Friday, July 28, 2006

Dismaying Story #15: The Other Person's Pain

Dear Andrew,

Your story about The Affair-Proof Marriage makes me wonder about my own situation. I have been dating a married man for four years. He is my best friend and the sex is fun, but still I'm trying to end it. Here are a few things that have been bothering me:

1) All the signs of a cheat that you mentioned in your story are dead on. I'm the other person and I notice any little change in routine. Why doesn't the wife see it?

2) I seem to be trying to scare him into thinking I may be moving on but that hasn't changed anything. I would like to figure out how to get back to our friendship and walk away from the sex. This I'm sure of ... I either want him to leave his wife NOW or I want out NOW.

3) Do you think it's possible to be the other woman and it will turn out to be a successful relationship in the end?

As far as my friends know I'm happy, the life of the party. Inside, though, I am lonely, have no self-confidence and I don't trust anyone. Any thoughts?

Signed, The Other Woman

Dear Hurting Spirit,

Much of the discussion about extramarital affairs focuses, quite understandably, on how they impact the spouse and children. Your letter shows that a cheating husband can also create considerable turmoil in the "other" woman's life.

Let me start with your first question. I can think of several possible reasons a spouse might not catch on:
  • According to the FAQFarm article Signs of a Cheating Spouse: "Unfortunately, the 'signs' aren't that obvious nor are they that reliable. If he/she is doing it 'right', you won't be able to tell unless you catch him/her in the act." Like you say, though, often the signs are there to be noticed.
  • We all have a natural tendency to avoid pain. Few people want to think their spouse is cheating. Refusal to even consider the concept is understandable.
  • Marriage is based on trust. If the cheater's spouse trusts him (or her) then the spouse will be more likely to interpret the signs in a positive way, such as: "Oh, but he really is working lots of overtime."
Perhaps other readers can help us out with this issue. Can anyone out there speak from personal experience?

Now let's talk about what a great friend this guy is for you. I believe in the old expression: To have a friend, you must be one in return. A friend has your interests at heart. He wants you to be happy and finds ways to make that happen. He helps you avoid pain.

So what does your so-called friend do? He drops by, gets what he wants and then runs back to his life, leaving you feeling lonely. He robs you of the opportunity to find someone who will truly be yours by allowing you to spend all your time and emotional energy on a go-nowhere relationship. He shows callous disregard for your happiness -- he knows you are discontented yet he changes nothing. I'm guessing he provides you with some intermittent companionship and may drop the occasional compliment on you, but when you look at the big picture he is not being a good friend for you.

Can the other woman ever become the main squeeze? Sure, it happens sometimes. The real question for you, though, is whether you and this guy will stroll off into the sunset together.

Sorry to say but I highly doubt it. You've been together for years, right? Please. He has had plenty of opportunity to decide he wants you instead of her and to go ahead and make that happen. He hasn't done that, though. What should that tell you?

He doesn't want to!

Your "friend" enjoys things just the way they are, thank you very much. Otherwise he would have left his wife for you long ago.

You have a few options. You could keep on keepin' on and nothing will change. Well, that's not strictly true. I suspect you would feel worse and worse about yourself as time goes on. How could you not? After all, the most special adult in your world keeps telling you that you're not good enough to be with fulltime. You're only suitable as a diversion. And as long as everything stays the same, you have little to look forward to. You know there's nothing better coming down the road. Who could maintain a positive outlook in that situation?

Maybe you could do as you suggested -- leave the sex by the roadside and continue on as friends only. Hmmm. Would he be satisfied with that? Hardly, not after years of booty calls. Would he constantly pressure you to get back into bed? Almost certainly, if he sticks around very long, which I find highly unlikely. Would that relationship be satisfying for you? I hope not. As long as he is still in your life, you are not out finding someone who thinks you are plenty special and shows you by treating you that way. And what if someone special did come along –- with your "friend" hanging around, how long would the new guy stay? Not long, I bet.

Maybe you still think your friend might leave his wife. There is an easy way to test that. Give him a deadline, something close to the "NOW" you mentioned. Tell him the sex is done as of this minute and it stays that way until he has left his wife. Give him a firm deadline, no longer than a week. Tell him if that deadline passes with no action, you and he will be through. No being friends, no "for old times sake" rolls in the hay, no talking on the phone – completely done.

You say you would like to end it. If so, you must be strong here. He will try to negotiate a longer deadline, a much longer deadline if he can manage it. He will tell you he needs time to think about it, to prepare, that there is something going on that makes this a particularly bad time and can't you just wait a while longer. Don't buy it.

Now, for all you readers who think I'm advocating breaking up a marriage, I'm not. I have every confidence this guy will stay with his wife. Like I said, he would have left long ago if that was his intention. (Mind you, based on his apparent level of commitment to the marriage, I'm not sure his wife is getting such a great deal by keeping him.) What I am doing is offering a lonely, scared woman a way to convince herself there is no future in this extramarital relationship.

To be honest, the chances are about nil that the deadline would serve any purpose. His preference is already clear and I seriously doubt any deadline will change his mind. So my real advice is this:
  • Look in the mirror and tell the person you see that she deserves to be happy.
  • Admit to yourself that this relationship is not making you happy, in fact it is sabotaging any chance you might have of finding contentment.
  • Save yourself the week of waiting. Show him the door – today – and don't ever look back.
Change is hard. It's scary to give up what you have, even if you know it's not perfect. "At least it's something, right? At least I'm not totally alone. What if no one else wants me? Ever."

Yes, it's scary, but you have to choose between a guarantee that you will be lonely and hurting, versus a chance for something better. You can keep the pain . . . or grab onto hope.

I know which one I would choose every time.

And surely you've heard: there are plenty of fish in the sea. Fish who would love to meet someone like you. Unmarried, available fish. I'm just saying . . .


Are you in a relationship you feel is less than ideal? Do you have life lessons to share based on one of your relationships? Please take a few minutes to email your own Dismaying Story or enter a comment using the link below.

This is a good opportunity to remind all readers that seeking advice from some Internet guy named Andrew is convenient and (hopefully) entertaining. This type of forum should never be considered as a replacement, however, for talking face-to-face with a professional who can learn the details of your situation and provide personalized care.


  1. I can't speak as the "other woman" but I can speak as a wife...

    I think it's all about commitment. People who cheat have already crossed that line and it's that much easier to do it again. If the issues that prevent someone from committing are not resolved - they'll do it again.

    I don't think you can get a happy ending with someone who's not yours to begin with.

  2. Kellie,
    Thanks for pointing that out. You're right, I probably should have mentioned: If he'll do it with you, there is a good chance he'll do it to you.

  3. I just have absolutely no respect for a "homewrecking" woman! That's probably also because they must not have any respect for themselves to do such a thing. I say end it to this "other woman." But make sure you do the right thing and tell the wife what her husband has been doing! The wife has a right to know!

  4. Becky: Like Kellie, you have brought up a side of the issue that I didn't touch on in my response. In deciding how to proceed, The Other Woman should consider the impact of her actions on the lives of others, in this case her boyfriend's wife. Thanks for pointing that out.

  5. Anonymous10:50 PM

    Thanks, this is what I needed to hear and more. It's not like I didn't know it, I just didn't want to accept it.

    Thanks and I will keep you posted

  6. Anonymous1:28 AM

    Broken Hearted agian...I discovered my husband was having an affair with a woman we both new who lived down the youngest child and her children were friends, it wasn't a happy marriage for me although it spanned 20 years...I went through feeling of low self esteem not feeling worthy or attractive enough...I clung to him, throwing my self at him with no affect from him to attempt to console my grief or make ammends. I finally moved on but only when a man came into my life, offering compassion and disgust in my situation, telling how desirable I was and that if I was his I would be treated like gold, I left my husband and resumed a long distance relationship with this married man who had no children, more than a year later I am grieving the destitution of this so called relationship, because I had become the other woman, just like the one down the road. I found myself desparately wanting love and committment from my lover, which he never offered but never denied...complimenting me on my looks and personality as being the ideal woman...I challanged the situation as he did several times both attempting to end things but always making up and settling for our partime indiscretions, I tried to make myself I believed he did love me and would eventually he would come around...I now today find myself leaving work grieving as he says he almost hates me and being proscribed anxiaty medication on top of the anti depressants I have been taking for the last 3 weeks...when will this pain end and how do I let go...I am in love and I know it is one is breaking my heart...even though I know I am creating for his wife the very thing that destroyed my life.