The Other Woman’s Role in Your Breakup

Why you should probably stop calling the "other woman" a skank.

Posted Nov 22, 2017 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader

Marjan Apostolovic/Shutterstock
Source: Marjan Apostolovic/Shutterstock

Words have power, and when you’re feeling powerless, you’ll grasp at anything that might give you a spark, even for a moment. So if your partner leaves you for another, you’ll feel better if you call her names like home-wrecker, low-life, whore, tramp, slut, or skank.

A woman whose marriage ended suddenly when her husband left her for another woman may struggle desperately with that fact and the role that the other woman played in the debacle. Unlike the variety of sexual encounters that some men have with other women—online in chat rooms, one night stands on business trips, strip clubs, and paid sex, to name a few—most men who leave committed marriages are typically having an affair in the classical sense, one that involves secrecy and sex, but also emotional involvement.

Wives left behind may deal with this intruder in a variety of ways: Some may see her as a temptress preying on a vulnerable man who would never have strayed were he not lured into it. She’s not seen as a normal person with her own struggles, and because of the fact that her existence has caused such severe harm, she is granted tremendous power. She takes on an almost supernatural form in the rejected partner's mind, like a character from a fairy tale.

Who the other woman actually is varies from case to case, but typically, she’s someone a man met at work or knew from high school or is his personal trainer—someone you don’t actually know. In the atypical and truly awful case, she’s a friend, neighbor, or a child's babysitter or coach.

During the months just after a marriage ends, when you’re out of your mind, you may become obsessed with this woman. She’s a huge threat. (Why did he choose her over me?) You desperately need to understand her allure. You hate her and blame her and probably want to hurt her somehow. If she’s married, you may be tempted to contact her spouse to screw up her life like yours has been.

Consider this quote from an abandoned wife:

"I used to spend countless hours wondering how the OW [other woman], knowing we had a large loving family, could help push the relationship. I realize now that she didn't think anything. They were so caught up in each other that it justified their behavior. And who knows what he told her? He can tell her anything. She probably thinks she is rescuing him!”

In the early days after learning about the affair, a wife will want to pump her husband for details, needing to know how it happened, where and when they met, and how often they saw each other. And then, to learn more: Does he love her? What did they do sexually? What are his plans with her: Will she replace you in his life? But it’s a double-edged sword, because each piece of information pierces the heart and then gets lodged in the brain. The more you know, the worse you feel. Knowing the details makes one feel even more betrayed.

In a desperate attempt to unearth what was going on, some wives actually meet with the other woman. The wives want to hear from her what the truth was or need to tell her how the man has been lying to her. But most women who have reached out have regretted it. As one told me, “She just gave me boatloads more crap to be distressed about.”

You probably can’t help yourself and refer to her as wh*re or skank, even if you don't typically talk like that. It helps a tiny bit to lessen the pain. One shocking moment I experienced in the early days after my husband left was when I referred to his girlfriend as a "whore." He said, “Don’t talk about her like that.” He was protecting her! That was rough, but I realized the hard way that he was more allied with her than he was with me.

So if it helps a little bit, what’s wrong with using strong language about the other woman when talking with friends? Two things: One, it reveals the tremendous power she has over you, so much so that you have to try to destroy her with words, because you’re helpless to hurt her otherwise; and, two, it brings you down a few notches and keeps you feeling badly. You’ll feel better about yourself if you act above it until you actually are.

So what advice do I have?

1. Stop using dirty words to refer to the other woman. It feels good for the moment, but brings you down in some psychic way, if only to yourself.

2. Stop asking about the details of the affair; he just may be tempted to tell you.

3. Recognize that most husbands who’ve had long-term affairs have told the other woman that the marriage is virtually over, and that "my wife knows it." He lies to you, and he lies to her too.

4. Exercise discipline. As soon as you can manage it, stop checking her Facebook page, stop asking everyone about her, stop stalking her. It makes you look bad and feel worse.

5. Don’t try to meet with the other woman; nothing good that will come of it.

6. Turn down the volume on her importance in your life. Unless she was a friend, this is really about you and him.

7. Be kind to yourself!