How to End an Emotional Affair with a Co-Worker

If you realize that you are sliding into an emotional affair with a coworker, the first thing you need to do is stop kidding yourself. Ending an emotional relationship with a co-worker isn’t easy when the consequences are not readily apparent.

Maybe you’ve done an excellent job keeping it secret. That’s the challenge of emotional affairs. They hide in plain sight.

Perhaps no one has noticed. You’ve not had to explain that you’re “just friends”, or that both of you are “happily married.”

There are no rumors. Not one of your other co-workers suspects how delighted you are to see your extra-marital affair partner.

It’s a delightful secret, and it feels terrific.

Because you haven’t had sex and stopped acting flirtatious in front of the rest of your team, you’ve been telling yourself that you haven’t crossed a line.

But you don’t know where this is going…and you’re telling yourself… I’d better end this now before it gets more complicated.

Smart move.

Here are 7 things you must do to end a budding emotional affair with a co-worker.

  • Imagine a Disaster Scenario

The great philosopher Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan till he gets punched in the mouth.”

The first step in ending a budding emotional affair with a co-worker to vividly imagine the worst possible scenario. What will happen if you fail to exercise self-discipline? Put your arrogance and hubris on the shelf for a minute and think it through.

How will it impact your marriage, your affair partner’s marriage? Your kids? Their kids? What about your careers and reputations? Are you deliberately deciding to cross boundaries… or are you merely sliding into marital quicksand?

  • Take Responsible Action by Accepting Responsibility and Asking Your Affair Partner to do Likewise

Ending an emotional affair with a co-worker is taking responsibility and ask them to do likewise. Discuss your mutual attraction openly in the context of a crossed boundary that is in dire need of being re-established.

Share your disaster scenario and invite them to contemplate their own. Admit that because you have become emotionally attached, you are violating your marital partner… and your integrity and honor are too precious to compromise.

  • If You Can’t Cease Contact, Re-define the Relationship as Best You Can.

Discuss appropriate boundaries. Explain your mutual discomfort, guilt, and fear. If there are organizational boundaries that can help (a transfer, a new department, etc.) explore those options. Reviewing your company’s policy on workplace relationships is also a prudent reality check.

Discuss how you both can contain your attraction by minimizing contact. Another unpleasant option if all else fails is to consider leaving your present employer. But do not suggest that your affair partner do so if you have more power than they do in your workplace.

Ending an Emotional affair With a Co-Worker… Avoid the Delusion of Being “Just Friends”

  • Resist the Temptation to Redefine Your Relationship as “Just Friends”

I am reminded of a Polish proverb “just because the cat has her kittens in the oven doesn’t make them biscuits.”

Ending an emotional affair with a co-worker while it is still manageable precludes self-serving notions of “friendship.”

You have a powerful attraction to one another. It is distracting. Friendship will only feed it. Don’t kid yourself, and don’t let your affair partner persuade you otherwise.

  • Discuss How Hard it Will Be

Many therapists are uncomfortable talking about the grief of the involved partner.

But I’m suggesting that a conversation about grief with a person whom you’re beginning to become emotionally involved with at work can be important if it occurs in the right context … and unwise if it’s not.

How can I rebuild trust with my spouse if I’m battling my attraction to you every day? We need to end this now before our emotions get out of hand.

  • Purge All Contact Info from Your Social Media… Unfriend Them… Delete…Delete…Delete

Social media is a facilitator of emotional intimacy and remains the number one way workplace affairs are discovered. You both must collaborate as best you can to restore workplace boundaries without your “feeling guilty” or their feeling “dumped.”

This can be a complicated dance. But you also need firm boundaries not only about how you spend time together. You also need to feel comfortable establishing new limitations around Facebook and other social media.

  • Ponder Your Emotional Vulnerability

It’s a popular notion that you wouldn’t have slid into an inappropriate relationship with a co-worker if there wasn’t a catastrophic problem in your marriage.

However, research doesn’t bear that out. Most workplace affairs are more the result of poor boundaries, not necessarily terrible marriages.

It’s fair to ask…why were you vulnerable? If you’ve been married for 20 years or more, doesn’t it make sense that your real relationship may need some attention?

But more importantly, what did you learn about yourself? Your integrity? Who was the person who delighted in your emotional affair partner’s attention?

But you might want to be more curious about how you’ve settled in your marriage. It may not be a disaster, but it needs some work. Take a good look at the powerful feelings that were aroused by your emotional affair.

Who is that person? What do they need? And how can you engage with your committed partner to bring that person and those feelings back into your committed relationship?

Ending an Emotional Affair with a Co-Worker Can be the Start of a Better Marriage

Ending an emotional affair with a co-worker before it becomes a problem may be a hallmark of your integrity, but it’s also an invitation to growth.

This isn’t high school angst. The stakes are nosebleed high. Instead of beating yourself up, ask yourself what hidden or denied parts of yourself were given free expression in that emotional entanglement. Then commit to bringing that neglected part of yourself back home to your chosen life partner and the long-term relationship where it belongs.

Do You Need Good Coaching to Recover from an Emotional Affair?

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Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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    1. You know it. He doesn’t have to acknowledge it, because you know it. Now you need to decide what you want to do about it. Easy? No. Necessary? Yes. –Dr. K

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