Healing From Being "The Other Woman"

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated April 5, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

A mixture of emotions may arise if you have had a relationship with someone who is married or already in a relationship. Whether you knew they were in a relationship or the information was only revealed to you by surprise, there are ways to move forward and find support for your feelings.

Will a therapist judge me for being the other woman?

What does it mean to be “the other woman?”

"The other woman" is a phrase often used to refer to someone romantically or sexually involved with someone else's partner. The term can be used to describe an individual of any sexual identity, including women in relationships with another woman. When an affair occurs, it may be with or without your knowledge. 

There's often a stigma attached to the label of "the other woman." Individuals may think that someone involved in an affair with another person's partner does so intentionally or doesn't care about the other partner's emotions. However, every relationship can differ, and hundreds of dynamics can occur. Placing blame or feeling shameful may not be beneficial in the long run. 

Some individuals who get into affairs may know that their partner is with another individual. Others might not find out until later. Finding out that you may have been involved in disrupting trust in another person's relationship can be challenging, and many emotions may arise. In addition, if you've discovered that your partner has already had a long-term partner before you and during your time together, you might experience jealousy, betrayal, heartbreak, anger, or other feelings. 

What is it like to be “the other woman?”

People may enter affairs for many reasons. Some individuals may find the secretive nature of affairs alluring and exciting. Others might not know that their partner is married or dating another person. Often, affairs can differ from steady relationships. There may be more secrecy, less time together, or a lack of trust. If one or both partners is hiding the affair from their other partners, it may result in challenging dynamics on all sides. 

For those who do not know that they're partaking in an affair, discovering that their partner has already been with another person can also feel like a betrayal. If you would not willingly enter an affair, finding out that you're participating in one might make you feel you've gone against your values. The situation can lead to pain, discomfort, and fear. Regardless of whether they were aware of a person's relationship, being involved in infidelity can cause the "other woman" to experience a wide range of emotions.

If you're aware that you're the other woman in your situation, you might feel shame, guilt, or worry about what your partner's other partner would think if they found out. The person's partner may feel anger or hostility toward you and blame you for their partner's infidelity, which can cause unsafe situations. In addition, you might feel that your needs are unmet in your relationship if your partner spends more time with their other partner or does not prioritize you. You may find yourself hoping they'll leave their partner or believing the situation will change. These feelings can be challenging to process on your own. 

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo

What is it like to be “the other man"

People of all genders have affairs. Although you may often hear about women experiencing affairs, a man can also be in this position. It's estimated that around 15% of women and 25% of men have cheated during their marriages. The statistics vary by age and other demographic factors, as well. Affairs are not limited to sexual orientation, gender identity, or background. Men experiencing this situation may experience similar impacts to women, and mental health concerns may arise over time. If you are with a partner who already has a boyfriend or partner, consider reaching out for professional support. 

Why do people enter affairs? 

Some people may seek a feeling of escape in an affair. When life is difficult, they might find it easier to look for a distraction or feel the exciting "spark" of a new relationship. Since many people experience intense feelings of infatuation and attraction at the beginning stages of a relationship, indulging these feelings may be attractive to someone experiencing a difference in feelings for their current partner. If someone feels their emotional or sexual needs aren't met, they might feel cheating is less stress-inducing than leaving their relationship or communicating. 

However, infidelity can often end a relationship and cause those impacted emotional damage, distrust, and heartbreak. If you are considering seeking an affair, it may be beneficial to instead communicate with your partner, reach out to a couples therapist, or decide to end your relationship. Some partners also discuss the possibility of non-monogamy. However, non-monogamy comes with rules, boundaries, and sexual safety as well, and it isn't an excuse to cheat or find a new partner immediately. 

What elements are involved in an affair?

Affairs may not only involve secrets or sexual indiscretions. Sometimes other, more subtle elements are involved, including power dynamics and their roles in the affair. The person who began the affair may have more power in the relationship. They may struggle to split time between both partners and have to make choices between them, lie, or hide their actions. These behaviors can cause the "other woman" to feel left out, shameful, or unloved.  

Power dynamics may also come into play when the relationship occurs in specific settings. For instance, an affair between two people with different job titles can add an additional layer of power in the workplace. Suppose one of the people involved in the affair is considered the other's superior. In that case, their relationship may be against company policies and cause a situation where the non-superior feels they cannot consent. Consent is an essential part of relationships, and an unhealthy power dynamic can be abusive or harmful long term. 

Sexual harassment can be a form of abuse. To learn more about sexual harassment or receive support for sexual assault or abuse, contact the RAINN hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE (4673) for advice, support, information, and other resources. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Will a therapist judge me for being the other woman?

What to do if you’re “the other woman”

If you're "the other woman" in an affair and are looking to leave the relationship, set a boundary, or heal from a past affair, you can take a few steps, including the following. 

Think about what you want in future relationships

Consider if the affair you're experiencing is the only relationship you want. Noting that other possibilities exist for your love life may help you decide to stay or leave a relationship. If you don't feel loved, respected, and valued in a relationship with a married or taken individual, it may be a sign that the relationship is unhealthy for you. 

An affair may not fulfill all your emotional needs, as secrecy may be involved. In addition, it can be difficult for people in this position to cope with the reality that the person they have feelings for spends time with someone else. If you're seeking a monogamous relationship with an unmarried person, you may be able to find that outside of this relationship if you choose to leave. 

Consider your morals 

Another aspect of being the other woman that can be challenging for individuals is their own sense of morality. You might not have imagined that you would end up in a position of being intimate with someone who is already in a relationship. Many people experience shame, guilt, and feeling like they are out of control of their actions. 

If being with a married or taken person goes against your morals, it can be possible to leave the relationship, recover from the experience, and find support. You may find that listening to your moral code benefits you in the long run. Although every situation can be unique, going against your morals can cause emotional distress. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Would I be happy if this person never left their other partner? 
  • What are my long-term goals for this relationship?
  • Am I acting with integrity? 
  • How would I feel if I was this person's other partner? 
  • How would I feel if my partner found out about this affair today? 
  • What are my values in an intimate relationship? 

If you struggle to decide, consider creating a pros and cons chart with the pros and cons of both staying or leaving. Then, leave the chart for a few days and return to it with a fresh mind to consider the most logical and healthy decision. Talking to a therapist may benefit you if you struggle with this process. 

Remind yourself who you are

At times, affairs may cause individuals to ignore or forget about their values and who they are. You may find yourself participating in behaviors you never imagined you would participate in. Note that you can forgive yourself if you've participated in a regrettable situation. Everyone can make mistakes, and it's okay to learn from them. If you find that you're engaging in behaviors you regret, you can make a change. Many people have been in your situation, and you're not alone. 

Leave your partner 

If you've decided to cut yourself off from the person you're in a relationship with, consider cutting all contact while coping with the change. Though you may be tempted to remain in touch with them, doing so may limit your ability to move on. Think about how the affair occurred and what led you to go along with it. Were you lied to? Coerced? Manipulated? Did you know what was happening but wanted to keep your connection? Reflecting on what happened can help you feel compassion for yourself. Leaving a relationship can be brave and challenging, so practice self-care as you grieve the loss. 

What should you do if you decide to stay in an affair?

If you decide to stay in an affair, continuously check in with yourself about the healthiness of the situation and why you're choosing to stay. Ask yourself what you hope to gain from the future and how you might react if the individual decides to end the relationship with you or not follow through with their promises.

Although it can feel exciting, positive, healthy, and loving at the moment when you spend intimate time with the person you love, looking at the dynamic long-term can help you make healthy choices for yourself. You might also consider meeting with a relationship expert, like a licensed therapist, to discuss your reasons for remaining in the affair. If you feel your partner would be open to it, you can also consider going to couples therapy together to discuss the affair and why it is occurring. 

How is the brain impacted by being “the other woman?”

The media often portrays infidelity and affairs as enticing, sexy adventures. However, science shows that these affairs can be exhausting for those participating. In the beginning, dopamine is released, which can increase attraction and lead to infatuation. During intimacy, your brain produces oxytocin, also known as the "love hormone," which can help you bond with the other person. 

However, over time as you start to get used to the pattern of sneaking around, being a secret, or waiting for the person to give you love, you may begin to feel dependent on their affection and the exciting feeling you get with them. If they start to struggle to keep up their behaviors with you, they might fall short and miss out on plans or ignore promises they made. You may feel stuck waiting for them to give you another release of dopamine and oxytocin, which can feel like a "love addiction" over time. As affairs often involve a power dynamic, these cycles can be hard to break away from. 

In addition, you might experience manipulation during the affair. Being manipulated can come with long-term psychological effects. You might experience sadness, isolation, trouble trusting others, intimacy issues, and difficulty feeling attached to others. You might also feel resentful toward your partner or yourself.

Counseling options 

Whether you've left your partner or are still participating in their affair, you deserve to find support for your mental health and well-being. There are many ways to find help in this situation. Since affairs are often secretive, you might avoid trying to attend couples therapy or seeing a therapist due to fear that someone might find out about the affair or see you and your partner together. If this is the case, you can try online therapy.  

Through a platform like Regain for couples or BetterHelp for individuals, you can meet with a provider safety from home and use a nickname to remain discreet. If your partner joins sessions, you can attend from two separate rooms, buildings, cities, states, or countries. All you need to get started is an internet connection and a personal device. 

Studies have found that many couples find online couples therapy more effective than video chat. The participants of one study felt that the video format allowed them to connect easily with their therapist due to reduced expectations and the comfort of their home environment. When you sign up for online therapy, you may choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions to make the sessions work for you and your situation. 


No matter where you're at on your healing journey of being "the other woman," you're not alone. Affairs can be challenging for everyone involved, and reaching out for support in this situation can be brave. Consider contacting a therapist online or in your area to learn more about how you can find non-judgmental and empathetic guidance as you navigate this situation.

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