How to navigate a workplace affair
- Cheating is a fact of life, and .
- But if you find yourself attracted to someone at work, things can quickly get complicated.
- According to Tammy Nelson, a sex therapist, you need to ensure you are both emotionally mature enough to handle the situation.
- Otherwise, the fallout can be messy.
- If handled badly, both your relationship and your career could be at risk.
When one client of sex therapist Tammy Nelson decided he wanted to end his workplace affair, he started blanking the woman by avoiding eye contact and turning and walking the other way if he ever saw her in the office.
This is absolutely not the way to handle the breakdown of a relationship — especially when it's with someone you work with. But although ghosting has (apparently) become acceptable in modern dating, pretending someone you've slept with simply doesn't exist when you work in the same office as them is another level of callous.
You may spend more time with your colleagues than with your partner at home, and research has shown it's , such as a work spouse relationship. Racking up the hours together also makes it more likely .
But work relationships are complicated. Nelson told Business Insider the immediate issues are obvious at first glance, such as being distracted from your duties, and putting your relationship with other colleagues at risk.
But it's even messier if both people are married or in committed relationships outside of work. According to the infidelity dating site Ashley Madison, a survey showed that 32% of respondents have had an office affair, and 37% said there is someone at work who they want to have an affair with.
And if you're going to go down that path with a colleague, Nelson, who consults for Ashley Madison, said there are some things to be aware of.
"Ashley Madison is a place where two people are looking for something where they both agree this is the level of dishonesty we are committed to — I am going to keep this compartmentalised from my marriage as you are," she said. "So we both make that agreement. And if one of us breaks that agreement then it's no longer an agreement, and it could feel like a betrayal. There's a risk."
If someone breaks that agreement in an office affair, it can have huge ramifications, she said. So it's important either you agree to take the affair outside of the business environment, or you come clean about it right at the beginning. That could mean involving HR, or telling your colleagues about it and stressing to them your personal life won't affect your professional one.
"It's very difficult to trust your colleague to do a good job or put your best interests at heart when you know they are lying to you about something," said Nelson. "The other way to deal with it, if you feel it coming, if you feel there's an attraction or a potential complication, is to end it."
Not all workplace attractions lead to full-blown affairs. Sometimes, it might be a work spouse relationship where the flirting has reached inappropriate levels. Or there could be a romantic connection between two people, but they decide not to act on it for the sake of their careers or marriages.
However, if a romantic relationship does blossom, it's worth thinking about whether you're mature enough to deal with the consequences if it doesn't work out. The client who blanked his mistress in the hallway, for example, wasn't emotionally equipped to deal with the situation, Nelson said.You have to handle your life with integrity and you can't have these relationships without integrity.
"I said what are you, in 5th grade? Are you 15? That's not how you handle this with integrity," she said.
"If you want to handle your affair like a grown up, what you have to do is actually go to the person who you are having the office affair with and say to them three things: One, I really appreciate the time we had together, and I've learned about myself from the relationship we had. Two, I really need to end this because I have a relationship at home, or because I really want to focus on my work here at the office... And then number three, I'm sorry if I've created any pain for you or any fallout in your own personal life."
Then, you have to create a plan for the future, she said, to either decide to have a friendly business-like relationship where you can work together, or for one of you to leave.
Nelson suggested to her ghosting client that he say to his former partner: "We can have this kind and polite relationship with each other. And if that doesn't work for you, I will leave the company."
Fortunately, she was fine with this arrangement. But before that, she had been so angry she had been threatening to tell his wife about the whole thing.
"Because she was — rightly so — angry at him for treating her as if nothing has happened, and was just blowing her off," Nelson said.
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