How To Get Over An Emotional Affair At Work

Woman leaning her head on a window at work wondering how to get over her emotional affair.

Emotional affairs are relationships you have with people who aren’t your partner. What sets an emotional affair apart from a friendship is the relationship that forms becomes more important than your marriage. Frequently, you invest more time and energy into the emotional affair.  Emotional affairs at work can be as simple as flirting with someone or being friends with someone you’re attracted to. But they can get much more complicated—and destructive.

Emotional affairs typically start because one person wants something the other person has. This can be love, attention, or sex. This can happen because they don’t feel like their partner is giving them what they need in the relationship. They want something more fulfilling than what they’re getting from their spouse or significant other.

Emotional affairs are challenging to detect because they don’t have many hallmarks of traditional cheating. Emotional affairs usually aren’t secretive or deceptive. The person having an emotional affair is honest and open about the relationship. 

It’s also possible for emotional affairs to start when one person is unhappy in their relationship.  They don’t know how to fix it, so instead of working on the issues within their primary relationship, they look for fulfillment elsewhere. In many cases, this leads to people having multiple simultaneous relationships with different people at once: one romantic relationship and one emotional affair (or several).

When an emotional affair develops into a physical affair, it can become tough to stop. Both people feel like they’re getting something from each other that neither is getting from their primary partners—which makes sense.

How Common Are Emotional Affairs At Work?

Emotional affairs at work are more common than you might think. While the most common affair is still physical, emotional affairs can be just as devastating and more difficult to detect.

According to hrf, nearly half of all Americans have had an emotional affair at some point in their lives. And while many people think that these affairs are always about sex, that’s not necessarily true. In fact, research has shown that 70% of people who had an emotional affair didn’t even realize it until after it was over.

These reasons vary: sometimes, they’re motivated by loneliness or feelings of inadequacy. Other times they’re simply a case of bad judgment. But whatever the cause, they’re not always easy to recover from.

How To Tell If You Are Having An Emotional Affair

If you are having an emotional affair, you may feel attracted to someone other than your spouse or partner. You may experience excitement and anticipation when you think of spending time with them. Perhaps your mood improves when you’re thinking about them.

Other signs of an emotional affair include increased secrecy, increased time spent apart from your spouse or partner, and extra attention paid to how others perceive your relationship with this person.

Emotional affairs can be just as damaging as physical ones, so it is important to pay attention to the signs that one is occurring to end it before it does any damage.

How To End Emotional Affairs At Work

Most emotional affairs start at work and most of those end at work. But for some people, ending an emotional affair with a coworker is difficult because the relationship has been going on for so long. The best way to break off an emotional affair with a coworker is to be direct and honest about what you’re feeling and why it’s time for the relationship to end.

The first step in ending your emotional affair with a coworker is acknowledging it’s happening. If you’ve been spending more time than usual talking to this person, or if they’ve made themselves seem more important than they really are, you may be already involved in an emotional affair with them. Look out for signs like:

  • A sudden increase in the amount of time you spend together outside of work hours;
  • Constant communication through text messages or social media;
  • Going out of your way to make sure that you run into each other at events; and

There is a growing sense of attachment between two people who didn’t want anything more than friendship but suddenly felt differently about each other now that they’ve become closer.

How To Get Over An Emotional Affair At Work

If you’re in the middle of an emotional affair at work, it’s important to remember that you aren’t alone. In fact, one out of five employees has had an emotional affair. And it doesn’t matter if you work in a small company or a large corporation—the workplace is full of people capable of having these kinds of relationships.

But while they can be hard to break off, they can also seriously impact your personal life and career. Here are some tips on how to get over an emotional affair at work:

  • Take time off from work. If possible, take some time off from the office so that you can focus on your personal life without being distracted by work concerns. This will help you get back into a routine and allow you to think through what happened between yourself and your coworker.
  • Talk with your friends about what happened. You may not want to tell anyone about what happened at first because it will feel embarrassing or even shameful for some reason—but talking about it with someone else will help clear away some of those feelings so that they don’t distract you from moving forward with your life at home or work!
  • Understand why you fell for this person. Was it because they were charismatic? Did they promise you something? This can help you identify the root of your feelings to avoid falling into a similar situation.
  • Focus on your career goals and take advantage of opportunities at work that will help make them happen—this will give you something else to focus on besides your emotions during this time, as well as help make sure that nothing like this happens again!

Divorce, emotional bereavement, and breakups all provoke painful and sometimes debilitating negative emotional experiences. The same is true of an affair with a co-worker. 

We know of no magical “cure” for the anguish of finding oneself in an emotional affair at work. However, there are some useful guidelines that may accelerate the healing process for those who have been there. The first is to realize that the pain does eventually subside.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I work with individuals struggling with how to get over emotional affairs. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

Looking for more information about working through the repercussions of cheating? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.

How To Prevent An Unhealthy Marriage

Couple pausing in their bike ride along a beach to hold hands.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So said Ben Franklin to his fellow fire-threatened Philadelphians in 1736. Fast forward almost three centuries to your marriage today, and the merit of this proverb is still about fire prevention. Want to know how to prevent an unhappy marriage? Learn how to create a healthy one.

Prevention, at its most basic level, is about awareness. You can’t stop something from happening unless you know what to look for.

Not only do you need to know what you want to stop in its tracks. You need to know what you want to pass through.

Simply put, your ‘no’ needs to be balanced by a ‘yes.’

But first…

When is a marriage unhealthy? Is “unhealthy” really that definable, or does it exist on a spectrum of relevance?

A little of both, actually.

There are, for example, several signs that are undeniably unhealthy.

We frequently talk about John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling – because they are so accurately predictive of a marriage’s demise. 

By the time these relationship destroyers are playing a leading role in your life, your marriage has passed through unhealthy to toxic.

And is, at least statistically, most likely doomed.

But what about that spectrum of relevance? Surely marriage doesn’t go from happy to doomed without warning.

The events, stresses, and triggers of life – and, more importantly, your responses to them – are all hints along the way. 

They are also invitations to pay attention and make adjustments to stay on course.

In this way, the very stressors that challenge your marriage are opportunities to learn how to prevent an unhealthy marriage.

Every relationship passes through stages. Even a new job has a honeymoon phase, followed by a get-down-to-business phase. 

But how often does the start-up hype become a disillusionment to the work ahead? And how often does the expectation for start-up perfection create negativity, disappointment, contention, and even resignation down the line?

Marriage is really no different in that regard.

More than any other helpful, must-do tip, it’s self-awareness that can improve your relationship the most.

Knowing yourself means recognizing, acknowledging, naming, and accepting your own thoughts, feelings, sensations, needs, and desires – before they become behaviors.

After all, you can’t prevent, let alone change, something you don’t recognize or acknowledge. 

It’s the hiding behind a veil of unawareness that leads to blame, lack of self-accountability, and ultimately a life of victimhood and resentment.

As you read the following list of signs of an unhealthy marriage, think about the ones you didn’t see coming.

  • Sex has gone by the wayside and/or is no longer a satisfying, connecting experience.
  • You and your spouse don’t talk about anything outside of work, kids, bills, and home management.
  • You and your spouse bicker and fight all the time – or don’t fight at all.
  • Your physical health is suffering.
  • You stop taking care of yourself.
  • You have stopped dreaming and looking forward to things – individually and as a couple.
  • You start fantasizing about life without your spouse, possibly even with someone else.
  • You don’t make time for one another and don’t prioritize your marriage as an entity.
  • You and your spouse criticize more than you praise and validate.
  • You don’t listen and/or don’t feel heard.
  • Your kids are acting out and/or are doing poorly in school.
  • You and/or your spouse start drinking more or finding other means of escape.
  • You intentionally avoid communication, especially about the relationship itself.

As tragic as it all sounds, every one of these symptoms can (and usually does) creep up on unassuming spouses.

And it’s so easy to enter that slippery slope!

Want to fix an unhealthy marriage and get that loving feeling back? Your best bet is to focus on how to prevent an unhealthy marriage in the first place.

Here are some “ounces of prevention” to help you prevent an unhealthy marriage:

  • Talk about the likely (and potentially unforeseen) challenges of marriage before your wedding and throughout your marriage.
  • Embrace a positive, even grateful attitude about sources of self- and relationship-improvement: therapy, coaching, classes, retreats, support/activity groups.
  • Remember to nurture your individuality and unique interests and talents. Carving out time for “just you” will not only feed your soul, it will fuel your spouse’s attraction and longing for you.
  • Make healthy communication your top and constant priority. And commit to learning new and more effective communication skills on an ongoing basis.
  • Replace criticism with a complaint to shift the focus from blame to a feeling and need that you own. “When you ignored me at the party, I felt lonely and unimportant” will inspire a far different response than “You always abandon me when we go out!”
  • Make your marriage a “non-negotiable” in your life. Put date nights and other occasions for togetherness on your calendar as a stronghold for your routine, and plan everything else around them.
  • If your faith is important to you, nurture it and turn to it, both individually and collectively, as a source of strength and guidance for your relationship.
  • Turn “sacrifice” (not self-martyrdom) into a fun adventure. What can I do today that will surprise and benefit my spouse, even if it inconveniences me?
  • Take divorce off the table.
  • Show physical affection, and not just in the bedroom. Touch when you talk. Hold hands in public. Add a few seconds to your welcome-home hug and kiss. Pat one another on the tush or place your hand on one another’s back as you pass by.
  • Make time for sex, even if you have to schedule it. If the idea of planning for sex seems unromantic, use that awkwardness as motivation to create a romantic, fun, playful experience.
  • Play together. Play as a couple, play as a family. And keep “play” ahead of winning.
  • Travel together. Even if you travel as a family, create getaways for just you and your spouse.
  • Say “I love you” several times a day.
  • Say “I’m sorry,” “please forgive me,” and “I forgive you” with humility and sincerity…and without reservation.

Chances are you didn’t take your vows thinking about how to prevent an unhealthy marriage.

You thought about all the proactive, loving things you would do to bring about your vision for a happy marriage and life.

And that…that…is your ounce of prevention.