ongoing lovers. I can't seem to stop my behavior. If this situation was reversed, and my husband was doing this behind my back, I would be repulsed. My behavior causes me guilt and shame. I know it would cost me my marriage, if I were to reveal my secret life. Where can I turn for help?

A: On the surface, it sounds as though you are keeping a secret from your husband. Actually, you are keeping a secret from yourself.

When you say you cannot stop your behavior, you are referring not to a physical addiction, like a craving for nicotine, but rather to a psychological need that you are not even aware of. Some unconscious element is driving you to such extremes. Sex with two dozen anonymous people sounds compulsive to me. You are suffering from some suppressed conflict that manifests itself through this secret life.

One possibility is that you are homosexual, not bisexual as you say.

You might feel that — for cultural, familial or religious reasons — it is not okay to be gay. The solution, it seems, is to marry and live as a heterosexual. If you don’t live in a big city, it might be hard to present yourself as openly gay, especially if you want to have children.

Another possibility is that you have tremendous difficulty with true intimacy, so you fill the void by having sex with strangers. You describe this sex as torrid and intimate. Torrid it may be, but there is nothing intimate about it. These are fleeting relationships with women you don’t even know and you will never see again.

This makes me question whether you do, in fact, enjoy your husband sexually and whether you really are happily married.

Infidelity is infidelity, no matter who — male or female — you are cheating with. Cheating always creates emotional distance. This makes me wonder whether your husband knows that something is “off” about your relationship, but is afraid to confront you. When people keep a secret life, it is not unusual for someone to be enabling them.

Maybe this is an attempt to destroy your marriage, even though you don’t realize it. Or you have some need for serial sexual conquest that indicates an intense craving for power or control. I would also caution that you are putting both yourself and your husband at risk for disease.

Clearly, the secret life isn’t working for you if it causes such guilt and shame. Those feelings will probably worsen over time. Ultimately, you are the one who has to live with yourself and your conscience.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: When a secret is so big it expands to being a whole secret life — one that plagues you with negative emotions — you likely will need professional help to uncover the secret you are keeping from yourself.

left/msnbc/Components/Photos/060406/060406_anatomy_vmed_2p.jpg2658100000left#000000http://msnbcmedia.msn.com1PfalsefalseDr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts," which helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.