On Shame, Guilt, and Letting Go: 7 Lessons I Learned Being the Other Woman

I was the other woman. That’s it, I said it. I was the mistress of a married man. Come on, go ahead, you can judge me. Someone told me that since I am a coach and a leader in my community, I should never tell. I should keep it a secret.

I’m up against my self-judgment. It’s time to write a story about it because the one thing that would hurt me more than your condemnation would be to lie about it. I’ve seen too many ashamed women living with this secret. So, let me share seven lessons I learned along the way.

1. Sometimes you go against your values.
It happened four years ago. I met this man at a business networking event. He was attractive, and I was disappointed when I noticed his wedding band. We started a conversation that I tried to make as platonic as possible, but there was definitely chemistry. He told me about his life with a wife who was gone most of the time and about his kids who had left the nest. Today, I may find a ton of excuses: I was vulnerable and recently divorced, he was lonely, his marriage was not working and mine was gone…but, let’s be honest, there was no excuse. It was against my values. I said yes when he invited me for a coffee. From that point, one thing led to another and we became lovers. I didn’t feel I had a choice. I didn’t decide to fall in love with him, but I did. At the end of the day, I’m guilty of the choice I made, but no matter what society says, that doesn’t make me a bad person. Ignoring your guilty feelings doesn’t make your choice easier. Acknowledging and accepting your choice is the only thing that can help.

2. Being the mistress is not glamorous.
I had been married for 20 years and was faithful to my husband. My husband cheated multiple times, and it hurt me badly. So I never imagined myself in the role of “the other woman.” But here I was, meeting him secretly. Seeing him during the day when he would come to my place and work next to me, only to say goodbye by the end of the day when he would go back home. I went on business trips with him and had to say goodbye on the plane because “she” would pick him up. Each time it was hurtful. I had chosen the situation, but that didn’t make it easier, even though I stayed in it for six months. Being the mistress, you are always aware you’re not the chosen one. For me, it created shame on top of the guilt.

3. You will never be as mean as I was to myself.
I told a few people about it and had to face their judgment. My son knew of the relationship and one day told me: “Mom, if you were not my mom, I would tell you you’re a bi**h.” I still remember how bad that made me feel. My single friends kept their arms open. My married friends shut their doors, as if I would steal their husbands. Are you kidding me? I was in love with this man, not the fact he was married. But no one was as mean as I was to myself. After my divorce, I had promised I would always be proud of the person I was. However, the months I spent with this man were the only ones when I hated who I was. I looked radiant and happy, but inside, I felt so disappointed in myself. People might judge you, but the worst judge is often you.

4. Guilty pleasure can make the relationship even more passionate.
Over the six months we initially spent together, we wrote over 40 pages of texts and emails. The forbidden fruit is obviously the most tempting one. Because we couldn’t see each other as often as we wanted, every moment became special. We went on trips together, but during the time we were in town, our time was limited. We stole each moment we could out of the day. His wife was not often there, but because one of his kids was still at home, the nights were never mine. The days became our time for passion, and as lies and deceptions started piling up, the joy of seeing each other even for five minutes became more intense.
Sometimes I wonder if having to struggle for something you want doesn’t make it more valuable.

5. Uncertainty hurts more than heartbreak.
I tried to be okay with the situation, but after a while, it poisoned me. There were moments of pure joy when we were together. After all, I was in love. But I never knew when I would see him, when he would have to be back home for the weekend because his wife would be back. Would he call me or not? Would he write me or disappear? For each moment of joy, there was one of despair. I tried breaking up many times, but he was my drug of choice. I was torturing myself. No regrets, it was a sweet torture. One I chose. I enjoyed this relationship. The reason people are addicted to drugs, alcohol, or sugar is because it feels good during the time you’re using it. The reason love, sex, and passion are so addictive is because the pleasure rush is better than the withdrawal moments…until it’s not. Over those six months, I tried to walk away many times, and so did he. Each time, we would spend a few days apart, only to come back closer. Each of those back-and-forths became stressful. A friend of mine asked me a very powerful question: “How much of the pain/joy ratio can you live with?” My ratio was 70% pain and 30% joy. At some point, I passed that level and I left. If you are in this situation, ask yourself: What is the ratio of pain to joy that will be acceptable to you? If you go above that number, take action. After all, as Maya Angelou said, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude”.

6. Guilt and shame can make you sick.
The reason I left was totally selfish. Guilt and shame are extremely powerful emotions, and like any emotion, they express themselves as thoughts in your brain and tensions in your body. When I think of guilt, my throat gets tight. When I think of shame, I feel a knot in my lower belly. Those tensions create toxins, and over time, those toxins can make you sick. During the time of this relationship, I was constantly fighting a cold and was barely eating. I quickly realized my emotions were putting my health in danger. Those sensations increased when after a couple of months apart, he decided to ask his wife for a divorce. We moved in together and I was so happy and so sick to my stomach at the same time. After a month, he was also sick, and he decided to go back to his wife. The heartbreak of him leaving me to go back “home” almost felt like a relief. Finally, it was clear. I would have to deal with the sadness, but surprisingly this emotion, as painful as it was, never felt as bad as the guilt and the shame. Listen to your body. If your body is out of alignment, it will let you know. Ignoring it for too long can make you sick, so let go of the self-blame or change the situation.

7. Learn to let go and forgive.
Nine months. That was the time of the relationship from start to finish. Nine months from the moment we met to the moment he moved back with his wife and kids. This includes the back and forth, the six weeks we spent apart after I stepped away, the ups and the downs, the guilty pleasure moments, the amazing joy, the passion, and the buckets of tears. It took me over a year to let go of most of it. Letting go of the relationship was easier than abandoning my own self-judgement. I’m French, so you might think having an affair is part of the culture. But actually, being the other woman was never on the list of things I wanted for myself. I’m far from being the only one who made this choice. Some believe they would never do it, while others become the mistress and never feel bad about it. Wherever you are in the spectrum of shame and guilt, never let it poison your life. I got lucky to meet his wife and to apologize for the pain I had caused her. She forgave me, and I was so grateful for it. It took me more time to forgive myself. If you have been in my shoes and can’t move on, it’s time to let go of self-judgment. Do you believe this crime is worth years of pain? Let it go. Face the woman who made those choices and realize that she did what she could. She deserves your forgiveness. You deserve your forgiveness. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Nobody is. You had to learn this lesson, and now it may be time to move on and live your life.

Previously published: https://bit.ly/2tMVNGF

Fabienne Slama

About the Author | Fabienne Slama

Fabienne Slama is a Core Energy coach and hypnotherapist. She works with resilient women disappointed by life and guides them from Heartbreak to Breakthrough so they can become the leader of their lives. She is the author of Renaissance Woman: A Feminine Midlife Crisis from Loss of Identity to Rebirth.

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25 comments to "On Shame, Guilt, and Letting Go: 7 Lessons I Learned Being the Other Woman"

  • Why Guys Come Back When You Move On

    Awesome blog! I like it a lot! Thanks and keep up the great work!

    https://diceview.com/why-do-guys-come-back-when-you-ignore-them-insight-into-the-male-mind/

  • Carol

    Hi Fabienne,
    It would be such a pleasure if I could actually speak with you on this very lesson, Lesson 7. I feel such a need to unburden my heart and mind by speaking with you. Could you please email me so we could connect. Thank you.

    • Fabienne Slama

      Hi Carol,
      I just emailed you. To address your question, the letting go is like in any transition starting with the end. You cannot let go unless you’re clear that the relationship is done and behind you. There is one thing more painful that the breakup and it is the back and forth of uncertainty. Once you decide there is no way back, you can rebuild yourself. I look forward to talk with you on that and more.

  • Shelley J.

    Thank you for the insights shared in this article. I am an educated, open-minded and thoughtful woman. I never imagined I would be writing these words: I have just ended a 5-year affair with a married man, and the ending of it has brought me to my knees. I don’t know how people get through this. By its very nature, the shame and secrecy of an affair are isolating. I didn’t tell many people about it, so the pain I now feel is one I feel very much alone in. Since the affair existed in the shadows, the pain is there as well. I have scoured the internet for words of advice, success stories of life “after” the affair, support groups (are there any?). It is all utterly surreal. When one has an affair, one does, despite the strength of one’s personality and self-direction, eventually become dependent on the married partner. His schedule, his availability, his desire for sex on his timeline. Before one realizes it, months and then years have passed and the strong woman who could take or leave the love-struck married man, is, in many ways, defined by him. What to do now that the person who told you what you both would be doing and when it would be happening, is no longer in one’s life? When one’s life is shockingly unrecognizable from what it was before the affair? I am that person right now, in that place right now, and I cannot find the words to express just how foreign the world looks to me.

    Anyway, all of this to say thank you for your thoughtfully written article. At least I know others have felt the pain and come through it.

    With gratitude.

    • Fabienne Slama

      Thank you for the beautiful description on how one can slowly but surely get robbed from her own value. The pain when the relationship ends is not only about grieving the person you loved but also about grieving yourself . I look forward to talking with you.

    • Isabella

      I just ended a year and six months of affair today. I can no longer take it! He impregnated his wife. Is there a support group for this? It’s so painful and I don’t want to go back but it’s hard! Help me.

    • Anonymous

      I have very similar story. I had a 6 year affair with a married man. The affair was discovered when his wife saw a text that I sent him. He lied to her at first about it but later admitted. Like you, I’m educated, independent and described as thoughtful by family and friends. I knew he wasn’t going to leave his wife even though he told me that I was wrong and he couldn’t live in a loveless, sexless, no affection marriage for the rest of his life. He and I promised each other that we will not tell this to anybody and that we will take this to our graves. I never told anybody, a secret that I’ve kept for years. It was almost like having a drug addiction and he was mine. There were many times I wanted to end it, but I couldn’t. The love I had was very deep. And I believe he felt the same. I never asked him to leave his wife nor gave him any ultimatum. He told me he was unhappy with his marriage. To a point he referred to her as his roommate or an extra luggage when they went on family vacation. He didn’t need to tell me this. He knew I was already in love with him and in the 6 years we were together , if he wanted to leave her, he would have done it a long time ago. I had no expectations. I was just enjoying my drug. But now this drug is gone. The last conversation I had with him was when he called me while his wife was next to him to tell me he didn’t care about me and it was over. I knew it was over but hearing him tell me that he never loved me or cared about me was like having someone rip my heart out. I couldn’t remember what I said maybe I didn’t say anything . I just remember feeling numb. He called the next day to apologize and that he cared and loved me.

  • Abhi

    I need to talk or write to you. Please help

  • Cricket

    I was praying just a minute ago and believe it or not, the Lord lead me to this site. I am the “other woman” right now. Have been for one year. Right now we are both doing the guilt phase and we should not be doing this phase. I feel like he is my drug. I thought I had a great relationship with the Lord until “he” approached me to have a cut of coffee. Well – many cups of coffee ago – here I am – in tears and feeling very alone. If there is some way for you to contact me via email, I will consider it a miracle. I am not married – always had terrible abusive relationships but this guy is so different, sweet, kind, passive. I am a very young 74 and he is 61. Would be great to hear from you – Thank you so much.

  • Anonymous38

    Its so hard for me to let go as well…it especially hurts because he can walk away with no consequences…and just forget about me like nothing happened…

    Can you send me an email so we can talk privately..

  • Helena

    I had the same but it lasted two years. More heartache than anything. Someone told me that he went to bed with someone 5 or 6 times during our relationship. That threw me overboard. I went to his flat several times and moved stuff around outside. His wife saw me. Someone saw us leave a hotel and told his wife. He admitted our affair. Asked me if i wanted us to carry on and i said NO. Iam suffering depression and cannot trust. I am on medication and wanted to end my life. I want revenge. I want him to suffer too. 3.5 months on I still love him and although the pain is a little easier I am still suffering.

    • Fabienne Slama

      Hi Helena,
      Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Get your life back and move on. Let Karma take care of him. Happiness is more important than revenge. Your revenge will come from you becoming the best you you can be, from becoming successful, proud, joyful, radiant. You deserve it.

  • Shelly

    Hi Fabienne,

    I am the other woman (long-distance) to a married man for the past six months. He lives in Arizona, I live in North Carolina. We met in High School and re-connect three years ago. We began texting each other just about daily stuff, what his kids were doing and misc stuff. Our relationship started to develop after he said he was thinking about getting a divorce in October 2017, and is definitely one-sided always on his schedule. He calls and texts me everyday for the past 10 months, and has come to visit twice. Two evenings ago, we were face timing and he had his wedding band on. I instantly asked him about it, and he denied it. Saying it was tape, because he cut his finger. I asked to see it, and he would not show it to me and hung up. He hasn’t wore his ring for the past 9 months, and I’ve never seen it on him until now. I was instantly hurt, thinking what else was he lying to me about. I have since called blocked him on my cellphone. I couldn’t sleep all night, took yesterday off from work to grieve. I’m trying to remain strong for myself. This man became my lifeline, and I’ve forgotten about myself. But, I know cutting him out of my life is what’s best for me.

  • Defmanny

    I understood and can totally relate. Would really appreciate a chat with you, Fabienne.. Thanks for telling your truth. ☺

  • Pink Dandelion

    I am also the other woman. It’s so wrong on so many levels and my health has been impacted. He has 4 young kids. I feel ashamed and guilty. I trust him with all my heart but I know I should be the stronger one and walk away. The thoughts of ending it kills me as he’s my rock but the guilt is too much, this has been going on for 9 months. I would rather be single and alone than together and ashamed. Being the other woman is a lonely life.

  • Finally Over it

    Yesterday, I finally decided to end my affair. I’ve been the other woman since December of last year. My guy is in a happy marriage – they travel, they go on work trips together. He prioritizes being home by certain hours and maintains close boundaries of when he’ll contact me – nights and weekends are seldom options for contact.

    He never utters a bad word about his wife or marriage. There have never been any illusions to us being more than an affair couple. We don’t take trips, we don’t go out to eat – we kinda exist as a weekly phone call and the occasional sex at my apartment – we may grab a cocktail or coffee once a month (if even). So it’s really hard to understand why we found ourselves in this situation and why every time that I try to end it, he comes back or I back track. We don’t do much for each other to justify this exhausting situation.
    This weekend was my breaking point, he and his wife are with his family and of course he’s silent and unavailable. I cannot take the loneliness, the fact it’s all dependent on his schedule, and the shame of this situation. I am a wrecking ball to a perfect union and a man’s temporary distraction from his stable union.

    I am a high level executive, I am independent and pretty damn fearless – I don’t know for the life of me how the hell I ended up here. Why in the hell I’ve allowed myself to be used. Why in the hell this man, who’s older than me and does absolutely nothing for me, has this kind of control.

    We do support each other’s work (we’ve been able to get some kick ass work victories achieved by supporting/amplifying each other), we have great conversations (our phone calls can go on for hours and we can lay in bed in talk endlessly about goals and family) and the sex is pretty intense (I will admit he made me come alive sexually, I am so much more exploratory and open with him).

    But, all of that I will gladly trade to have him out of my life and this chapter closed. We don’t spend as much time together, and I praying this can all fade away with as little harm and hurt as possible. I’m hoping that he never reaches out to me again – I tend to do most of the reaching out. My only challenge is that we do work in the same space, but if I try, I can avoid him moving forward. Hopefully, the affair fog will wear off soon. How long does it take to process this loss? What listens do women find after this?

    • Fabienne Slama

      Dear Finally Over,
      Thank you for your sharing and congratulations for taking action toward what you want.
      This man may have hurt you tremendously but you also learned so much from this relationship:
      – you became alive sexually
      – you had great communication
      – you supported each other and created more success from being with each other

      Today you learn:
      – to create boundaries
      – to stand up for what you want
      – to put yourself first

      You are not a victim. You are a woman you had to leaned those lessons and you learned them a very hard way. You will bounce back. You will move forward.
      Feel free to contact me directly in you want to talk. As you can see from this post, you’re not alone.

      With kindness,
      Dr. Fabienne Slama
      fab@fabyoulicious.com.

  • Justyna

    Beautiful,smart and simply written, thank you

  • Jessie

    Your story is literally describing each pain I am going through. At this moment, I resent myself and wish I was never born to experience this. At the same time I also do resent him for saying he knows how I feel. But he doesn’t, he gets the cake and, eat it too.
    What a completely f^^^* up situation, and I am the one who made me this way.

    • Fabienne Slama

      Hi Jessie,
      You were two to create this fxxx up situation. I understand the guilt and the blame and at the same time, there is nothing wrong with you. The situation is bad but that doesn’t make you bad. Btw, he is the one cheating.
      Time for you to decide what you want. No judgment. What do you want for yourself? You can do it!!!
      If your choice is to stay. Fine.
      If your choice is to go. Fine.
      You are strong and as painful as it feels like now, you will survive.
      Contact me if you want to talk. As you can see with all those comments, you’re not alone.