It’s been hard to find love. Maybe you’ve even tried Match.com or even Ashley Madison or Craigslist. But you believe you finally found it. He’s charming, fun, and intelligent. He’s really pursuing you! Telling you that you are the only one who gets him … it’s just that he is married!
Likely, you did not know at first. Most “other women” who date married men are duped in the beginning and are led to think that he is separated or single. You may have known his marital status but didn’t think the relationship would escalate to intimate feelings of “true love.” Nonetheless, it has escalated and this is something you never thought would happen to you. More than a moral dilemma, it is also a psychological dilemma with the likelihood of a multiple types of anxiety encroaching upon you.
Research has shown there is a General Anxiety related to the unknown of how this will work out. It is as if the “What if’s” are attacking you. Also present is a social type of anxiety that stops you from being truly yourself “not to upset the apple cart.” When taking into consideration that you never expected to be in this “unsafe” circumstance, it can produce a trauma-like response, putting you on edge expecting the next shoe to drop.
Still, if this is True Love, then perhaps the situation it right. Or it may be very wrong. Until that is determined it doesn’t have to be painful. You can get the anxiety that often comes with this relationship uncertainty under control. In this article we overview how to begin the process of getting control over this Multi-Modal anxiety and help you set the stage for the relationship you desire and for maintaining a positive sense of “self”.
Where is your influence?
The people closest to you likely do not understand why you are gambling on this being “true love.” Eventually, the shame and guilt of the relationship isolates you from your friends and family. The more you isolate, the more you are living within his realm of “perspective and influence” and therefore you are theoretically giving away control and increasing your anxiety.
As he makes clear the ways his wife has wronged him, you may feel the challenge to right the wrongs of their relationship. You want him to feel confident that you are the one. In turn, you find yourself being extra patient, flexible, and generous (yet not authentic and opening up as you would typically). The energy required of you starts taking a toll and decreasing your natural coping skills.
Faced with an “emotional pot-of-gold” at the end of this journey, your life is on hold and you gamble on it working until he can leave her. You may be holding back from growing in your career, avoiding moving, or signing a longer-term lease because you wait for his next move. As a result, the waiting triggers anxiety as you feel “stuck” and ruminate over “How is this going to work out?” Then, suddenly you get a sweet text message from him and with a little powder and lipstick, you’re ready to meet him again! You can’t turn back now.
Avoiding the Ponzi Scheme
The Ponzi scheme is what you engage in once you put him first and yourself last for the hopes that he will choose you. It can be seen as a breeding ground for the anxiety. Only as former friends of Bernie Madoff will tell you: If you go all in, there is no real pot of gold to come. I’m not saying he won’t leave her for you. But, the Ponzi scheme has you over-spending emotionally until there is nothing left but hope. You instinctually know this, which breeds more anxiety. Once you believe you have nothing more to lose, you have lost control and have given him the wheel, the key, and the pink slip!
Playing your cards right – The two tracks
This situation has a chance of succeeding if you remain the person he fell in love with, the more confident (“concerned” but not anxious) you! I have identified two tracks that need to be maintained in order to be your best self during this process that in turn will bring anxiety down and confidence up. One track is for YOU and the other is for HIM.
Track One: HIM
Develop a specific timeline for things to progress
We all have limits. You are allowed to set them; they are yours! If you don’t set them, they will be set for you. Take control and plot out your time limit for: when you would like him to leave his wife, file for divorce, meet the children, his friends, etc. Take control of this time before it takes control over you, leading you to believe you must stay with him because of all the time you’ve already put in! Consider what your limits would be, i.e. what you would recommend for a friend in your situation and vow to stick to it. When you have a plan and have identified your limits you have created a “Then what!” for all of the “What if’s?” that you don’t have a crystal ball to foresee.
Manage your relationship anxiety
The biggest behavior associated with anxiety is avoidance (even avoiding conflict). Your relationship anxiety can sabotage the good that is there if you always try to be a “good girl (or boy)” and keep your needs to yourself. You will end up stuffing your feelings and needs until you become resentful. Or, you might become the “over-communicator,” which can ultimately push him away because all you are doing is talking about the status of the relationship and problems that “Have-to” be solved. Strengthening your assertiveness and confident communication in order to talk to him about what you need is necessary. Also setting times to talk and to not talk (just fun) making sure you can enjoy the rest of the time together.
Track Two: YOU
Take steps toward your goals outside of the relationship
Have you been afraid to work toward your own goals until the relationship turns a corner and now they are on the back-burner? Regardless of whether or not you are progressing in your relationship with him, start progressing on your goals. Do you want to build your career? Go back to school? Live a healthier lifestyle? Being goal-focused regardless of the relationship outcome will positively impact you no matter what. This will help strengthen your coping, which will decrease the threat of his potential loss. Plot out things you have been avoiding and spend at least 15 minutes a day on them – regardless of how you feel!
Reclaim friends, family, and interests
Your mood and confidence should be at its best during this stressful time. Reconnecting with your good friends, close family members, and in enjoyable activities (without him) is a sure booster. When you’ve got free time, rather than counting on him to make plans, make your own plans and don’t change them! Remember to do the things you love (and even ones that he doesn’t). If you haven’t felt up to any activities lately, write a list of all the things you used to enjoy doing. Get into the habit of engaging in at least one pleasurable activity per day, even if it’s something small such as enjoying a cup of tea or having a quick chat with an old friend. Enjoyable activities do not have to break the bank. Opportunities to reconnect with your interests and support network are all around you.
Remember, you might be in the midst of the most loving, rewarding, and yet challenging relationship ever. No matter how inconvenient or complicated, you are in it for valid reasons, which perhaps others have not been able to understand. Though he has choices to make, you can still sit in your driver’s seat, take control of your mood, goals, and timeline, while giving love your best shot.
You can deal with the GAD, social anxiety, panic attacks, and potential break-up. Facing avoidance, turning those “What ifs?” to “Then whats!” The two-track model will make sure this is a growing experience for you regardless of what happens in the relationship. You will be stronger and even more ready to have the relationship you deserve.
Paul DePompo, Psy.D., ABPP is a Board Certified Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, Diplomate of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy, and Director of CBTI of Southern California. He received his PCIT training from UC Davis, CAARE Team. Dr. DePompo is known for his expertise in relationships, dating, and human behavior and is a frequent media guest. He also consults with Hollywood studios on psychological issues. Co-author of "THE OTHER WOMAN'S AFFAIR", a book on reclaiming life when your partner is married.