Being the other woman is actually a grave responsibility.
Four years ago, when the thought first occurred to me that a guy I had always liked might be open to ending his marriage, I found myself watching two movies over and over again. One was The Prince of Tides, in which Barbara Streisand plays the healing other woman who helps Nick Nolte over his old childhood wounding, and then gracefully steps aside once his wife, who was also having an affair, recommits herself to the marriage.
The other was Young Adult, in which a divorced, depressed, alcoholic Charlize Theron goes back to her old hometown, convinced she can win back her old high school boyfriend. But, he’s a new dad and madly in love with his wife. Charlize’s character seizes on anything she can to convince herself her old flame isn’t happy and that he really wants her back, then gets drunk at the baby’s christening party and humiliates herself so badly she has no choice but to confront her alcoholism and her empty life.
Interesting that I ran across both films at that time. I knew after watching them which character I didn’t want to be like. Yes, Barbra Streisand’s Lowenstein character ended up crying and alone, but she wasn’t in competition with a wife who was sure she still wanted the husband, she contributed in an important way to the Nolte character’s healing from his abusive childhood, and when the time came she accepted the loss instead of creating ugly scenes. She did what was best for everyone overall instead of only what felt best to herself. She also realized she had stagnated in her own life and needed to get out of her own horrible marriage.
Obviously, the best way to go is neither scenario. Find your own, unattached man, and have a relationship with him. But, if you’re reading this, you’re probably already in love with someone who’s attached, affianced, or married. You’re in the situation. Now, what do you do?
Many times, once we realize we care about someone and we see that our feelings are returned, we start painting beautiful pictures in our minds of the future we want, and stampeding in that direction like a wild mustang. We think we know our own situation, we think we know that of the other two people in the triangle, and we’re convinced that we’re the best choice. That if the guy just chooses us, that’s the way to go and things will work out beautifully.
But, here are some of the things we don’t stop to think about:
Always remember: Sometimes people lie to you just to get what they want out of you. I don’t care how sincere your married lover seems, double check what you are being told and don’t discount this distinct and ugly possibility. I’d recommend finding out as much as you can about their marital situation, because it will help you make wise decisions, but you can’t always consider a cheating spouse your best source of information. Make sure what he tells you passes the smell test.
Finding out as much as you can about the childhoods of all three people will greatly clarify your role in the situation. For instance, when I first got involved with my guy, I knew I could trust what he told me about his wife for two reasons: One, I’d known him seventeen years and I knew he was no liar, and that he’d been unhappily married for as long as I’d known him; and two, what he told me was so bizarre there was no way he could have made it up. Half our conversations were trying to puzzle out something she’d said or done. But I’d done enough reading about relationships and damage from family of origin issues that the instant I heard, “My mother was an alcoholic,” I knew a lot about the situation just from that. If you are hearing about a childhood where well-known emotional issues, such as alcoholism, happened, check out some books and start reading.
Nothing in an affair is what it looks like on the surface. Everyone in the situation has their own unresolved childhood issues, their own perspective, and their own story.
You have a reason you are attracted to this particular man that probably began at home when you were very young. His attraction to you and to his wife also has roots in his childhood, and her contribution to their problems, whatever it actually is, originated long ago, too.
I started out as mystified by the wife’s behavior as my affair partner was. At first, I thought she didn’t really love him and was just using him. It looked like there could be no other explanation, and thinking this fueled my anger toward her. It sounded like he was definitely being neglected in the marriage, he felt horrible about himself, and that made me feel justified in stepping in.
But then: I stumbled on a book by Pia Mellody called Facing Love Addiction. My guy and I met only some of the criteria Mellody sets out in that book for being love addicts, but for being a love avoider: the wife in question met every single criterion. Mellody shows how this relationship pattern is started by a demanding, smothering parent in the childhood home. Some of what my guy was telling me now made sense in a whole new way.
I also found it in her horoscope. Then he told me one thing she said that clicked, and I realized: There wasn’t just one person in this triangle damaged by a bad childhood, but three: Me, him, and his wife. It wasn’t that she didn’t love him, or that she was willfully abusing him or hurting him. It kind of reminded me of a quote George Lucas gave once about Darth Vader (whom this woman certainly resembled): that he’d set the character up to look like a villain, but, “It turns out (s)he’s got a problem, too.”
It’s important to see all three people as human, wounded, and deserving of compassion. Once I could see the wife that way, I didn’t feel so entitled to have things go the way I wanted. If they could address their problems and heal together, that was the way it should go, no matter how badly I felt about losing him, because they had many decades together and children and grandchildren. On the other hand, if she couldn’t confront her problems, and she kept on treating him callously and disrespectfully in the marriage, I could see that it really was not only right, but crucial, that he get himself out of there. And that it was his prerogative to decide what was best for him, not mine. A perspective like this one is important, because…
You damage the other person’s marriage just by having been there, whether the spouse knows about you or not. Often we think, once our married guy bolts and goes back to his wife and we never hear from him again, that he’s forgotten all about us. That all is as if we never even existed. According to relationship expert Jerry Wise, this often isn’t the case. You may never hear from the guy again, but if you had a good relationship and he’s given you up to go back into a troubled marriage, he really will still have feelings for you, and that’s going to get in the way of fixing the marriage, even if you never see him again. So, basically, you could be entering the frayed relationship between two damaged people, breaking both your hearts, then making repair between the two of them even harder than it was before. Astrology predicted I would hear from him one more time, a year ago, and I did and this did indeed turn out to be the case. If you really love this man, do you really choose to hurt him worse than he already is?
Being the other woman may start out looking like a one-way ticket to your dream life, once you’ve managed to elbow that meanie wife out of the way, but it isn’t. Being the other woman is a wake-up call. You have to decide who you want to be, Streisand in The Prince Of Tides, or Theron in Young Adult. (And if the latter is what you choose to do, maybe we should actually spell that, Young Adult?) Home