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Monday, June 13, 2016

How the "Other Woman" or "Other Man" in an Affair Can Keep the Primary Relationship Together

In a prior article, Leading a Double Life in an Affair as the "Other Woman" or "Other Man", I discussed what it is like being the "other woman" or the "other man" with someone who is already in a primary relationship with someone else.  In this article, I'm focusing on how an affair often keeps the couple in the primary relationship together (see my article: Infidelity: Acting In Instead of Acting Out).

How the "Other Woman" or "Other Man" Keeps the Primary Relationship Together

Although it might seem that extramarital affairs always break up a marriage, this is often not the case.  After the initial shock, anger and sadness, many couples decide to remain together and try to work things out (see my article: The Allure of the Extramarital Affair).

Often, affairs don't start with the "other man" or "other women" making demands, especially if s/he is aware that there is a spouse or committed partner.  But as the affair continues, it's not usual for the person who is the "other" to make demands for the partner to leave the primary relationship.

Over time, this can involve threats to let the spouse know about the affair if the partner doesn't leave on his or her own accord.

From the point of view of the two people in the committed relationship, before the unsuspecting spouse finds out about the affair, the situation between them often improves because the cheating spouse is now getting whatever s/he felt was missing from the primary relationship.

The "other woman" or "other man," who might be hoping that the partner will leave the primary relationship, is often surprised to discover that partner is now happier with the arrangement and that each person, the spouse and the other partner in combination, meet his or her needs.

While it's true that not everyone who has an affair does so because s/he feels something is missing in the primary relationship, this is often true for a large percentage of people who cheat.

As previously mentioned, even after the unsuspecting spouse finds out, s/he and the spouse might decide, ultimately, that they've invested too much in their marriage to split up.  At that point, they might enter into couples therapy.

The following fictionalized scenario demonstrates how this dynamic often plays out.

Alice, Jim, and Ellen
Alice met Jim at the hotel bar when each of them were on a business trip.

Although he was flirtatious with Alice, he also let her know from the start that he was married.  Alice wasn't looking for a committed relationship at that point, so it didn't matter to her that Jim was married.

How the "Other Woman" or "Other Man" Keeps the Primary Relationship Together

Alice thought Jim was sexy and intelligent, and she never thought that anything would evolve beyond a one-night stand with him.

But after that initial encounter, Alice moved to NYC to take a new job.  Discovering that they worked near each other, they carried on an affair during lunch hours and after work.

Jim made it very clear that he would never leave his wife, Ellen, whom he loved.  But he liked being with Alice because she was more sexually adventurous than Ellen.  He was a little bored in his marriage, and the secrecy of the affair excited him.

Several months into the affair, Alice was a restaurant with friends.  As she was about to leave, she saw Jim and Ellen together.  She was surprised and hurt to see how loving they were with each other.  Alice watched them together, but Jim didn't see her.

How the "Other Woman" or "Other Man" Keeps the Primary Relationship Together

After that, she realized that she was jealous and she had developed deeper feelings for Jim without realizing it.  So, when she saw him again, she told him that she loved him, hoping he would leave his marriage to be with her.

He was initially surprised.  Then, he told Alice that although he was fond of her, he didn't want to leave his marriage.  In fact, he said, he was happier in his marriage now than he had ever been since he started the affair with Alice.  He explained to her that while he liked her and had fun with her, he wanted to stay with Ellen.  Ellen fulfilled other important emotional needs, and he had no intention of leaving her.

Alice became enraged at Jim's self centeredness.  Before she saw Jim and Ellen together, Alice thought he was bored with his marriage to Ellen and he would soon realize that he really wanted end the marriage to be with her.

After hearing what Jim had to say, she realized that, by having the affair with Jim, she was actually helping to keep Jim and Ellen together.  This infuriated her.

Alice gave Jim an ultimatum: Either leave Ellen to be with her or she would contact Ellen and tell her about the affair.  She gave him two months to do this.

Jim warned her against ever calling Ellen.  He felt that Ellen was "the innocent party" in all of this and she didn't deserve to be hurt.  He also reminded Alice that he told her from the beginning that he had no intention of ending his marriage.  If he were not married, he said, he would want to be in a relationship with Alice, but he was, so he couldn't be with her.

Before she could say anything more, Jim kissed her and used his seductive charm to placate her.  He also comforted himself by telling himself that Alice would never reveal their affair to Ellen.  She was just trying to manipulate him, he thought, and nothing would come of it.

But as time passed, Alice became more determined.  After spending the holidays by herself while Jim was with his wife, she decided that, once the two month deadline was up, she would make good on her threat.  Then, she thought, Ellen would leave Jim and he would be free to be with her.

After a month and a half went by, Alice asked Jim if he had told his wife about the affair.  When he laughed and said "Of course not, and you're not going to do it either."

Alice remained quiet, but she was seething inside.  She became obsessed with how and when she would contact Ellen and what she would say.

Alice decided to call Ellen at home when she knew that Jim was away.

When she heard Ellen's voice on the phone, Alice got anxious and nearly hung up.  But she decided that she had already made up her mind and she wasn't going to back down.

How the "Other Woman" or "Other Man" Keeps the Primary Relationship Together

Summoning her courage, she told Ellen that she was having an affair with Jim for the past year and she had pictures and text messages to prove it.

Initially, Ellen was silent and then she told Alice that she had suspected this for several months, but she couldn't bring herself to confront him.  But now that she knew, she was going to fight for her marriage.  Then, she hung up.

The next day, Jim called Alice in a rage.  Ellen told him about the call and he was furious with Alice for hurting Ellen.  Alice wanted to say, "Are you going to take any responsibility for hurting her?"  But before she could say anything else, he told her that he and Ellen decided to work on their marriage and he never wanted to see Alice again.  Then he hung up.

Alice was stunned.  She never thought it would end this way.  She was sure that Ellen would be angry and leave Jim.  She didn't realize that the marriage was that important to both Ellen and Jim and that they would try to work things out, even though Ellen was very hurt about the affair.

After that, Alice plunged into a depression and she began therapy to try to understand what happened and why she allowed herself to be the "other woman"with a married man.

In therapy, she discovered that the triangulation that went on in her childhood home was, unconsciously,  at the core of her decision to get into a love triangle with Jim (see my article:  How Triangulation in the Childhood Home Can Lead to Love Triangles as an Adult).

She felt deeply ashamed of her role as the "other woman" and angry because she felt "used" by Jim.

Gradually, she was able to work through the current issues as well as the earlier childhood trauma so that, eventually, she was able to enter into a healthy relationship.

Jim and Ellen went to couples therapy to work on the rift in their marriage.  The couples therapist also recommended that Jim enter into his own individual therapy to understand the underlying issues that lead to his infidelity.

The couples therapist also recommended that Ellen enter into her own individual therapy to understand what the underlying issues were for her in terms of suspecting an affair but not confronting Jim.

Even though Ellen was very angry and hurt, she and Jim were both committed to saving their marriage.  Ellen realized that she often found Jim to be too sexually demanding and, on some level, she was relieved that he might be seeing someone else to meet his sexual needs.  She explored this further in her own individual therapy.

Jim realized how selfish he had been to have the affair.  He also realized that the affair was compartmentalized in his mind and that this compartmentalization was what kept him from feeling guilty about it.

In addition, Jim came to see how insecure he was and that having an attractive, sexy woman like Alice was an boost to his ego.

In his individual therapy, he worked on the earlier childhood issues that contributed to his feelings of insecurity about himself, so that he wouldn't act out again by having another affair.

Although many people breakup after one or both find out about an extramarital affair, there are also many couples who remain together.

Contrary to what might seem logical, affairs often stabilize the primary relationship in ways that the "other woman" or "other man" might not foresee.

Each person who is involved in the triangle plays a particular role, which will be different in each love triangle.

Often the core problems that lead to love triangles are rooted in earlier unresolved childhood issues.

Getting Help in Therapy
Whether you're the person who is cheating, the other spouse or the the other woman or man, psychotherapy with a licensed mental health professional can be helpful in working through these issues.

Working through the earlier issues that are often at the core, as well as working on present day problems, can help you to work through these issues and move on with your life, no matter which role you play in the triangle.

If you identify with the problems presented in this article, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.