Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Who is the Other Woman?

Disclaimer: This may be a difficult article for some of you to read. Before reading, take a moment to consider how far along you are in recovery. Those who are newer to recovery will not be able to process the information in this article from an objective perspective. The information is important to understand, but the last thing we want to do is to cause unnecessary pain. Our suggestion is to wait until you are further along in recovery so you will be able to truly absorb all the article says without reacting. For those of you in this position, we suggest reading instead our 4-part “How Could You?” Series.

Who is the other woman? Is she a home wrecker, a floozy, a bimbo? Is she someone to be hated or pitied? Why would you even want to know? Because the answer to that question can profoundly influence your ability to release what’s happened and move on to a new life.

Due to Affair Recovery demographics I am writing this article as if the man had the affair and was involved with another woman. If I were to write this article as if the woman had the affair and is involved with another man different dynamics would come into play.

There is never an excuse for what the other woman has done, but remaining forever tied to the other woman as a result of unforgiveness leaves the betrayed spouse anchored to the past. Typically moving forward either as a couple or an individual requires a shift in how the other woman is viewed; developing a realistic understanding of who she is. Usually the unfaithful spouse needs to stop overvaluing the other woman and the betrayed spouse needs to stop devaluing the other woman if either of them ever wants freedom from that person. Hopefully exploring who they are will enable both the hurt and unfaithful spouse to release and move forward.

Labeling the other woman as a tramp may prevent the betrayed spouse from ever moving forward. In the same way, the other woman is likely to label the wife as cold or dismissive. In reality there’s a bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us. Failure to see more than just the negative aspects can block your ability to set yourself free from their hurtful actions. Seeing the other woman as human doesn’t excuse what she’s done, but it does provide a pathway to forgiveness. Remember forgiveness is a gift you give yourself to set yourself free. It’s not for the sake of the unfaithful spouse nor does it have anything to do with being around the other woman, but it does free you from losing your peace when they come to mind.

A major barrier to recovery for the betrayed spouse is an unrealistic view of the other woman. The wife needs to develop a fuller understanding of the affair partner as a human being if she wants to fully recover.

For married men in an affair with a married woman, the affair can be more of a diversion while for the married woman it can become their life. This woman is looking for traits missing in her husband. Married men in affairs with single women are likely to view the relationship as entertainment or a distraction. Single women, on the other hand may view the affair as a pathway to the life they want. Little do they realize the odds are not in their favor. Jan Halper’s survey of over 4,100 prominent men revealed that 85% of those who cheated returned home to their families and only 3% of those who got divorced while in an ongoing affair married the affair partners.1

The following list briefly explains a few of the most common types of affair partners. Remember these are generalizations with the intent of humanizing the other woman so that you can find peace and healing.

The Rebound Affair:

In rebound affairs, the case of the other woman flips on its head. Many of you reading this are righteously indignant feeling you would never be the other woman in an affair. You may be right, but a large number of the affairs we treat are the result of rebound affairs. One potential consequence suffered by the betrayed spouse is the devastation of the significance of their marriage vows. Pain that’s not transformed will be transmitted, and in an attempt to make their mate feel their pain they betray themselves and indulge in the same behavior as their mate. In an attempt to get back at their mate, these betrayed spouses suddenly find themselves as the “other woman.” So the other woman you are facing may have started out as a betrayed spouse similar to you, only she couldn’t stand the pain and acted drastically. Many who’ve been betrayed are tempted, but strong morals and values as well as their commitment prevent them from taking this course. Tragically those who give in not only prolong their own pain, but transmit their pain to their mate and to another woman as well.

The Married Other Woman:

While this may be stereotypical, the “married woman” has often become disillusioned with her mate and connects with someone she believes can supply the happiness her mate has failed to deliver. These women have typically watched their marriage fading away for years and feel completely detached from their husbands as a result of years of neglect. Again, this does not justify their actions, but you can see how no longer valuing their own marriage would make it easy to push their guilt away enough to begin an affair.

The Abuse Reactive Other Woman:

At times the other woman is a person who was abused growing up. This person is motivated by identity wounds created by that abuse. Seeing themselves as damaged may create a desire to reinforce that belief by acting out in ways that degrade themselves and others. Frequently the only way they can feel loved is when they act out sexually. Their desperation to feel loved drives them into an affair. Again this in no way justifies what they’ve done.

Years ago I had a woman come in who fit this category. When I asked what I could do for her she responded, “I’ve had sex with over 250 men, but that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because I’ve never had an orgasm.” “ Then why did you have sex with all those men?” I asked. “Because that moment when we’re sexual is the only time I ever feel loved.” Our work together revealed extreme sexual abuse by her father from age six to twelve. That’s no excuse for what she had done. It did, however, destroy the inhibitors that should have prevented her from acting out with other men. Once again pain that’s not transformed will be transmitted.

Another type of an abuse reactive other woman emerges from dysfunctional families even where sexual abuse did not occur. If a woman sees her mother disrespected or abused by her father, the child may see her mother as weak and pathetic. This may lead her to become the Liberated Other Woman (description below), never wanting to depend on a man the way her mother depended on her abusive father.

The same is true a woman who was spousified by her father. As a child her father begins sharing his pain, success and frustrations with her rather than his wife. It may not be sexual, but it is emotional incest. As a result she lives in a triangle feeling sorry for her dad because of how her mom is treating him. She fails to see that her mom's reactions are the result of her father's neglect. Once grown, this woman is susceptible to repeating that same triangle with a married man. Once again they compete with the wife, despising her for the way she believes the wife is treating the husband. Little does she know the husband, like her father, is distorting who their mate really is. Living in the triangle as the other woman is what they know and to them it feels normal.

The Subordinate Other Woman:

Frequently this younger woman falls for an older man, often at the workplace. The distinction of this woman is the power differential between herself and the married spouse. The attention paid by someone she respects and the allure of getting ahead allows them to justify the affair. Once the affair begins this person believes their affair partner when they say they are going to leave their spouse to begin a life with the younger woman. That belief can keep them hanging on for years as they wait. While this person may be naïve, they are certainly not a victim, but neither is the married man who is using them.

The Desperate Other Woman:

This woman is someone who’s willing to settle for scraps. She has such low self-esteem she is willing to take whatever time she can get. She’s available at his beck and call, but when demands are placed on him she rarely warrants a response. Fear of losing the relationship keeps her hanging on, especially since she has no real sense of self.

The Liberated Other Woman:

This career-minded woman enjoys her freedom and wants relationships with no strings attached. She typically has affairs with married men  she feels comfortable with. If one of her partners begins to get attached she will quickly send them packing, at times leaving the married spouse feeling rejected and acting like a love sick puppy. This woman probably has no real relationships and thus cannot wrap her mind around the effects of her actions.

The Conned Other Woman:

There are some women who’ve been conned by the married man. In these cases the woman has no clue that the man is married. When they finally find out it’s devastating for them. The length of the relationship and the depth of the bond determine how devastating the loss of the relationship. Generally these women feel they’ve been made the fool.

The last three categories are adapted from Shirley Glass’ book “Not Just Friends”. 2

The Antagonist Other Woman:

This woman betrays other women by stealing their husbands. She views other women as rivals and feels no need for loyalty to or identification with her own gender. She does not regard herself as a “sister” to other women. She seldom has other women as friends and leans on men to enhance her fragile ego and gratify her emotional needs.

The Escapist Other Woman:

To deny the existence of his wife and family, the escapist affair partner puts the marriage out of mind and out of sight. She never asks questions about his other life. She doesn’t consider any repercussions from their illicit affair because the time she spends with her beau is an escape into an alternate reality.

The Family Counselor Other Woman:

Assuming the role of family therapist is another way to assuage guilt. The other woman offers insights to improve her suitor’s communication with his children and to help him understand his wife’s point of view. Acting partly out of real concern and partly out of self-preservation, she tries to make things better. Laurel Richardson says that the single woman affair partner does “feminist social work among the married.”3 As a result, the affair partner perceives herself as a good person who makes positive contributions to her partner’s family life.”

If you’ve made it this far let me reiterate I’m in no way trying to excuse the other woman. I’m also not saying you have to change a thing in how you view the other woman. I am suggesting you might want to consider the possibility that the situation isn’t as black and white as you may think. My hope for all of you is to get free from the marrow sucking life-robbing crisis of infidelity. I believe that one way that goal is accomplished is by expanding our understanding of those around us and hopefully come to a point where we can set ourselves free by finding compassion in our hearts for those who have so gravely wounded us. I would grieve if the hurtful actions of others rob you of your humanity.

Finally, one of three things will occur with great suffering:

1.      You will go insane,

2.      You will become forever bitter and resentful, or

3.      You will learn to love greatly and have great compassion.

The road to the third outcome isn’t easy, but it’s a goal well worth pursing. For the sake of others remember: pain that’s not transformed will be transmitted. Let your pain be transformed for your sake, the sake of those you love and for the sake of those who love you.

If you are still having trouble with the idea of pain leading you to love greatly, you are not alone. It seems backwards, and I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t experienced it myself. The trick is having community to lead you through the process. If you’d like to see if it’s truly possible to be free again, consider EMS Online.

 

1.       Halper, Jan. Quiet Desperation: The Truth About Successful Men. New York: Warner, 1989. Print.

2.       Glass, Shirley P. NOT “Just Friends”: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity. New York: Free Press, 2003. iBook.

3.       Richardson, Laurel. The New Other Woman: Contemporary Single Women in Affairs with Married Men. New York: Free Press, 1985. Print.

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Comments

One of the best articles I have read

I am both a wayward spouse and a betrayed spouse so I have experience being the other woman and having an other woman in my life during my husband's affair. This article resonates with me and maybe it's because I have been on both sides that I never saw my husband's ex affair partner as an evil person - I always saw her as someone in pain (as my husband was when he slipped into the affair). I, as the other woman, was also in pain. We are human and sometimes we make some pretty awful mistakes. The only path to freedom in any of this is forgiveness and letting it all go, which is easier said that done.

Thank you for this article.

Daring greatly.....now

Great article. I would never have been able to wrap my head around this article 2 years ago but now I find myself actually praying for the other woman (this did not come easy by any means!).

I am so appreciative for AR and HH. You guys have been a God send. Thank you and blessings.

Prayer

I also prayed for my husband's affair partner. She cursed me out but I always referred her to God. It's hard but I have always viewed her as a human being and responded to her from a respectful perspective. I strongly agree with this article that she is a young woman who is in serious pain (whether she admits it or not) as she has a history of sleeping with men in their former workplace. She knew he was married and we had children but she continued down that path - I think she believed he would leave me but that part I'll never know because she is not mature enough to have a civil conversation with me.

Thank you

Thank you for posting this. I am the betrayed spouse and my husband had an affair with a woman 20 years younger then him at work. I spoke to her once and she was hostile and mean as if I was the problem not her. It's been two years and I still have to remind myself that it is she who is the unhealthy one who would accept crumbs from a married man. It's too bad she has never been woman enough to apologize for her role in the affair and seek the help she needs, especially since this isn't the first time she has done this. Still working on praying for her; I'm not there yet. Hopefully I can find a means to forgive her someday. I often reflect on the quote, "life becomes easier when you learn to accept the apology you never got."

Wow Rick!

This article is dead on! As the unfaithful wife it was eye-opening to see that I fit into several of these categories. Although my AP was not married, it helped me understand myself from a different perspective (as if I were the AP). Thank you for shedding some light into my trying to understand how I could have allowed myself to be unfaithful. I know it is no excuse for it, but I'm starting to get a better grasp of who I am. Thanks again!

One type is missing

The overseas bar girl & her money grabbing ways are missing from the list. For 10 months my husband had an affair & funneled money to this woman that daily (via emails & calls) asked for money. He fell for it. Their affair was 90% through SMS, emails & calls. Although he did spend days& night with her while he was overseas on business trips. This takes a whole different type of processing & I'm not sure one can ever truly explore this other woman. That said, forgives is still my goal because it releases me. We are only 2 weeks from discovery of the whole truth & disclosure but I have hope & these articles help me to maintain my sanity. Thank you for providing such insight.

Understanding and Recovery

My situation is fairly new, having occurred less than a year ago. As my background is in Psychology, I have always taken on the perspective that there is more to this affair than a married man jumping into an affair with a single woman. Many of my questions to my spouse have been to gauge not only his motives but those of his affair partner. I concluded rather early that his AP had to be a woman with a painful history because as I pieced the affair together from information gathered from persons in our workplace - I discovered sadly that there was not a single person who had a nice thing to say about the AP. I received endless stories about her promiscuous sexual activity in the workplace with numerous other co-workers. I reached out to her in the manner that I thought a Christian woman should but she was looking for an argument. I refuse to behave that way - it's not in my character and it's not the way God would have me to respond. Compassion is difficult but necessary.

who is the other woman

thank you Rick... merciful article... I was involved in HH a little over three years ago in the crisis and cruelty of my former husband's affair, insistency of divorce, renouncing of his faith and family and his marriage to his affair partner after 30+ years of marriage... she was his high school girlfriend....his last words to me were "I never loved you and I always loved her"... in the last 6-8 months I have accepted that this situation is maybe as it should be... My ex really wasn't happy with me or family... I knew him to be genuinely happy with his work... as for he and she, their promises were made in the heat of foolishness and deep sinfulness and their reality is going to always be different than their fantasy... I know that she was a desperate woman who intended engagement with a married man, lived with him and then married him... I have generally not been angry at her because she was never a part of the covenant of God in my marriage concerning me... My anger has been minimal at him because his life was full of deceptive in the latter years of our marriage and there was much anger and hostility between the two of us at that time... however lack of anger is not necessarily forgiveness... on going prayer between God and I makes forgiveness probable for me... no magic, no easy but consistent prayer that leads me to the heart of God and His Word where I find transforming forgiveness to be tangible for myself and them...

Insightful article

I had a rebound affair after my wife's multiple affairs. I was so foolish and I lived out what Rick said that Pain not transformed is transferred. I only increased my pain, as well as my wife's, delayed our healing, and almost destroyed the wonderful life that God had given me. It is only because of His grace that I'm still married and we are working on our healing. The article was very insightful for me.

Rick I hope you will also write an article from the other side - a betrayed husband.

Great Article

Rick, thank you for analyzing this aspect of the affair that we want to relegate to the Dark Side. I know that we are all human and all very much imperfect. These destructive behaviors as intentional as they may feel are just sometimes the design of the perfect storm of two dysfunctional people coinciding. The black hole of questions to understand concerning the why's and how-could-you's is most times an effort in futility.

My husband's AP was rebounding and had a history of growing up in an abandoned and abused situation, similar to that of my husband's. They felt so "connected" but it was so wrong and so hurtful to me and my 3 sons who couldn't understand why daddy just suddenly up and left.

I'm 9 months from D-day and 4months into reconciliation mode, but he's not progressing in the empathy dept and I'm working on forgiveness of so many sins.

Thanks for helping me with this aspect of the Letting go.

I thought I was ready to read this...

I thought I was ready to read this.....I mean, it IS almost 17 months from Dday of my H's second EA with a coworker. But reading it brought back the anger all over again and the anger is at BOTH of them for getting together twice within our almost 36 year marriage. She belongs in the Antogonist/Family Counselor categories. I don't think she has any real woman friends. And apparently, she is a good listener. She sure listened to his sob stories about me not sharing his love for farming, the country, cows, tractors, etc. She listened during work, after work, late at night , in the wee hours of the morning- from 2:00 to 5:00 am on occasion- , on lunches, deer lease, a date....and that's just what I know about. There may be more times that I don't know about since my husband is afflicted with affair amnesia. Unfortunately, I have a hard time accepting that they only talked about land, farm machinery, and livestock, especially during the late night and early morning hours. I have prayed for her. I have prayed for him. "Father, Please forgive them because they don't know what they are doing". Over and over. And I do feel sorry for her. She's on her third or fourth marriage. I feel sorry for him that he chose to kill our marriage with his second infidelity and abuse of me for asking questions about it. I am slowly but surely trying to work through my hurt, anger, and bitterness, but until HE chooses to get over his affair amnesia and help me understand the whys, whens, wheres, and hows of the affairs and why he chose to do the abusive things he did, I will never be able to "get over it" as he so eloquently tells me I need to do. This is a great article, and it's all well and good to tell me that maybe I need to look at this from a different perspective, find compassion and understand the other woman, and walk lovingly through the pain, etc.. and I get it - I really do- at least intellectually. I truly don't want to be a resentful person, full of bitterness and anger for the rest of my life. I want to be happy and I would love it if our marriage could be saved. But my heart doesn't get it and it still hurts, hurts, hurts........even after all these months. Suffering every day....perhaps I am insane for staying around this long? I'm beginning to think I am.

Good article...

but as a betrayed husband, I would like to see the different dynamics that come with the AP being a male and the wayward spouse being female.

Thank you for this

Thank you for letting me see another side of her.
I am 9 days out from it being a 1 year, and the anger and hatred I feel towards his AP is overwhelming at times.
From what i have been told she fits into the liberated women slot, but I think I would find more compassion if I knew she had an abusive past.
But like the comment above, my husband seems to be afflicted with affair amnesia when I ask questions about what happened, what was said and done, When the affair was first discovered he saw her as "real", centre of attention,life of the party, sexy, smart, well read and beautiful,. Now he recalls her now as Vain, self centred and selfish, and having none of the qualities he would want in his life. He also states now it wasn't real. Very confusing stuff for me to grasp. He said she was his escape.
The one question that keeps bothering me that he can't seem to answer is why did he keep coming back home to me and pretend everything was okay? At least at first, then would start treating me rudely and with anger and thoughtlessness for any thought or feeling I may be having. I keep asking and he can't answer. He says because I was his wife and this is his home and where he belongs, but other than that he doesn't know.
He had his affairs (3, the last 1 sexual), around the same time of year, the death of his mother and our wedding anniversary that are days apart.
Rick I was wondering if you would be so kind as to explore and address this question. How and why does a man keep coming back home when he feels he is so unhappy, pretend he is loving and keep running back to another women at every opportunity? I also keep asking him that if he was so angry and unhappy why didn't he just leave, to which he has no answer.
Maybe you have spoke on this before, and I just haven't seen it yet. If so could you be so kind as to pass along the link to me.
I would also like to say that your emails have helped me so much and I look forward to everyone.
God bless you for helping me and so many others.

I think Rick might have

I think Rick might have talked about how men, unlike women, tend to compartmentalize their behavior and beliefs. Your words ring familiar. My H used the affair as a coping mechanism for his own unhappiness. The OW was like alchohol or drugs. She provided the excitement he needed to get away from his self loathing.
But he now admits that he could separate that world from the real world he was living in. It isn't pretending, it is more just a line between two world that they could cross fairly easily for the time.

Another perspective

My husband had an affair with a woman he worked with - she was there and made herself available. He was depressed and willing to accept what she offered. She knew he was married and she knew me. She was in the process of leaving her husband. What better way to leave your spouse than to believe you are in love with someone else?
I feel sorry for both of them - they were unable to deal with their problems in an adult and emotionally intelligent manner. They were unable to trust their spouses enough to talk about their problems.
I am still trying really hard to get past the point of castigating the other woman. I know my husband made choices every single day during his year-long affair. It seems so easy to blame her. They were both stupid to believe each others lies but they are human. What's done is done and there is no way I can change that. They were not my choices. They have to live with the choices they made for the rest of their lives. I wish them luck when they examine their consciences.
I am still with my husband because he is a good man and a good father. I am not responsible for his stupidity ( which he acknowledges).

Identify with Karen58

Hi,
I am almost 15 months post d-day. I am somewhere between Karen58 and feeling compassion. I can see both sides and can get swayed easily one way or the other, but when I am feeling compassionate I am most happy. And happiness is what I seek. At this point it doesn't matter if it is with my husband or without him. I have very recently started to see this pain as a journey that will leave me stronger and better. I have felt myself drawn to a married man who would be more than happy to show me a good time, however I keep thinking about his wife. I know I would never do to somebody else what happened to me, and realize that for someone else to do it there must be a self-esteem problem or deep pain. I am better off than my husband and his girlfriend. Their relationship was borne of pain, self-deception, and deceit. I am rich with friends and have peace now. I am also valuing myself in a way I didn't before. It takes time, time, time. It is true that time heals. I just got tired. Bone tired of the pain. And then the pall of pain started to lift somehow and I feel better. Not great, but better. I am sure that great things will come in due course if I keep my heart open. Best to everyone out there going though this nightmare!

Identify with Karen58 and Cynthia

I identify with you both. I found out about my wife's third EA with the same man, the first was 25 years ago and only found out about the second when I discovered the third. She was also having a cyber affair with her high school boyfriend during the last EA. As someone with a codependent personality I have realistically let her "get away with it" with no real consequences to her. Over the last 14 months since the last Dday I again have allowed her to continue to lie about the facts, make up new lies, not send an end letter or even give me an acceptable apology. She seems perfectly content to do within our marriage what she should have been doing for years but will not accept her responsibility for her "choices" and attampt to undo some of the damage. I have been going to therapy every two weeks and I now realize that my codependency is allowing this to continue but I am becoming stronger. I feel that she has no sense that I could ever really leave her, as I have proven over and over, but I can never be happy myself if I continue that path. I am going to try to make her understand and give her one last chance to take her responsibility, answer my questions, send an "end" letter, apologize and prove that she values our marriage more than her own selfishness. It will take enormous strength for me to do this and I pray for that strength daily. I pray peace for you as well in your painful journey. If anyone has any words of advice or encouragement I could surely use them. Thanks to you all.

How does knowing she is antagonist help me care about her?

My husband's affair was brought on by many serious situations in our lives. Needless to say, the stress we were both under was overwhelming and "she" came along saying all the right things at just the right time. I called and asked her to stop and she made a show of leaving her husband the day I asked. Then my husband left me to go to her over 800 miles away. She demanded that he have no contact with his son (or me for that matter) or anyone here in our hometown. It lasted exactly 6 days after he got there. Even though she made a show of "leaving" her husband, she made herself available to him everytime he was home and my husband found out. My husband found out what she was but took another week to come home. So, how do I have any compassion for someone who blatantly makes it a lifestyle to seek out married men and have affairs with them? She sent my husband a song and told him they could talk again - that she wouldn't tell anybody. So I responded and told her to leave us alone. She responded to that and all she did was try to tell me that my husband loved her, would always love her; that I was "bashing" her and that I needed to "think" before I wrote her a nasty note again. She said she forgave me for the note. She did not apologize nor make any attempt to admit that wrong was done! How do I hold any esteem for someone like that? Where do I muster up compassion for someone with this lack of moral responsibility? How does knowing she is an antagonist help me to care about her? I pray for her family daily. I pray that God will open the eyes of her understanding, bring her to her senses and turn her stoney heart to flesh daily. But I have absolutely NO compassion for her - I work to NOT hate her! I daily ask God to help me forgive her. So, where do I go from here? What's next? These "feelings" are not as intense or as frequent as they used to be but they are still there. Any advice?

Good article with a helpful information & kudos for the warning

Rick,

I was in Dallas this past week at a conference dealing with this issue of the AP. Wonderful insights from you.

Blessings

Great Article

I am only 3 months into discovery much husband's "emotional" affair with a co-worker. The list of women didn't include the "Help Me" woman; the woman who confides in someone to help her with her problems to lure a man in. My husband insists they were 'just friends' and he tried to help (counsel) her with her problems (marital, as in having a cheating, abusive spouse who fathered a child with another woman 15 years prior while she was also pregnant with their child, emotional, etc.) and she 'fell' for my husband. Doesn't excuse the fact that he didn't put a stop to it immediately, but I think it would be helpful for me if I could understand her motives.

What type of affair was it?

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