3a. What is difference between a male cross-dresser and a man wanting to be a woman?
I have never met a genetic male who has gone on to transition to the female gender role that did not have at least one or two experiences crossdressing with many doing it daily. However, it does not mean that every genetic male that cross dresses will go on to transition. Keep in mind that cross dressing is a temporary way for a genetic male to experience what feels llike femaleness. For some genetic males that short period of experiencing the feminine complements their sense of being male. Some crossdressers may make some minor modifications to their body to enhance their feminine appearance when dressed such as beard and body hair removal but they have no difficulty holding on to their core sense of being male.
Genetic males who eventually go on to transition permanently to the female gender role (transsexuals) on the other hand, cross dress to ease gender expression deprivation. Dressing is serious business for these individuals. It is only during these cross dressing periods that they can find a sense of wholeness. Unlike the cross dresser described above, transsexuals have little or no love for their alienated sense of masculinity and they are more than willing to give up its influence on their lives via taking cross-sex hormones and major surgery.
3b. I am 37, married for 4 years. My wife is a great person, very loving, supportive and very open minded. Our relationship has gone to heck, mainly because I want to tell her I enjoy a more feminine lifestyle. However, I have no desire to transition, I simply enjoy the attributes of being more feminine. I have been this way for years, since I was about 12 and will not change. I feel far more comfortable in a female, mental state than trying to be masculine.
I have been quiet about my situation. However, it's either tell her and take a chance or not and probably end my marriage? Any advice you offer is greatly appreciated.
As you noted, you have been crossdressing since the age of 12. That in all likelihood means that it will continue indefinitely into your married life...stringing both of you out further and further in the lie by omission. Sooner or later this sort of thing comes out anyway so the sooner you tell her the better. I suggest that, despite the risk, that you pick a good time and let her know in as gentle a way as possible. That is far better then being caught in a crossdressing misadventure that would be very difficult to explain. That might indeed end your marriage. See suggestions on How to Tell Your Spouse by Julie Freeman, the wife of a crossdresser.
3c. I am in the most beautiful relationship I have ever been in. I feel cared for, happy and excited to see my man at the end of the day. Our physical relationship started out slow and heated up fast. I love him, so it makes it that much more exciting. We have been together for over a year now. We are both in our 50's. He told me about his desire to wear women's clothing about four months into the relationship. We never discussed it again, but whenever he is "missing", or late, I suspect he is off doing his crossdressing thing. I am afraid to bring up the subject, but know I really should. He is my best friend and lover and I don't want to lose him. I guess I am asking your advice on how to approach him, because I need to be honest in this relationship. Can a man have a happy "marriage" and a secret life?
I am glad to hear that you are experiencing a wonderful relationship. Ultimately that is what is important here. You are right about your partner not being able to stop dressing. Almost everyone who has ever tried to stop, has found themselves back at it again in one way or another. Having said that, it does appear that he has found an outlet for his needs and since it is only cross dressing (there are far worse clandestine activities men can get into) that can only be healthy.
If your partner is as wonderful as you say he is, my guess is that his "secret life" is far less strange and weird as you might imagine it to be. There are cross dressing organizations all over the world. Most of the folks are just like your partner, responsible, caring and compassionate. They too have partners, wives and families. Getting together for these men is often no more then dinner out at a safe place or a quiet time to spend with friends who are just being "girls" together at someone's home or a cross-dressing boutique.
I suggest that you broach the subject in as non-accusatorial manner as possible with him....more or less just expressing your curiosity. He probably has some idea that you are uncomfortable with his cross dressing and that may be the reason he doesn't share more than he needs to about it and where he goes.