How do I move on from an affair that ended in disappointment? I had hoped that my status as "the other woman" would eventually change after my lover left his wife and family, but that didn't happen. Now all I feel is sad, broken, and alone.
First, we want to thank you for being so honest and straightforward with us. It takes courage to "go public" with your feelings about a situation like this. Obviously, there are a lot of things that could be said about extra-marital affairs – things you may have already heard from other people – not least among which is that they are always highly risky. But we don't want to begin there. Instead, we think it's important to start by acknowledging that, regardless of circumstances, you are grieving a personal loss that touches you closely, and the pain of that loss is very real. We'd like to help you out of the dark place in which you find yourself at present.
You've told us that you're dealing with feelings of loneliness and brokenness. This is simply part of the normal grieving process. But while you may feel empty, purposeless, lost, and "all at sea," the fact remains that life goes on. It's likely that you still have a great deal to do in addition to negotiating your grief. That in itself can be a huge job. In fact, it's generally agreed that there are four "tasks of mourning" that everybody has to pass through in order to deal effectively with personal loss. Those four tasks are as follows:
- Accept the reality of the loss. This first task involves overcoming the natural denial response by realizing that the relationship is really over.
- Experience the pain of grief. When they lose a loved one, many people try to bypass the pain by bottling up their emotions or rejecting their feelings. Don't make this mistake. Fully experiencing the pain – most often through tears – provides genuine relief. Allow yourself enough time and space to do this.
- Adjust to your new situation. Make a serious effort to get used to the idea of living without this lover and getting past this disappointment. This may take time, but it can be done if you stay occupied and make up your mind to move forward.
- Take the emotional energy you might spend on grieving this loss and reinvest it in a healthy and appropriate relationship or relationships. New friendships allow you to begin again as a person with a future. Lisa Anderson's book, The Dating Manifesto, which is included in the appended list of resources, can help you get moving in this direction.
If you suspect that you may be dealing with a case of clinical depression, we recommend that you take immediate action. Get a physician's evaluation of your condition and be willing to consider appropriate medication (antidepressants can normalize disturbances in neurotransmitter function in the brain and are neither addictive nor an "escape from reality"). In addition, some of the physical symptoms of depression, such as heart palpitations and abdominal cramps, are also seen in people dealing with anxiety disorder, so it is especially important to get an accurate diagnosis from a qualified physician. Seek out professional counseling without delay.
Meanwhile, we'd like to suggest that the breakup of this relationship may have been a blessing in disguise. As a matter of fact, we can't help feeling that everything has turned out in your favor. Why do we say this? Because we feel strongly that once you're past the grief, you will have an excellent opportunity to re-evaluate your life.
This is a great time to think about self-esteem, self-worth, and how much you value yourself as a person. If you had remained in relationship with this man – a man with a family and an ex-wife – there's a sense in which you would have always been the "other woman." Surely you want something better than that! Here at Focus on the Family we are strong believers in the sacredness, inviolability, and permanence of the marital relationship. We think you deserve someone who will love you and you alone – someone who will remain committed to you for the rest of your lives together. That's why we want to encourage you to raise the bar and set your sights higher. See what you can learn from this sad experience. Hopefully it will teach you prudence and enable you to make wiser choices in the future.
As part of this process, we'd advise you to revisit your personal value system. Ask yourself a few probing questions about your larger framework and worldview. Do you have any idea where you came from, where you're going, and what your life is all about? Do you sense some kind of deficit in your life? Is that why this relationship meant so much to you? If so, are you aware of anything – something larger than you or your lover – that might be able to fill the gap? That's a subject we'd love to discuss with you if you'd be willing to give us a chance.
If you think it might be helpful to talk these issues over at greater length with a member of our staff, we invite you to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department.