When it comes to matters of the heart, some rules are non-negotiable across cultures and countries. It doesn’t matter where you come from, a few ground rules should be followed across all relationships. Loyalty to your beloved is one of them (and arguably the most significant one 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 effects of being the other woman, in an instance of cheating.
“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 effects of being the other woman can often be very destructive and quite 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. We hardly ever consider the realities of being the other woman, or in other words, what Camilla and women like her actually go through. It’s very easy to champion the woman who was clearly wronged, but there are other people being affected by this too. 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, some 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.
That is exactly what we are going to discuss today in this article. How to deal with the trauma of being a mistress? What are the psychological effects of being the other woman in a relationship? Is there any way to move on from being the other woman in a love triangle situation? Let’s throw some light on the matter and understand the psychology of being a mistress, better.
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 the 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. That usually sums up the psychology of being a mistress that people are acquainted with.
“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. I eventually realized that I am the other woman in the relationship and he does not see much as much more. At the end of the day, he loves his wife.”
“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 constantly and he was not even judged half as much as me. The relationship finally crumbled. He was ‘forgiven’ by his wife but I was left with nothing in the end except a tarnished reputation. So much for love,” adds Seema.
Related Reading: Do Affairs That Break Up A Marriage Last?
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. When you are the other woman, not only do you tolerate the constant bite of your conscience but you literally feel you are standing naked in front of so many invisible eyes – society to be precise.
You somehow still make peace with the taunting comments and hate speeches hoping one day your man will break free of his unhappy marriage. And you can finally stop being the other woman. But again, the lack of assurance of this prospect won’t let you sleep at night. Either way, being the other woman in a relationship makes you miserable. Here’s how being the ‘illicit’ partner affects a woman:
1. The guilt is intense
The pain of being the other woman is no small thing, and guilt is the biggest component of that. “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.”
So, how does it feel to be the other woman? Anxious. Guilt-ridden. Indecisive. It’s a never-ending battle between the devil and angel sitting on your shoulder. While one spirit reminds you that ‘everything is fair in love and war’, the other labels you as the villain.
The guilt will never actually allow you to enjoy the romantic firsts in a relationship the way they’re meant to be. There will always be that niggling feeling that society, your friends, and family will never accept the relationship 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 and will 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 love can seem very tempting for a woman, and that is perhaps your answer to the question, ‘why am I ok with being the other woman?’ You’re okay with it for the time being because the excitement and temptation feel like nothing you have ever felt before. The feeling of that rush gets to you and but once the ardor wears off and the real problems emerge, the deception and lies required to keep the relationship going can be exhausting.
The man will have to constantly lie – to either his family or to you and you will also start disliking that over time. Seema explains why she had to finally break up. “I wasn’t even 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 while being the other woman in an emotional affair
When you are in love with a married or committed man, you are aware of the annoying fact that you will have to keep it a secret, come what may. 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 in the office that you two sort of like each other? Will you forever be defined by the quintessential characteristics of being the other woman in an emotional affair?
Finally, the all-important question comes up. 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). Being the other woman in the relationship comes with many contrasting self-conflicts. You encouraged this partnership even though you were well aware of the existence of the ‘wife’ in the picture.
Perhaps, she was the ‘other woman’ in your version of the story. But now, the fact that he is not exclusive to you always pricks you. This inability to trust can be one of the significant psychological effects of being the other woman that should not be ignored and can even become worse with time.
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 and that is the real pain of being the other woman. Sushma narrates the case of a client who was deeply affected after being the other woman for years and then dumped. “She gave her all and waited for years hoping to make the relationship 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,” she says. 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 and is no straight path.
The trauma of being a mistress eats you up inside. Unfortunately, the doors will be shut when you seek mental support or a patient listening ear to share your agony. You will probably end up isolating yourself to avoid the humiliation and snarky comments from your own people.
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. When asked how it feels to be the other woman, a reader named Anya (name changed) told us, “I honestly do not even feel like myself anymore. From hiding text messages to never being able to post pictures on social media, the pain of being the other woman is quite real. These might seem like small things at first but they can make you feel like your relationship does not even exist.”
Moreover, you will always have to grapple with the question – “How does the other woman feel about the wife?” And then there is this big problem you did not see coming. 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 pictures of him with his family. It can be soul-crushing overall.
6. Your patience may wear out
You will really learn to have to be patient when it comes to being involved with or dating 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.
In situations like this the realities of being the other woman emerge from the surface, worse than ever. Especially if the man shares a home and children with his wife, he might never be able to cut them off entirely. For the children’s sake, he will have to stick around. Deep relationships are never easy to break so you will just need to bide your time. But for how long?
Rekha (name changed), a journalist based in New Delhi told us, “I am the other woman in a relationship but I am frankly tired of being so. It is weighing on my mind constantly and waiting for my boyfriend to leave his wife and spend the rest of his life with me just seems like a distant dream that won’t come true. He often tells me that he will leave her but he still picks up her calls when he’s spending the night at my place. I don’t think I can live like this anymore.”
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 which is why there are truly no benefits to being the other woman,” 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 and that is exactly how it feels to be the other woman.”
8. It affects your self-confidence and self-esteem
It is really not known why people get into relationships with committed men. When you are the other woman, you know you are his little secret, one that even he probably feels very guilty about and not just you. No matter what he feels for you, at the end of the day, he will try to save his image before society and prioritize his own family. As you repeatedly fail to convince him to get out of the marriage, you will start questioning your self-worth and that is when the psychological effects of being the other woman really begin to reveal themselves.
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
Yes, this is one thing that is very true and an important thing to note about the psychology of being a mistress. So if someone asks for the benefits of being the other woman, this is perhaps the only one. 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, that you will have to be realistic about the situation, which is the toughest thing to do. Sulochana J (name changed), a telecom professional, was in a relationship with a married man and 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?
One morning you wake up and decide it’s time to stop being the other woman. ‘Why am I ok with being the other woman? Enough is enough! I deserve better than this,’ you say as you get out of bed. You realize that you are not obligated to put your mental health through this emotional hell. So what is the best way to start the healing process and move on from 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 move on from being the other woman:
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, you deserve it
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, for this whole experience had been gut-wrenching for me. 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 this difficult phase of your life. And this is where counseling can play a role in healing after being the other woman.
How does it feel to be the other woman? You know the answer all too well and you also know no matter how much people around you empathize with you, anyone who hasn’t walked a mile in your shoes, can’t possibly understand what you’re going through. That’s why professional help can prove to be the savior you need to tide over this emotional turmoil. If you are struggling with your emotions, skilled and experienced counselors on the Bonobology counseling panel are here for you.
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. 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?