It may be a cliché, but the workplace is one of the most common places for affairs to start.
How do work affairs start?
When people spend lots of time together, they have the chance to really get to know each other.
Work affairs often start off slowly. Working together in stressful situations can mean bonding over shared goals or through collaborating on projects. What can start off as a platonic friendship or normal working relationship can, if there’s a spark of attraction, slowly become more inappropriate over time. This might just be semi-harmless flirting at first, but before long it may become clear there’s something more serious behind it.
Affairs at work — the signs
It’s often hard to pinpoint the moment where things begin to head in this direction. You might prefer to avoid thinking about it, or to pretend it’s not happening. Yet through this, some people can find themselves ‘sleepwalking’ towards an infidelity – by not accepting that it’s a possibility at all.
And then it’s often the case that events like after work drinks or the Christmas party can mean any underlying attractions are acted on in an impulsive moment.
Why do people have affairs?
An affair – or the prospect of an affair – often feels extremely exciting at the time. One of the most common things that people report is the feeling of being ‘alive’. If you’ve been feeling dissatisfied in your life for a while, an affair can feel like an opportunity to be excited about things and take control of your life again.
But affairs rarely fix the problem that they start in reaction to. People often pursue attractions with other people because they feel alone or disempowered in their own relationship. But any initial feelings of excitement usually subside into ones of guilt and unhappiness.
If you’re having an affair you may feel caught between two poles – wanting to hang onto this new sense of excitement, but feeling incredibly guilty about the betrayal of your partner, with whom you might have been for many years.
If you’re thinking about starting up an affair with someone you work with, it may be worth thinking about how you got here. Are there things going on in your relationship that have left you feeling unhappy or frustrated? Has something changed recently that’s caused a rift between you and your partner? Do you feel like you’ve lost something – either recently or over a long period of time? And then think it through: would having an affair solve any of this, or would it simply cause more pain and upset?
The best route to solving relationship issues is not by acting impulsively or simply doing whatever you want, but by acknowledging and talking about any issues as a couple. Of course, it can be really difficult to do this, especially if you haven’t been getting on for a while. But serious problems don’t tend to fix themselves, and often get worse if simply left to fester. It requires bravery and a willingness to take on board your partner’s view, but even the trickiest issues can be worked through if both you and your partner are willing to try.
How to avoid an affair
The best place to start is by having an honest conversation about what’s going on in your relationship. If you haven’t been talking in a while or find that, when you do, things spiral into argument quickly, it can be a good idea to go about this process carefully.
This isn’t the kind of thing that you’re going to want to bring up in the middle of an argument or when you’re just about to go to bed – it’s going to require time and space. It can be a good idea to plan this talk in advance. You might want to approach your partner and say you think you think you need to chat, and agree on a time and place when you can do this uninterrupted. It might be a good idea to go out somewhere public. Being somewhere different can help you think differently, and it can mean tempers are less likely to flare.
When it comes to talking about what’s wrong, there are a few ways of making a productive and positive conversation more likely. Firstly, it can be a good idea to take regular timeouts. It’s no use talking if it’s simply going to turn into a shouting match, so being ready to take a quick break if things do get heated can make a big difference.
Beyond this, it’s important to take responsibility for your own feelings. Don’t phrase comments as attacks: ‘you always’, ‘you never’ and so on. It’s much better to use ‘I’ phrases: ‘When you do […], I feel as if…’. That way, your partner is less likely to feel defensive – and you’ll both have a chance to explain your own perspective on things. It’s also important to listen to what each other has to say, and not just focus on getting your own point across. Read our 3 communication tips to try with your partner for more on this.
It’s also important to distance yourself from any developing situations at work if you feel like something could happen with one of your colleagues. If it’s possible, you may want to spend less time with this person – or it may even be appropriate to acknowledge the atmosphere and be direct about the fact that you don’t want anything to happen.
How we can help
If you and your partner feel like you’re going to need help dealing with any relationship issues, then get in touch. We’re here to help you have discussions that you may otherwise find too painful, or likely to cause conflict.
Your relationship counselor won’t take sides, and they won’t tell you what to do. They’ll simply help you to express yourselves and think about a way of moving forward together.