The "other woman" is often vilified and sexualized — but rarely understood.
The mistress role in the affair triangle is often either vilified as an unfeeling predator or overly sexualized as an irresistible temptress, but for the many women out there who have been the mistress, it is a complex, personal, and often difficult position.
The messages we get about love focus so much on how to get the guy that we often ignore the choices we make once he is interested. That fresh rush of love and lust makes it hard to think clearly, but if you find yourself in "the other woman" position, it is important for you to ask yourself some questions and to consider carefully how to best take care of yourself.
1. What do you want in a relationship? Love is one thing: It can exist independently from external realities. What we don't often hear in stories of romance is that those external realities are still very important for a happy, fulfilled life. Love that asks you to sacrifice a whole list of other things that are important to you may not be worth the cost.
So ask yourself: What are you looking for in a relationship? Do you want a life partner? Do you want someone to go to family holidays with you and be available to celebrate your raise at work? Do you want someone to be with you at the hospital if your parent gets sick? If those are things you want, know that your affair partner may not ever be available for them. It is tempting to believe that he will leave his wife to create that life with you. Just be aware that the stats are very much against you; only 3 percent of men end up marrying their mistress, as Jan Halter writes in her 1988 book Quiet Desperation: The Truth About Successful Men.
2. What is the affair status bringing you? There are lots of elements that are exciting in an affair. Love and lust can thrive in risky, dramatic situations. Maybe you feel special because he is breaking his vows for you; maybe you even feel powerful. Or maybe for you the affair is a way to keep things uncomplicated for your emotions — to maintain distance and a life of your own. After all, there are benefits to not having to meet family or spend every weekend together.
Ask yourself what feels good about this scenario and know what the role of the mistress offers you. Then ask yourself if there is a way you can get that for yourself in a relationship that might be more in line with your integrity.
3. Are you prepared to be seen as the bad guy? Each relationship has its own complexities, and it is difficult to really understand the dynamics from the outside. However, as the mistress, it's important to prepare yourself for negative responses and blaming. Are you prepared to take responsibility for this choice and the consequences that may come from it? Ask yourself how you would feel if important people in your life found out about this affair. That may also help you to see your own values and whether you are compromising yourself. What else are you risking?
Also know that if the affair is found out or your partner chooses to end it, you may be cut off emotionally in an abrupt and harsh way. You deserve to be treated respectfully, but you will have little say or right to negotiate how the affair ends if your partner is trying to repair things with his wife.
Are you getting support? You need someone to talk to confidentially so that you can process what you're feeling. It's helpful if this is someone who won't take sides and can help you see the big picture. Even though it may be painful, remember that there are at least three people involved (more if there is family), and each deserves consideration. The wife is not your enemy, and seeing things in black and white won't serve you. And if you choose to walk away or the relationship ends with your partner calling it off, you need time to grieve. Get support from someone who understands that saying goodbye to a lover is hard.. no matter what the relationship looked like or how it developed.
Melissa Fritchle is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist & Sex Therapist with a holistic private practice in Capitola, California. She is also an award-winning international sex educator offering workshops and trainings around the world. Follow her blog, Conscious Sexual Self.
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