Words have power and when you’re feeling powerless, you’ll grasp at anything that might give you a spark, even for a moment. So if your husband leaves you for another, you’ll feel better if you call her names – homewrecker, low-life, bitch, whore, tramp, slut, skank.
If you’re a woman whose marriage ended suddenly when your husband left for another woman, you probably struggled desperately with that fact and the role that that other woman played in the debacle. Unlike the variety of sexual encounters that some men have with other women (online in chat rooms, one night stands on business trips, massages with “happy endings”, strip clubs and paid sex, to name a few), most men who leave committed marriages are typically having an affair in the classical sense with a real flesh and blood woman, one that involves secrecy and sex, but also emotional involvement.
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Wives left behind deal with this female intruder in a variety of ways. Some may see her as an evil temptress who preyed on a vulnerable man who would never have strayed were he not lured into it. She’s not seen as a normal person with her own struggles and because of the fact that her existence has harmed you so severely, she has tremendous power over you. She takes on an almost supernatural form in your mind, like a character from a fairy tale.
Who the other woman actually is varies from case to case, but typically, she’s someone your husband met at work or knew from high school or is his personal trainer (a bit too personal?) – someone you don’t actually know. In the atypical and truly awful case, she’s a friend (either yours or a friend of the family), a neighbor or, for example, your daughter’s babysitter or swim coach.
During those months just after your marriage ended when you’re out of your mind, you may become obsessed with her. She’s a huge threat (why did he choose her over you?) and you desperately need to understand her allure. You hate her and blame her and probably want to hurt her somehow. If she’s married, you may be tempted to or actually do contact her husband to screw up her life like yours has been.
Here’s a quote from an abandoned wife on this topic: “I used to spend countless hours wondering how the OW, knowing we had a large loving family, could help push the relationship. I realize now that she didn’t think anything. They were so caught up in each other that it justified their behavior. And who knows what the former husbands have told her? He can tell her anything. She probably thinks she is rescuing him!”
In the early days after you learn about the affair, you will want to pump your husband for details, needing to know how it happened, where and when they met and how often they saw each other. And then, you probably want to know more – does he love her, what did they do sexually, what are his plans with her (sub-text, will she replace you in his life?) But it’s a double-edged sword because each piece of information pierces your heart and then gets lodged in your brain. The more you know, the worse you feel. Knowing details hurts you more and makes you feel even more betrayed.
In a desperate attempt to unearth what was going on, some wives actually meet with the Other Woman. The wives want to hear from her what the truth was or need to tell her how the man has been lying to her but most wives regret having done so. One told me “She just gave me boat loads of more crap to be distressed about.”
You probably can’t help yourself and refer to her as whore, bitch or skank, even if you’re not typically the type of women who talks like that. It helps a tiny bit to lessen the pain. One shocking moment I experienced in the every early days after my husband left was when I referred to his girlfriend as a whore and he said, “Don’t talk about her like that” He was protecting her! Whew! That was rough. I realized the hard way that he was more allied with her than he was with me.
So if it helps a little bit, what’s wrong with using strong language about the Other Woman when talking with friends? Two things: 1) It reveals the tremendous power she has over you, so much so, that you have to try to destroy her with words because you’re helpless to hurt her otherwise. 2) It brings you down a few notches and keeps you feeling badly. You’ll feel better about yourself if you act above it until you actually are.
So what advice do I have for you about the other woman?
1) Be a lady and stop using dirty words to refer to her. It feels good for the moment but brings you down in some psychic way (if even to yourself).
2) Stop asking about the details of the affair. He may be tempted to tell you!
3) Recognize that most husbands who’ve had long term affairs have told the other woman that the marriage is virtually over and his wife knows it. He lies to you and he lies to her too.
5) Don’t try to meet with the other woman. There’s nothing good that will come of that!
6) Turn down the volume on her importance in your life. Unless she was a friend, this is really about you and him.
7) And be kind to yourself! As a matter of fact, girl, give yourself a hug right now!
I’m a psychotherapist, family therapist and the author of Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife’s Guide to Recovery and Renewal; The Divorce Talk: How to Tell the Kids – A Parent’s Guide to Breaking the News without Breaking Their Hearts; My Sister, My Self: The Surprising Ways that Being an Older, Middle, Younger or Twin Shaped Your Life and the editor of Planet Heartbreak: Abandoned Wives Tell Their Stories. I can be found online at www.vikkistark.com.