When it comes to matters of the heart, some rules are non-negotiable across cultures and countries. Loyalty to your beloved is one of them (and arguably the most significant too). It’s no wonder why cheating or infidelity is considered to be one of the worst relationship offenses one can commit. However, while sympathy generally lies with the person being cheated on, very few talk about the third wheel in a relationship and the psychological impact of being the other woman.
“Since time immemorial the proverbial ‘other woman’ has been vilified and looked down upon,” observes Sushma Perla, NLP coach and counselor. “There is very little discussion on the heartbreak of being the other woman or how does the other woman feel about the wife or the home she is supposed to be wrecking. And mind you, the psychological impact of being the other woman can often be very destructive and painful.”
Take for example one of the most famous love triangles in recent history – Lady Diana’s ill-fated marriage to Prince Charles and the presence of his current wife Camilla in the equation. ‘There were three people in this marriage’ was Diana’s iconic statement in an interview that is quoted even today.
But while Diana won the hearts of millions across the world as the pained princess, Camilla was portrayed in a very unflattering light in most books, articles and movies. No one knows what she went through while being the ‘other woman’ for years, waiting to wed the man who was actually her soulmate. In fact, few commentators and social observers have even questioned the compatibility of Charles and Diana in the first place.
“The truth is that no one can actually judge what goes on in a marriage. Why does a committed man fall in love with another person and what does the actual heartbreak of being the other woman feel like? What emotions are all the main players going through? We rarely comprehend the complexities of such situations, which are not easy on anyone,” says Sushma.
9 Psychological Effects Of Being The Other Woman
In most cases of infidelity, the person who is at the receiving end of the worst kind of judgment is the woman who falls in love with a committed man. (Strangely, the man is more easily let off the hook, though he is equally the guilty party. But that’s another story altogether). In popular imagination, the characteristics of the other woman are all too stereotypical. She is portrayed as selfish, needy, clingy and indifferent to the feelings of the wife.
Related Reading: Do Affairs That Break Up A Marriage Last?
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Seema Joshi (name changed on request), a 39-year-old marketing director who once fell in love with a married man. “I was going through a tough time when he came into my life. I knew he was committed but he had always painted his marriage as dysfunctional. Little did I know that he was conveniently bending the truth.”
“By the time I realized fully what I had gotten myself into, I was already deeply involved. Yes, I was in love but being the other woman for years was equally difficult since I was judged by everyone. The relationship finally crumbled. He got ‘forgiven’ by his wife but I was left with nothing,” adds Seema.
In many instances like that of Seema, the psychological effects of being the other woman are far worse than the betrayal suffered by the wife. The stress might be different for both women but neither situation is less painful. Here’s how being the ‘illicit’ partner affects a woman:
1. The guilt is intense
“One of the biggest psychological effects of being the other woman is the intense feeling of guilt,” says Sushma. “If you are a sensitive and emotional person, being guilt-tripped into believing that you are solely responsible for breaking up a marriage can have a deep impact on you.”
The guilt will never actually allow you to enjoy a relationship the way it is meant to. There will always be that niggling feeling that society, your friends and family will never accept it fully, even if they support you. Plus, you will want to remain in denial of the impact your affair is going to have on the wife or the family which can subconsciously add to the guilt.
2. The mind games can tire you
The psychological effects of being the other woman do not show up immediately or in the early stage of the relationship. Initially, the thrill of the forbidden can seem very tempting for a woman but once the ardor wears off and the real problems emerge, the deception and lies required to keep the relationship going can wear you down.
The man will have to constantly lie – to either his family or to you. Seema explains why she had to finally break up. “I wasn’t ever sure whether he was serious about me or our relationship. He would say I was special but I was never his priority. After years of being led on, being the other woman, and letting go was the right thing to do for my own sanity.”
3. You may have trust issues
When you are in love with a married or committed man, you are aware that you will have to keep it a secret. This can eventually lead to trust issues because you are constantly looking over your shoulders. Will you be spotted with him? Will anyone find out? Will you forever be defined by the quintessential characteristics of the other woman?
Finally, the all-important question – can you trust your man? You will keep wondering if he is spending time with his wife when he is not with you (chances are, he is). The fact that you are not exclusive to him will always prick. This inability to trust can be one of the significant psychological effects of being the other woman.
Related Reading: Dear Wife Of Cheating Husband, This Is Why I Don’t Feel Guilty
4. You fear your judgment
Forget trust in others, you begin to often question your judgment and trust in yourself to make the right decisions. Sushma narrates the case of a client who was deeply affected after being the other woman for years and then dumped. “She gave the relationship her all and waited for years hoping to make it official.”
“Unfortunately, her man chose his wife over her despite his undeniable emotions for her. It was a huge blow and she confessed to me that she blamed her lack of better judgment for the position she found herself in,” says Sushma. Often the heartbreak of being the other woman can last for a long time. Consequently, the process of healing after being the other woman can also take a while.
5. The pressure of secrecy can be depressing
The constant pressure of sustaining a secret relationship can be one of the most daunting psychological effects of being the other woman. Your social media status may scream single when the truth is you are not. You cannot be seen in public nor can you do any other things regular couples do.
You will always have to counter the question – ‘how does the other woman feel about the wife’? And then there is the big problem – your holidays, vacations and other normal activities would always have to be enjoyed in secrecy with your man. Socially and on social media, you may have to constantly see pics of him with his family. It can be soul-crushing.
6. Your patience may wear out
You will really learn to have to be patient when it comes to being involved with a married or committed man. Things may be different if it is not a serious relationship and is just a passing affair yet the relationship dynamics will be very different with a married man.
Often, you will find yourself waiting patiently for it to work out completely to your satisfaction. If you enter a relationship with a married man hoping he would divorce his wife or leave his committed partner, it’s going to be a long wait. Deep relationships are never easy to break so you will just need to bide your time. But for how long?
7. It can be draining on the mind and body
One of the psychological effects of being the other woman is that the guilt, pressure and insecurity can be draining on the body and mind. You may even feel resentful toward the person that you were seeing or you might even feel resentful toward yourself.
“One of the main reasons for feeling resentful is that you may find very little support for your actions. The percentage of affairs turning into a long-term relationship or new marriage is very small. Lifelong extramarital affairs are even rarer to come by,” says Sushma. “It’s like entering a sport knowing that you will be at the losing end. Unless you are very clear about your goals, such a relationship will drain you.”
8. It affects your self-confidence and self-esteem
It is really not known why people get into relationships with committed men. But one of the long-term psychological effects of being the other woman is the gradual erosion of self-confidence. As mentioned earlier, whenever an affair is exposed, it is the affair partner who gets the maximum flak.
You can try to be blasé about it but being constantly blamed and judged (not to mention the scandal and gossip it inevitably gives rise to in social circles) can impact your self-confidence in other aspects of life too. It may affect your career and self-esteem.
9. You may emerge stronger after it’s over
It may sound strange but one of the positive psychological effects of being the other woman in a relationship is that if you manage your expectations well, it can actually make you stronger. But the moot point is, you will have to be realistic about the situation. Sulochana J (name changed), a telecom professional was in a relationship with a married man but she says it changed her for the better.
“A benefit of starting a relationship as the other woman is that you start with the flaws first. I knew the guy I was seeing was a cheater. I also learned to keep my expectations from the relationship very low so I focused on the happy moments with him. I knew he would never give me the commitment I deserved. So I treated it like a casual relationship. Also, I could be completely honest with him – more than any of my other boyfriends – because I knew he wouldn’t judge me,” she says.
Related Reading: What To Do When Your Husband Is Talking To Another Woman
How Do You Deal With Being The Other Woman?
So what is the best way to start healing after being the other woman? In worst cases, when an affair like this ends on a sad note, the other woman is often lacking in support and love from both her partner and society. There might be a situation when she has to pull up her socks and march ahead bravely on her own. Here are some ways to deal with it:
1. Don’t be harsh on yourself
Sushma says the first rule of healing is to be kind to yourself. “Let’s face it, you will be judged by the world, so do not add to that narrative. Remember that you are not just a part of an affair, you are a person who deserves love and whatever you did was part of that journey,” she adds.
2. Take a break
Seema reveals that after she broke up with her married boyfriend, the first thing she did was to take a complete break from work and personal life. “I needed space to think long and hard. The entire affair and the end were rather emotional so the only way for me to detach myself was to get away from it all for a while,” she says.
3. Seek counseling
The problems of a complicated relationship (and the heartbreak of being the other woman) can get rather complex. You’d need a helping hand to get through. And this is where counseling can play a role in healing after being the other woman. Do not hesitate to seek professional help if you are struggling with your emotions.
4. Shift the focus from him to you
If you feel you can’t let go of your married or ‘taken’ lover, it is most likely that he triggers certain feelings or emotions within you. It should perhaps give you an indication that it’s not the person but those feelings that you are more attached to. Focus on yourself and what you need to do to fulfill those emotional needs from another source. You need to practice self-love to heal from the pain of being the other woman.
Related Reading: Falling In Love With A Married Man? Here’s How You Lie To Yourself!
5. Seek real love
If you confuse drama for love, you will always be disappointed. Accept that one of the characteristics of being the ‘other woman’ is that you have a tendency to be drawn to drama and living the soap opera life. Instead, know that you have to give yourself a chance at finding a real relationship where you get everything you deserve.
Being in a relationship with a married man is opening yourself to a lot of emotional pain because of the sheer complexity of the situation. Even if you are well aware of the pitfalls of being drawn to committed men, the going will be difficult after a point. The question you need to ask yourself is: are you ready for it and is it worth it?