Is there help for the third party?
by Peggy Vaughan

I am "the other woman" desperately trying to get out of this relationship and do what I consider is the right thing. Is there any help out there for people who are the third party?

Peggy's Response:
This letter accurately reflects the fact that most "help" for dealing with affairs is (understandably) directed toward the spouse of the married person involved in an affair and/or the couple. While I believe much of the information, understanding and perspective that I provide about the issue of affairs can be useful to everyone, it's true that very little is aimed specifically at addressing the issues of being a third party. But I do occasionally post a Question that focuses specifically on issues facing the third party.

At this time I'll focus specifically on the above situation where the other woman is "desperately trying to get out of this relationship." As hard as it may be to extricate yourself (both physically and emotionally), the most effective way to accomplish this is to do it quickly and completely—with no dragging it out, which just prolongs the inevitable. (Realistically, affairs last from 6 months to 2 years, seldom leading to divorce, and seldom leading to a new marriage even if there is a divorce.) So the sooner there is complete separation, the sooner you can get on with your life.

Quick and complete separation means No final meetings to say good-bye, No just staying in touch as friends, No checking in occasionally to see how they're doing. It means severing ALL contact! That's not to say it won't be painful, but the pain is over more quickly than prolonging things with a slow withdrawal. (As an example, think of the difference in quickly removing a band-aid as compared to very slowly pulling it off, one hair at a time.)

Often I hear a "yes, but" when talking about completely severing contact—usually regarding some unavoidable contact (like work or social circle). Well, serious situations like this call for serious actions. And those people who are serious about getting on with their lives decide to do whatever it takes, including changing jobs or moving to a different city.

Another "yes, but" may involve the married man pleading for continued contact of some kind. He may be ambivalent or extend some kind of false hope for something more, but it's usually just that he wants to experience the positive parts of the affair and still hold onto the positive aspects of marriage and family. It's unlikely he can actually say that out loud (or that he can even get that degree of clarity himself). He just knows that he doesn't want to face the difficulties and/or consequences of either final decision. However, a man who actually cares for you would not ask you to continue to remain in limbo, sacrificing your own well-being for his benefit.

As for how to have the strength to make a complete separation, it will be important to have someone to turn to for support and accountability in this effort (similar to the way there is someone to turn to in AA for contact and support in a moment of weakness). It's also helpful to specifically plan other activities (for your mind and your body) so you stay otherwise engaged. Finally, it's useful whenever you think of him (which you will do) to avoid letting yourself dwell on the thoughts or escalate the thoughts. (Like with meditation, just notice you're having the thoughts and then let them go; do not focus on them, obsess about them, etc.)

A final note:
Since I recognize the need for addressing all the parties in this "triangle" in order to be of the most overall help in dealing with this situation, for several years I made a significant effort to make my website serve both "sides." In fact, Collection 3 of my Collections of Questions is specifically aimed at those who are "Involved in or Affected by Affairs."

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