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Life Support: How to be a mistress

Tread carefully

There is no denying affairs can be exciting. For women who enjoy the thrill of the chase, netting a man who is already taken can feel like the ultimate prize. However, they can also be painful, protracted and damaging for everyone involved.

Develop a thick skin

If having a mistress is no longer socially acceptable in Britain, then being a mistress is even less so. Vilification in the press, film, literature and television is nothing compared to the harsh judgements you will face from friends and family if you become 'the other woman'. While the stars of the BBC's Mistresses have a group of glamorous, like-minded women with whom they can chew over the details of their liaisons, real-life mistresses have friends who are married, or who have been cheated on in the past – and, generally, they won't offer much sympathy.

Be discreet

Unless you want to get caught, don't spill the beans to any mutual friends - this is a sure-fire route to discovery. If you are colleagues, be sure to keep it low-key at work. Some companies take relationships between staff very seriously, and what is harmless fun to you may be a sackable offence.

Don't trust him

Remember, this is a man who lies to women. If he tells you that he loves his wife but is no longer 'in love' with her, that they sleep in the same bed but don't have sex, or any other tired old cliché, take it with a pinch of salt.

Know what you want

Do you want him to leave his wife, or are you just after a fling? In either instance, be clear with your lover. According to a 2001 study by academics at Bradley University in the US, one in five people were 'poached' by their current partner when they were already in a relationship, so mistresses hoping to move into the marital bed may be in with a shot.