Coworker Affairs Are Easier than Ever. But Should You Have One?
By Sonali Gupta
“Today’s workplace has become the new danger zone of romantic attraction and opportunity,” writes Shirley P. Glass, PhD, in her new book on infidelity, NOT “Just Friends”. Glass, whom the New York Times has called the “godmother of infidelity research” is clear: Workplace dynamics have changed significantly in the past decade in ways that don’t create coworker affairs, but do facilitate them; it’s no coincidence that a 2015 study of 1550 office workers found 65% of respondents admitting to a workplace romance; of those office romances, half were coworker affairs that involved one or more married or committed people.
Workplace relationships are complicated from the start. When you get along with your coworkers and/or work long hours together, the line between colleagues and friends can blur. An emotional connection or sexual attraction makes it even more complex. Both male and female clients often tell me they didn’t even realize when they started having an affair with a coworker. Workplace interactions can disguise the moments when friendship moves to behaviour very specific to romantic relationships, when boundaries begin to weaken and intimate conversations meant for one’s primary partner are instead held with a colleague.
As obscure as cheating with a colleague can be, there are specific signs of an affair with a coworker. These include behaviours like: leaving home early to pick up a colleague on the way to work so you can spend extra time together, going for coffee/tea/drinks regularly after work together, or staying late at work to spend time with a colleague. But the most crucial part is that all of these actions are a secret from the primary partner/spouse. In such conditions, sexual attraction can easily slip into adultery.
Read more on extramarital affairs on The Swaddle.
Even if a relationship never crosses into the physical realm, it’s possible to emotional affairs with coworkers. Emotional affairs at work occur when people confide in a colleague about feelings and experiences not work-related and to a degree more than they confide in their spouse.
Male and female clients often ask how infidelity can be possible without sexual intimacy, but the impact on a marriage or committed relationship of emotional affairs with coworkers can be as great physical coworker affairs. Most clients, when I ask them to consider the repercussions of their actions, find they are confiding in their colleague more than their primary partner or spouse, undermining their bond as a committed couple.
Coworker affairs, even emotional ones, shouldn’t be confused with a similar, if vaguer, phenomenon termed “work spouse,” which describes a close, platonic relationship between two coworkers that resembles a marriage. This “work husband” or “work wife” scenario falls in a gray area for most people, evidenced by how many people have them: a survey conducted by Vault.com found 32% of respondents identified with having a “work husband” or “work wife.”
These relationships – across the spectrum, from work spouse to physical affair – develop because the people involved feel they are getting something out of the extramarital relationship. I ask my clients: What is it the payoff of being involved with another person at the cost of their marriage, children and even professional reputation?
Many feel the relationship provides a renewed perspective on their life. For some, it is affirming of capability, competence, and other professional qualities. And for most, the relationship comes with convenience. As a young client once told me, “The affair became like a trap where I felt I could express parts of myself beyond my role as a mother and wife. I felt like I was back to my youth, without any real responsibility.”
Workplace relationships are tricky, but they don’t cross the line by accident; it is a choice to begin having an affair with a coworker. Coworker affairs result when we choose not to invest in our own marriage and relationships at home. If you are considering one, also consider this: While workplace intimacy may offer a relief from the drudgery of our non-professional roles as providers/parents/neglected spouses, it is far from an answer to any problems we are having at home. No relationship ever continues to remain in the same, rosy honeymoon phase. Perhaps the answer is to keep finding mediums to renew the connections we already have.