Understanding the Role of the Other Woman or Other Man in Infidelity

The “Other Woman” or “Other Man”
by Peggy Vaughan

It’s understandable that the third party becomes the target for a lot of the anger and rage people feel. This is in keeping with the general attitude in society that sees the third party as responsible for much of the misery brought about by an affair. While it’s tempting to believe that if it hadn’t been for some particular third party, then an affair wouldn’t have happened at all—that’s not necessarily true. It’s more likely that it just means it would have been a “different” third party.

It may be that obsessing on any particular person gives them far more importance than they deserve. While we have been quick to condemn and criticize the third party, we’ve also tended to have an exaggerated image of them as a femme fatale or a Don Juan. But if any number of people could have been the third party, then they’re not necessarily “special” or superior to the spouse; there’re simply different—and the primary difference is just that they have the role of lover instead of the role of husband or wife. In most instances, the overall circumstances of the situation were much more important than the particular person involved.

The very nature of being the “third party” instead of the “spouse” means it’s a fantasy relationship. When people are in affairs, they present a side of themselves that’s not representative of the whole person. It’s a special version of their best aspects, free from the normal responsibilities involved in sharing a total life situation; whereas the roles and structure of family life create many restrictions and responsibilities. A person’s affair is not so much a rejection of the mate as a rejection of these role restrictions. This awareness can be especially helpful in dealing with our feelings of comparison with the third party.

I personally found this perspective very helpful in dealing with my own feelings toward the third party. In my case, my husband had affairs with 15 different women. In some ways that seems overwhelming to get over; but on the other hand, it allowed me to avoid focusing on any one person. Instead, I was able to see that their importance was only in the role they played, not in the person who played it.

Of course, this is much easier to do if the third party is rejected and the marriage survives. But even when a person does choose the third party over their spouse, they frequently learn much later (if the other person takes on the role of spouse) that their specialness had more to do with their earlier role than with the person themselves. Many people have an illusion that this new person offers a new life, only to discover after a few years that all the old feelings and issues are there just as in the past. They didn’t really change games at all, they only changed the players. Today’s third party may be tomorrow’s spouse who is unhappy in their marriage.

Check out Peggy’s site at: www.dearpeggy.com


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