Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Other Woman Syndrome

The Other Woman in an affair likes to pretend the Wife does not exist. Mentally she ‘kills’ her off. The wife is conveniently blotted out of the fantasy picture. She is not a real human being but an inconvenience to be ignored.

But if the OW is forced to think about the wife, she demonises her as ‘mad’ or ‘bad’ or both. She condemns the wife as neurotic, unstable and weak or controlling, domineering and abusive; someone who does not understand, appreciate or deserve her husband.

The Other Woman likes to imagine that his marriage is a sham; that he is desperately unhappy, that he stays with her out of duty. She fools herself that the couple does not share a deep bond of love or a satisfying sex life.

She idolises the cheating husband. Lost in delusion, she sees him as the ‘perfect man’, ‘ideal partner’ or ‘soul mate’, blind to his glaring faults, none the least being his ability to lie and deceive and inflict pain on his wife and family.

She whitewashes herself as the rescuer who will save him from his miserable marriage. She sees herself as a ravishing heroine in a romance novel.

She glorifies their illicit relationship as a grand passion and delightful romance. The affair is all the more exhilarating because it is secret and forbidden and exists in a fantasy bubble, apart from the demands of real life.

If she is also cheating on her own husband, she will excuse herself by claiming he fails to meet her needs (for attention, affection, conversation, passionate sex, as a provider etc). She resorts to the old rationalising chestnut “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him” (or her children), while she carries on a secret double life.

All these distorted mind games are concocted to justify and rationalise her indefensible position. The same distorted beliefs are operating for the Other Man who has an affair with another man’s wife.

The truth is there is nothing virtuous about an affair that causes such emotional wreckage to marriages and families. The mistress is playing the role of an unpaid prostitute being used by the cheating husband for his own selfish needs and ego boost.

Whatever problems exist within a marriage are none of the Other Woman’s business and can never be used to justify her violation. A good ‘friend’ would encourage any troubled man to seek professional help to repair his marriage not take advantage of his unhappiness.

Some OW’s claim they innocently ‘fell in love’ and were just too weak to stop getting involved. Others admit they deliberately pursue a married man just for the sport. What could possibly be the unconscious motivation of such ruthless operators?

Counsellors who delve into the childhood dynamics of the OW often discover a little girl who was jealous of her parents’ closeness and competed with her mother for Daddy’s affection and attention. She often played the role of Surrogate Wife, looking after her dad by making his dinner and fussing over him, and played Surrogate Mum to younger siblings, in the Helper and Carer role. She believing she could do a much better job than Mummy. When she becomes an adult this compulsion to compete with other wives for Daddy’s love continues.

Another unhealthy influence can be a deep-seated sibling rivalry amongst sisters. She becomes obsessively attracted to someone who belongs to another female, seeing him as more desirable than an available man. She feels a strong urge to compete and prove she is better than the wife. Like the envious and spiteful child who pinches her sister’s favourite dress and ruins it, she steals another woman’s husband and tries to destroy their happy marriage.

Yet another underlying driving force takes shape in the child or teenager who witnesses her parents’ adultery. She role models on an unfaithful mother as ‘normal’ behaviour or if her father was the cheating one, she can conclude that the Other Woman must have been pretty special to be preferred to her own mother and his family. So she aspires to being like the Other Woman her daddy found so alluring. When Dad has cheated on Mum, the daughter tends to blame her mum for failing as a wife.

A slightly different version of the adultery game is played when a couple is in a state of separation. It is common for an opportunist to swoop in like a vulture and exploit the vulnerability and confusion of the rejected partner. She will justify herself saying the man was ‘free’ even if he is still reeling in shock from his wife leaving.

In this case, the OW can be cunning and conniving. She will act quickly to become sexually involved to inflict maximum carnage in an attempt to ensure finality of the marriage and destroy the possibility of reconciliation. Using sex, she sinks in her claws to possess her naïve prey and bind him with false obligation to continue their liaison, which she hopes will develop into a committed relationship, having king hit and eliminated the rival ‘ex’ wife.

However the person who becomes involved with someone who is separated is guilty of adultery as is the separated partner. A marriage must be finished legally and morally with emotional closure before a legitimate new relationship begins.

The Other Woman who gets entangled with someone else’s marriage crisis might be calculating in her attempt to steal a husband but she fails to anticipate the power of love and forgiveness between a long-term couple. It is resilient, real love that withstands the most vicious attacks and survives stronger than ever.

Whatever problems are happening for the couple, it is between them, for them to work out, not to be used by a predatory third party to justify destroying their marriage, with the misguided belief she is rescuing an unhappy husband.

In their book, Rescue Your Love Life, psychologists Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend sympathise with the spouse who is not getting their needs met within the marriage. “Your feelings of being alone and hurt are very real and need help. But affairs are not healing. They are destructive like illegal drugs. They may medicate the pain for the moment, but in the end, they destroy all that’s really important. The responsible thing to do is to take your pain to good people who can love you, support you and help you through the process of healing your marriage.

The experienced counsellors warn against being fooled by attraction. They write: “Attraction is based on becoming intoxicated by someone with whom they do not have a real and whole relationship, and they idealise the part of him that they relate to. As a result they feel magically in love although there is no real relationship to back that up.

“Affairs offer a partial relationship that only includes the positive. The spouse in pain directs all the negative stuff – the disappointment and hurt - toward the mate. So all the ‘good stuff’ goes toward the fantasy love object. The ‘all-good’ fantasy is allowed to remain intact because it does not have the day-to-day pressures that marriage inevitably has. In an affair there is little need to work out compromise, conflict and the like, as it is mainly a rescue mission from the ‘bad spouse’.

“The bottom line is that attraction is a bad barometer. It gives you false readings of what the other person is truly like, which you can discover only in a full-blown relationship with him. It gives you false readings of what you really need from a relationship because an idealised romantic state is not what you need long term.

“The attraction will fade and then you are left with all the negatives that did not surface in the affair, along with one additional negative, which is to see yourself as someone who betrayed your spouse and perhaps even stole another person’s spouse. Using attraction as a barometer gives you a false reading of your spouse as well. The reason for this is simple: the comparison of your spouse to the idealised affair is never realistic and the spouse always loses to the fantasy.

“The romantic scene may be enticing but that scene is part of a larger movie with a tragic ending. Play the movie all the way to the end. See your family destroyed, your friends split up, your spouse broken hearted, your children devastated, and all of the other devastation that will occur. That is the real movie you are contemplating. So before you raise the lights and lock the theatre doors for the night, add another scene to the plot: the one where you get smart and run the other way. Do not succumb to the fantasy of attraction.”

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