September 5, 2014

Ask Me Anything: On Being the Other Woman & failing Marriages. {Weekly Advice Column}


*Editor’s Note: elephant journal articles represent the personal opinion, view or experience of the authors, and can not reflect elephant journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.~

Dear Elephants,

Welcome to this week’s Ask Me Anything, elephant journal’s weekly advice column—where no question is out of bounds.

To submit questions for next week, email me at [email protected] or private message me on Facebook.

I look forward to hearing from you.

~ Erica


Dear Erica,

As I stand in the grocery line reading a magazine cover I will never buy, I am caught by a headline: “Paltrow is a homewrecker.” 

My marriage ended when I discovered my husband had been cheating on me for a year and a half. I thought we were happy but it turns out he was in love with someone else.

My parents got divorced when I was in college. My grandparents would’ve been divorced but it just “wasn’t something you did.”

Now I am in a relationship with a married man. I don’t want him to leave his wife for me, and he doesn’t want to leave her. Neither of them are happy, just unwilling to go their separate ways.

Believe me, the irony of my current infidelity is not lost on me. How could I, someone who has been so affected by cheating be part of an affair? I did not know until the very end that my husband was being unfaithful. In fact the whole affair caught me completely off guard. As I said before, I thought we were happy.

My question to you, Erica, is—can a homewrecker really wreck something that’s already broken? How can we blame one person for the end of a relationship that involves so many?

I may have been happy in my marriage but obviously my husband wasn’t. What did I miss? What signs did I ignore?

And if he wasn’t happy and I just ignored it, how can I blame him for seeking happiness elsewhere?

~ Cheating and Cheated-on in Houston


Dear Cheating,

You have been badly hurt, and as you reflect on your relationships and the relationships of the people you love, you feel desolate, as there is no true example of happiness.

It seems like you have given up, and yet you still struggle with feelings of guilt and unhappiness. It also appears as if you are intentionally sabotaging any chance you have at future happiness by pursuing a relationship with a married man.

My answer to your question is that everyone is culpable for their own actions. It is not only the cheating husband who is to blame, or the negligent wife, or the other woman—all three are responsible in varying degrees for their roles in this dynamic.

Despite having been betrayed yourself, all bets are not off. You can still find and have a loving, committed, honest relationship—but not while you are seeing this married man.

The reason is twofold: first, he is literally not available or desirous of such a relationship, and, second, as long as you are behaving in a less than ethical way, you will not draw ethical people into your life.

Make a decision to be better than this. Behave like a strong and healthy person. Believe in your ability to have a strong and healthy relationship. At the very least, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you have taken the high road and I think, ultimately, you will find a partner who wants to walk that road with you.


Dear Erica,

I’m 41. I’ve been married to the same man for 24 years (since I was 17 yrs old). I do love him. Without a doubt. Truth be told, I’ve lost respect for him. I no longer appreciate him and frankly just have a low tolerance for his inability to move forward in life.

He has not worked in about 10 years because he has chronic back pain. He’s a good house-husband, but even that is sometimes inconsistent. He’s a great dad and babysitter, but I struggle with the fact that I stress over finances and providing and he is content just sitting there.

I understand he has pain, but I also suffer from chronic conditions and autoimmune diseases. I understand that being a stay at home parent is a full time job in itself. But when my kids complain they have breakfast at lunch time and all dad does is sit and watch day time TV, I’m instantly angry.

I don’t understand how he can work eight hours on his car or do some of the physically demanding things he enjoys, but can’t work at least a part time job. That’s all I ask. I’ve been asking for most of my marriage.

All this while I worked full time, went to school, volunteered for kids activities, and am now working a second job. Struggling on my own.

My point is, I’ll do anything for my family because I love them that much.

So why can’t he?

I asked for a divorce. Sadly he just agrees, “You’re right and you deserve better? I wish I could do what you do. I don’t know how you do it.”

I’m ready to leave and he’s begging for one last chance. I’ve stayed two more months and nothing is different except I’m doing more, and more and more. 

 I have no desire to fix him, but he refuses to go to a doctor. We’re beyond counseling. But he needs some serious help. I feel like I’m abandoning him and I feel guilty for wanting out. I’ve stayed married for almost 15 years feeling this way.  But I can’t do this anymore!  I know he’s depressed. But he refuses to take care of himself in any way.

 This whole thing is unhealthy. And what I’ve sent here doesn’t even touch on everything that’s going on. I could go on for days.

I know better. I give great advice to friends, but can’t seem to follow my own advice. I just don’t know where to start or what to do. Or how to let go. I feel like I make excuses for not moving on. Knowing I need to. We both need to. I do feel he needs help. I can’t help him when he refuses to help himself. 

What should I do?



Dear Helpless,

Your husband is clearly depressed—and so are you. Over the course of the last 25 years you’ve both carved out deep ruts and now find it impossible to set yourself free from them.

You don’t say how old your children are, but whatever their age, know that this affects them and how they perceive the world profoundly. Your behavior helps create behavioral script in their mind, to which they are likely to unknowingly adhere well into their adult lives if not until their death.

This is how patterns of depression, abuse, infidelity and a whole range of other negative interpersonal dynamics are perpetuated throughout generations.

You are at a crossroads—do you stay or do you go?

Before you make your decision, I would suggest seeing a therapist on your own to help sort through your guilt and figure out how all this came to be and what you want to do about it now. A trial separation might also be immensely helpful.

No matter what you choose to do, remember that things will change one way or the other. You must decide if you want to direct that change or just sit back and let it happen.


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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Star Magazine

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