Being the other woman is often a taboo topic in society. Being with another woman’s man just seems like a line you don’t cross. A relationship is a sacred bond which you don’t breach. Still, what if you already have?
We don’t often talk about how it feels to be the other woman. She’s usually villainized right off the bat. Even more so than the man who is cheating. This is definitely unfair, but it’s the picture our society has painted.
Yet, the other woman often faces a lot of pain throughout the experience. She may not even have knowingly become the third wheel in a committed relationship. She may have been just as deceived as his main partner. The plight of loving someone who’s unavailable can be devastating.
Then there’s the fear of losing him, and the heartbreak when it inevitably comes to an end. While many women hope that he will leave her for them, it’s extremely rare for a man to end up with his “side chick.”
One study found that only one in five affairs1 resulted in the end of the primary relationship. What’s more, only one in ten instances led to a committed relationship with the other woman.
Given all of this, it’s understandable that the other woman often struggles with lasting emotional turmoil. Let’s take a look at 17 common psychological effects of being the other woman, and how you can deal with being one.
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At first, the idea of “forbidden fruit” can be alluring and exciting. Knowing that it’s wrong can produce an abundance of adrenaline. If you’re the kind of woman who is typically more reserved, it can feel thrilling to do something that no one would expect of you. You may romanticize the idea of forbidden love.
Unfortunately, these feelings are short-lived, as some of the more devastating psychological effects of being the other woman start to take their toll on you.
After the initial excitement begins to fade, guilt is one of the most common psychological effects of being the other woman. You may feel guilty for going behind another woman’s back. You wonder what she’s like and how you would feel in her shoes.
This feeling may be even stronger if there’s a family involved. You may feel guilty that your actions could contribute to breaking up the family. Even though your affair partner is also to blame, it’s common for women to shoulder most of the guilt.
You may also feel guilty for lying to close friends and family about what’s really going on in your life. These are the people you usually share everything with, but now you have to make up stories about how you’re spending your time. All the lies can really take their toll on you.
As time goes on, the burden of living a double life will only make the guilt grow more intense. It will become harder and harder to constantly lie to keep the secret. Guilt is often stronger for highly sensitive or empathic women.
When you’re the other woman, you never know what tomorrow will bring. Unlike a committed relationship, affairs are fragile and feel like they could end at any given moment. This can make you feel insecure in the relationship.
You may become obsessive and start to desperately look for signs of his true intentions. You feel a need for answers to calm your doubts.
On top of that, his partner could find out and you have no idea how she might react. There’s always that worry of “what if she takes it out on me?”
It’s no secret that there’s a stigma around being “the other woman,” or the even less flattering title of “side chick.” Movies paint this woman in a very unflattering light. She’s considered selfish, manipulative, and a “homewrecker.” Sometimes she’s even portrayed as a gold-digging mistress.
It’s natural to wonder whether you’re a bad person for being the other woman. You look at these stereotypes and wonder whether they apply to you. You’re afraid of what your friends and family would think if they knew.
This deep sense of shame can be agonizing. You may end up internalizing the beliefs society holds of women in your place and start believing them yourself.
When you’re the other woman, you may wonder if you can ever really trust your affair partner. You know he’s lying to her, so he could just as easily lie to you.
If he initially lied about his relationship status when you met, that can cause even further trust issues. You could feel deceived and deeply hurt by the betrayal. You may wonder what else he’s hiding.
Even if you do end up together, the relationship will likely be marred by your fear that he will cheat on you the way he cheated on her. You also may worry that he will regret his decision and eventually return to her.
These trust issues can also affect future relationships as you question the honesty of the men in new relationships you enter.
Since you likely can’t turn to your usual support system, it’s common to feel isolated and lonely as the other woman. The guilt and shame of lying to them may make you retreat and pull further away from them.
You may only feel like yourself when you’re with him. Unfortunately, you’re not his top priority. Your emotional needs may go unmet, as he spends time in his other relationship. You’ll have to arrange your dates based on his schedule.
There will be large chunks of time when you aren’t able to be with him or even call him. He may even have certain rules for how and when you can contact him so he doesn’t get caught. You won’t be able to be part of the bigger moments in his life, like birthdays and vacations.
This isolation from both your friends and your affair partner can make you feel very sad and lonely.
When you’re in love with an emotionally unavailable man, it can certainly affect your self-esteem. You may start to wonder whether you’re someone who even deserves love. This is especially common if you feel like you’re just being used for sex.
You might start to compare yourself to his main partner. You may wonder what he sees in her that he doesn’t see in you. Why doesn’t he want to be monogamous with you?
It can also start to feel like you’ll always be the other woman, either with him or even in future relationships. Maybe you worry you’re not good enough for a real relationship.
Unfortunately, this hit to your self-confidence can follow you into your future dating life if you don’t deal with it. This is one of the long-term psychological effects of being the other woman.
Affairs often have different power dynamics than normal, healthy relationships. In many cases, the man has the upper hand.
It’s up to him to decide whether or not to leave his primary relationship for you. You may feel manipulated because you feel like you are being strung along. He may dishonestly make you believe that he sees a future with you.
You may also feel manipulated if you weren’t aware that your partner was already in a committed relationship with someone else when you started seeing him. It can feel like a betrayal to find this out.
Regardless of whether you knowingly or unknowingly became the other woman, you may stop trusting your own judgment.
If you knew you were entering an affair with someone else’s partner, you may often wonder why you did it. You may second-guess your morals and values. If he keeps saying he’s going to leave her, you may question whether you’re naive for believing him.
If you didn’t know in the beginning that he was already a committed man, you may doubt yourself for believing his lies. You hate that you missed all of the red flags. You never wanted to hurt anyone, but now you feel trapped since you’ve already developed strong emotions.
Due to the secret nature of such a relationship, all of your emotions will feel heightened. It can feel a lot like an emotional rollercoaster.
After the initial thrill of being the other woman, you may develop strong feelings of love for this person. This leads to conflicting emotions because you also feel sad and worry that the relationship will not last.
Since the relationship is playing itself out in a bubble, and no one knows what’s going on between the two of you, you’re unable to tell anyone about these feelings. When you’re not able to get negative emotions off your chest they linger inside you and feel even stronger.
When you’re in love with someone you know you shouldn’t be involved with, it can bring up a lot of conflicting feelings. Should you stay or should you go? Part of you wants to break things off, but another part of you may feel too attached at this point.
What may have started as a physical affair has turned into a more emotional affair, which is harder to let go of. It’s difficult to balance the psychological effects of shame, guilt, and anger with the joy and love you feel.
Sometimes other aspects of the relationship can seem great! Maybe you have a great connection and feel supported by him. Maybe you even feel like he loves you back. Still, the psychological effects of being the other woman may feel like too much to handle.
Another way conflicting feelings can arise is from the disconnect between your guilt and also feeling justified in your actions. You may believe that your partner “loves you more” or that his main flame is undeserving.
An unfaithful man may tell you that his other partner is lacking in some significant way. He may say she is evil and selfish, or that their love simply died a long time ago. You may start to internalize this belief, but still, on some level, you know it’s wrong.
This internal conflict can eat away at you as you try to make the best decision for yourself.
Another one of the psychological effects of being the other woman is anger. Maybe you’re angry at him, his other partner, or even the world at large for not letting you be happy.
You may feel a lot of resentment towards your partner. Maybe he lied in the beginning about being committed to someone else. Maybe he keeps saying he’s going to leave her, but he never does.
You may also feel anger and resentment towards his primary relationship. The other woman is preventing you two from being together. She also gets all the benefits of a traditional relationship that you’ll never see, like spending time together on special occasions.
Lastly, you may be angry at the whole situation. You never set out to be the other woman. You just wanted to find love like anyone else. It can feel unfair that you’re in this position.
The constant pressure of this type of relationship can be overwhelming, leaving you emotionally exhausted. You constantly have to sneak around. You can’t be seen in public together. This adds a lot of emotional stress to the equation.
Additionally, you may feel like you can’t completely be yourself in the relationship. It’s draining to try and meet the needs that his other partner isn’t fulfilling. You may try to be the woman she isn’t so he doesn’t leave you.
It’s also tiring trying to navigate the often unclear rules of the relationship. You may be confused about how you fit into his life. The rules may even change from day to day. One day he can’t wait to hear from you, but the next day he may pull away as the other relationship takes his focus.
All of these significant psychological effects can start to eat away at you to the point where you stop feeling and acting like yourself. In addition to distancing yourself from loved ones, you could become moody and feel like you’re losing control.
You may even lose yourself by trying to be the woman you think he wants you to be. You’re so afraid of losing this fragile relationship that you’re desperate to do whatever it takes to keep him. All of this can make it hard to actually enjoy yourself and be present in the relationship.
The emotional turmoil of being the other woman can also lead to restlessness and insomnia. You may feel like your thoughts are constantly racing and you don’t know how to turn them off so you can relax.
It’s common to obsess about the “what-ifs” of the relationship. You may ruminate about how much longer the affair will last. You might stay up at night wondering how you got into this mess in the first place.
Insomnia can have a lot of unwanted side effects, like daytime fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. The fatigue can even lead to a blurred sense of reality.
A secret relationship can cause a lot of fear of being found out. You may feel stressed that you may be found out, either by her or by others you know. The constant lies and secrecy involved can produce a lot of anxiety.
You also may fear what would happen if you were to lose him, which is a very real possibility. Relationships that can end at any moment create a level of emotional stress that can feel unbearable.
Additionally, you may develop a fear of rejection. If your loved ones were to find out, how would they react? Would they still accept you or would they cut you out of their lives?
Chronic stress can ultimately lead to Generalized Anxiety Disorder2. This debilitating disorder is characterized by uncontrollable worry. It’s also common to experience physical symptoms like stomach pain and headaches.
If your anxiety becomes too much for you and is interfering with your ability to go about your daily life, it’s important to seek help from a trained therapist.
Battling through all of these psychological effects of being the other woman can undeniably make you feel sad. That’s completely normal. Feeling guilty, isolated, and doubtful are sure to make anyone a little sad.
On the other hand, these feelings could turn into depression, or Major Depressive Disorder, which is a serious mental health condition. In addition to feeling sad, depression can include symptoms like insomnia, changes in appetite, fatigue, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, or inability to concentrate.
Unlike sadness, clinical depression significantly interferes with your ability to go about your daily activities. It can be helpful to seek treatment from a counseling professional. Always seek help immediately if you start to lose hope for the future or if you have thoughts of harming yourself.
Deciding to end an affair is a painful but necessary step for most women in this position. Moving on can be a long and very difficult process. Here are some steps you can take to deal with this pain.
Once you decide to end things, make a point of ending all communication. Let him know your boundaries. Block him on social media. You don’t want to see photos or updates about him, especially if they surround his main flame.
You also want to make sure you don’t reach out to him during a moment of weakness, begging for him to take you back. Delete and block his number from your phone to avoid the temptation.
Healing from the psychological effects of being the other woman can take a long time. Be patient and give yourself a break.
Try to enjoy life as a single woman for a bit. Don’t rush into new relationships or these psychological effects could take their toll on it. You could bring trust issues, insecurity, and low self-esteem into the next relationship. You could also end up being the other woman again and creating a pattern.
It’s important to make yourself a priority right now. Do what you need to do to start building your self-esteem back up. Explore your hobbies and interests. Reconnect with friends or family you may have distanced yourself from.
Treat yourself with compassion. Forgive yourself if you’re holding onto guilt and shame from the affair. Remind yourself that you’re still a good person. Everyone makes mistakes.
Consider what a healthy relationship looks like to you. Take the time to map out the qualities you’re looking for in a man. What do you value beyond the surface level?
When you’re ready to begin dating again, make sure to look for signs of the qualities you noted. Avoid a man who displays signs that he will be disrespectful or untrustworthy. Use what you’ve learned from the affair to your advantage.
If you can, consider confiding in someone you know won’t judge you. However, many women may not have someone in their life that they feel would understand. In that case, seeking help from a professional therapist is a good alternative.
A professional can help you overcome some of the damaging psychological effects of being the other woman. They can help you make sense of the experience and move forward in a healthy way.
With platforms like Relationship Hero, you can get matched with a professional who specializes in the specific issue that’s bothering you and get help. Take their short 2-minute quiz to get started.
If you frequently find yourself in the role of the other woman, it may be time to evaluate why. Do you feel you’re not worthy of a traditional, loving relationship? Do you suffer from low self-esteem? Do you like being the other woman on some level?
Low self-worth can lead you to unintentionally seek out toxic relationships. This might stem from an unhealthy attachment style formed with your parents during childhood. You may unknowingly seek out men who remind you of an unavailable father figure.
Low self-esteem can also cause you to become the victim in various situations in your life. You may look like an easy target for men with bad intentions. You may also ignore signs that a man is lying to you, so you end up in affairs despite not wanting to be involved.
Some women enter affairs because of loneliness. You may feel desperate and crave a sense of connection, no matter where it’s coming from.
On the other hand, there are some women who enjoy being the other woman in a relationship. Maybe you like the thrill of it all. Maybe you enjoy the secrecy. Maybe you’re not ready for a long-term commitment so an affair sounds more appealing. You get the fun aspects of a relationship without the responsibility.
Lastly, you may not necessarily enjoy the idea of being the other woman, but you crave instant gratification. That means you may seek out men that fit your criteria, regardless of their relationship status. You may have a scarcity mindset and believe that you have to take what you can get.
No matter the reason, being the other woman for years can have many negative psychological effects, so it’s important to take a good look at your patterns in order to disrupt the cycle.
The end of an affair can be traumatic for the other woman. While there may be some relief that she no longer has to hide the secret, there’s also a lot of sadness. She may feel alone because there’s no one she can talk to about it. She may feel resentful if she believed he was going to leave his wife for her.
The other woman may feel guilty that she is going behind the wife’s back. She may worry that she’s potentially breaking up a family. She may feel resentment that the wife gets to spend time with him and enjoy all the benefits of a traditional relationship. She may feel justified in the affair if the man is telling her bad things about the wife.
The psychological effects of being the other woman can be traumatic. You can deal by ending the affair, cutting off all means of contact, making yourself a priority, and seeking help from a qualified professional. It’s very important to take the time to heal before entering another relationship.
If you’re aware that a man is in a monogamous relationship with someone else, then you may be considered the other woman, regardless of whether the entire affair is just physical or emotional. Either way, there are other parties involved who stand to get hurt if they found out.
Seeing a therapist or other counseling professional can help you overcome some of the psychological effects of being the other woman. They can also provide a safe space to help you make sense of the situation, especially when you’re afraid to tell friends or family what’s going on.
Some women like being the other woman. It can be exciting, at first, to sneak around and have a secret relationship. You may even feel justified if he’s telling you all the bad things about his primary relationship. Still, the psychological effects of being the other woman can be detrimental in the long run.
If you’re suffering from the psychological effects of being the other woman, there is still hope. You can get out of the affair and eventually find happiness in a new, healthy relationship. Follow the steps above and get help from a professional if you need it.
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