Stacia has similar feelings. "Our marriage is definitely in trouble."
Lance and Stacia married only three months after they met online. He was in the Navy, and she was in college. Lance proposed at the beach, where he got down on one knee. Seventeen hours later, they were married. The ceremony took place at the courthouse on Lance's lunch hour.
"From the get-go, it's been tough," says Stacia. "We had a lot going against us and we've been fighting an uphill battle the whole way."
"Our marriage just started struggling because we're actually finding the true person that we married, not the person who I thought it was online," says Lance. "Stacia online would tell me all of these exciting things that she's done and when I was asking her about it, she's all, 'No, it wasn't me. I was using someone else's stories.' And I was like, 'Well, who did I marry?'"
They've been married three years. They have a 2-year-old daughter and an 8-month-old son.
The couple had just been married a short time, and Stacia was pregnant with their daughter when she found out her husband had been having an affair. "I was torn apart," she says. "He promised never to do it again, but two weeks after our daughter was born he said, 'I have a confession. I have actually had five affairs.'"
Lance had four affairs within the first six months of their marriage, and a fifth one within the first year. "The thought of never having sex with another woman terrified me," he says.
"He knew that he had no reason to walk out on me, so he cheated on me so I would walk out on him," says Stacia. "Our biggest fights are always about trust."
Lance says that looking back, he would have done things differently. "I would have spent more time with Stacia," he says.
And Stacia would have done the same. She says, "I would have dated him and spent more time getting to know the different sides of him."
"I hope Dr. Phil can help Stacia and I build upon our marriage," says Lance. "You know, lay down that solid foundation that we've been seeking and needing, that I've torn apart."
"That you show them one thing, and then when they choose it then you switch it with something else," she says.
"Yeah, that's a form of fraud, right?" says Dr. Phil. "It's like you show somebody, like, one car, and then you sell them a very different car. And they don't get what they think they're getting. Did you show him one person, one persona, when in fact it was something very different?"
"Yes," she says. Dr. Phil asks why. "It started out as a joke with my friends. We never thought I would ever actually meet someone in person, so we were creating this exciting, fun life for me, a person who didn't really exist, online, thinking that I would never meet him in person."
"So, you were just playing a game," says Dr. Phil. Stacia agrees, so Dr. Phil turns to Lance. "OK, but you thought it was for real," he says.
"I did, because it just sounded exciting," says Lance. "I was in the Navy, stationed in Mississippi, and I was just going through some hard times and talking with her, it was someone I could go to and tell all my problems to, and I'd tell her things that I liked, and she's like, 'Oh, I like to do that,' and would just kind of relate with me."
"So, when you started discovering that that wasn't really true," Dr. Phil continues, "that you didn't have those common interests and all, did it occur to you to deal with it forthrightly at the time?"
"I didn't find out all this stuff until after we were married," says Lance.
"Well, you were only engaged just 17 hours," Dr. Phil says, "so there'd been a lot of stuff to cover. I don't think even I could interview that out of y'all, all of this, in 17 hours, so that wasn't the smartest move, was it?"
"No, it wasn't," Lance admits.
"At what point did y'all decide, 'What I need to do here is have me a bunch of affairs'?"
"There's no excuse for that," Lance concedes. "My mindset was, there's a lot of things that were going on with our marriage, things that I didn't know ... At the time, I wasn't ready for the commitment. But there's still no excuse for it."
"You're right, there is no excuse for it," Dr. Phil agrees, "and my question is, given the way you two entered this, what do you predict is going to happen?"
Dr. Phil has some hard questions for the couple, starting with Lance. "If you knew then what you know now, would you have married her?" he asks.
"Probably not," Lance responds.
"If you knew then what you know now, would you have married him?"
"No," says Stacia flatly.
"No. OK, so both of you are sitting here now saying, 'Wow. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but given what we've learned, not a good idea.' And what's the problem here? The problem is you have two children. And, my next question, I guess, is just pragmatic. You knew you had trouble from the very beginning, didn't you? What the hell are you doing getting pregnant? Why? You knew! You got home, you got each other unwrapped and went, 'Whoa! Whoa, this isn't the personality, this isn't the value, this isn't everything that I thought it was going to be. Let's just involve a baby!'"
Stacia explains that she and Lance hadn't been trying to get pregnant when they conceived, though they also weren't using birth control. "And I didn't realize there was a problem at the time. I didn't feel there was a problem," she says.
"So you thought everything was fine," Dr. Phil reiterates to Stacia. He then turns to Lance. "You knew better," he says. "You had four affairs in the first six months! That's a clue!"
"She got pregnant eight weeks after we got married, and there were no affairs during that time frame," says Lance.
"So, you made eight weeks," says Dr. Phil. "And you were having sex with no protection, no birth control, just nothing. And you know what? I would tell you two that you just need to hit rewind, you need to get a divorce, you need to go your separate ways. The problem is, we've got two children here. We've got a 2-year-old and an 8-month-old. So instead of telling you that you just need to hit the eject button and get out of this as an ill-conceived union, what I'm going to tell you is sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you've got to make the decision right.
"I am not one of those people who believes that you stay together for the children, but I am one of those people who believes that you owe it to them to make a diligent effort to maintain the integrity of their family unit. And if it doesn't work, it doesn't work, but you've got to both step up and say, 'You know what? We've got to not be selfish here. We have these two children that we're going to do one of two things: We're either going to really work and make this relationship come together, or we're going to at least form a relationship so we can be cooperative allies as divorced parents so these children always have their mother and father in their lives without conflict and without tension. Where that's going to wind up, I really don't know. I just don't think you two had any foundation for this relationship whatsoever, and I think what you need to do is try to create that, and if you don't get there you will at least get to the point of being co-allies of these children. Are you willing to do that work?"
The couple says they would definitely do the work. Dr. Phil offers to arrange professional help for them in their hometown.