Characteristics of People Who Lead a Double Life

Having a double life brings consequences; from mistrust to a fall in personal image. Why does this happen? How to recognize it? Let's see.
Characteristics of People Who Lead a Double Life
Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 02 March, 2023

People with a double life are those who have a second family or another relationship without anyone suspecting it. This is a phenomenon that’s linked to emotional immaturity, lack of affection, and low self-esteem. But what are the consequences?

The truth of the matter is that discovering this type of situation brings with it many doubts in those involved. “Don’t I already have everything I need to be happy?”, “Didn’t I do enough?” However, there are several elements involved, and we’ll take a look at them in this article.

What does it mean to have a double life?

We can think of the idea of a double life with an image that on the front is one thing, but on the back, another. It’s kind of like the two sides of a coin.

While it’s commonly associated with relationships and infidelity, we must also consider behaviors linked to problematic consumption, addictions, or illegal activities.

For example, people who claim to be working late but are actually at the casino are living double lives. The same goes for those who claim to get their salary by doing certain work, which then turns out to be an illicit business.

Remember the series Breaking Bad? The main character could be a perfect sample of a person with a double life.

Why does a person decide to live a double life?

Trying to find a cause or a simple checklist of causes for this phenomenon doesn’tmake much sense, since it is omitting the weight that particular experiences have in a person’s biography. However, based on this clarification, the following reasons are usually mentioned.

Hay muchas causas para que las personas tengan doble vida
Many situations that occur at any time in life and aspects of the person’s personality influence having a double life.

Personal crises

Many affairs or problematic activities (such as a gambling addiction) often go hand-in-hand with personal or life crises in which it’s necessary to escape in order to forget. In other words, it’s due to a lack of more adequate resources for coping with conflicts.

Sensation seeking

As a counterpart to the previous point, the search for sensations or adrenaline also motivates people with a double life. In fact, since this is something that involves some risk, many take it as a way to regain self-confidence or the feeling of an “all-powerful self”.


When it occurs in relationships, a double life is also associated with desire. Commitment involves positively and proactively choosing to be with another person, but that doesn’t mean we stop being attracted to other people.

Communication problems in person with double lives

Having difficulties with communication, the inability to set boundaries, and responding to more impulsive patterns of behavior without having an eye on future consequences are very common in this type of person.

Meanwhile, when it comes to those around them, there’s also a tendency to ignore the signs. Ever heard of someone leaving obvious clues to be found out about infidelity? This may very well be an inability to truly admit to one’s sense of what’s going on.

Previous relationship models

The partner and relationship models that a person knows and has had as references also play an influence. Of course, this does not mean that people whose parents have been unfaithful are “condemned” to repeat the same thing.

It’s only a piece of the puzzle that can be taken into account to explore precisely what values or relationship models they might have internalized.

Characteristics of people with a double life

Regarding the characteristics, we must be very careful with generalizations and with the identikit. Most of the time it’s in the uniqueness of the persons and their relationships that explain the reasons. However, we can mention a few characteristics:

  • They appear unable to make a decision regarding their feelings or to recognize what is happening to them and take charge of it. Therefore, they usually opt for this double life, which functions as a means to escape what’s really happening in the foreground.
  • They’re unable to exercise emotional responsibility, which implies recognizing that their own actions have consequences on others.
  • On the other hand, the more permanent the double life is, the more emotionally cold and distant they become. Thus, they begin to live in a kind of dissociation, as empathy, ethics, and even their own self-care become numb. It’s like a loss of registration of what’s being done and, because of this, they’re able to move on. They might even convince themselves that what they’re doing isn’t really a big deal.

However, in these cases, the simple rules may not always be true. They may be numb on an emotional level by doing certain activities, but it’s also possible that, upon returning home, some people may be more loving, articulate, and even seem more positive and engaged.

After all, we’ve all been surprised by “that husband who was the most exemplary of all, took care of his home, took care of his children, was loving… and also had a another hidden family.”

The consequences of a double life

Las personas con doble vida afectan a los demás
The conflicts of having a double life are not only personal but can really affect the loved ones of those involved.

We can recognize two main consequences of this behavior. The loss of trust in the bond, which can even transcend the couple’s sphere, has serious repercussions on the image that the family has of that person. It also seriously affects the quality of their relationships. Let’s take a closer look.

Mistrust: A complete loss of trust

One time, for a while, or permanently… no matter how often an infidelity has occurred, the impact and devastating effect it has on trust is the same.

Doubt has a “tide-like” effect on the other aspects of the relationship, and even in other areas of life. “I don’t recognize you”, and “I don’t know who I was with these years” are some of the phrases they may hear from their partners.

It doesn’t only affect the partner

A priori, it might be easy to think that after discovering the person leading the double life, the couple breaks up, just like that. However, it’s often more complex than that.

On the one hand, it will affect another person and their self-esteem. While he/she may have great strength, doubts always arise: why didn’t he/she take care of me, why didn’t he/she prioritize me, why didn’t he/she prioritize me? The consequences are sometimes so long-term that it becomes difficult to establish future relationships.

On the other hand, when there is infidelity in a relationship with children, it’ll be hard to understand that a double life doesn’t mean the person doesn’t love their children. At first – and especially if they’re still young – they’ll take it personally. Even more so if their other parent is in pain.

Don’t forget the extended family, either. This even affects the rest of the family, especially in a long-term relationship

Thus, there’s a roller coaster of emotions, ranging from anger, guilt, and self-responsibility, among others. These present in a permanent loop until the situation resolves, usually with help.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that any third person, especially a romantically involved one,  will experience collateral damage resulting from a double life.

Sooner or later, a double life will bring pain

It’s important to take into account the influence of stereotypes and gender roles. On many occasions, people use arguments such as “men are like that”, “she’s just that kind of woman”, “it is understandable that she looks for what she can’t get at home”, etc. to justify a double life.

It’s necessary to be very careful with these harmful beliefs. On the one hand, the yardstick with which infidelity is measured is not the same when it comes to men and women, and, many times, these moral judgments end up tarnishing a situation in which only two should intervene.

“He probably cheated on her because she paid too much attention to the children”, some family members who decide to take sides often say.

Likewise, the impacted personal area is not the same. Men tend to see their manhood affected by infidelity, and women find that it takes a serious hit on their self-esteem. In other words, gender also appears as a key to reading and interpreting of this phenomenon.

These arguments are a general refuge for a situation that is very unique and should be understood on a case-by-case basis. It’s over very difficult to recognize something happening at a personal level. Meanwhile, at a relationship level, it often blocks any possibility of seeking a solution – whether that be to continue or end the relationship.

In any case, we may feel dissatisfied and may not like something, but not recognizing it or saying it will hurt the people involved sooner or later.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Soltanzadeh Rezamahalleh, M. (2021). Predicting Attitudes toward Marital Infidelity Based on Attachment and Perfectionism Styles. Journal of Modern Psychology, 1(1).

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.