Extramarital affairs are the worst, and the worst of the worst is the co-worker affair. I’ll give you five reasons why.
1. They have their own world—the work world—and you’ll always be an outsider. When people spend a great deal of their waking hours with someone else, they naturally forge a certain familiarity and dynamic that is unique to them. That happens in just about every workplace, and it can be a positive thing that makes it a little easier to get through the work day; however, it can also cause problems when co-workers who are on some level attracted to each other forge a familiarity and dynamic that is too intimate. They begin to have their own little rituals, private moments, ways to support each other, and favorite places to grab lunch. It’s then that that the so-called “office spouse” relationship develops. Many people say they have an “office wife” or an “office husband.” Harmless term of friendship? Sure, if neither is married. If one or both are married, however, their respective spouses may not see it that way.
2. They are always at their best. Co-workers don’t just spend a lot of their waking time together, but they spend a lot of their best waking time together. They may see each other first thing in the morning, fresh-faced for the day, or dressed quite well. They are likely well-groomed, with make-up that hasn’t yet started to fade or run. They have energy and, since the boss is around, they’re on their best behavior. They talk about interesting things over lunch. Contrast this with the image of the tired spouse arriving home at 6:30 pm, exhausted and irritated from the drive-home traffic, and walking into a house with loud kids and a frazzled spouse, and you can see how the fantasy of the co-worker isn’t just alluring, it’s also very, very unfair.
3. They are a daily source of anxiety for you. While all affairs cause the betrayed spouse to worry and wonder, the workplace affair causes a daily and endless cycle of worry and wonder, since one’s spouse has to go to work every day. You don’t just have to worry about bumping into the object of your spouse’s affection at your kid’s soccer game once or twice a month, you have to worry about your spouse and this other person interacting on a daily basis. From 9 am to 5 pm every day, it’s always on your mind…are they talking right now? Is she sitting on his desk? Is he bringing her a coffee?
4. They come with a built-in justification for continuing. While some unfaithful spouses are very good at crafting justifications for continuing to see an affair partner, or at least someone they are attracted to, the workplace affair comes with its own ready-to-use justification—“I have to see her / him. I can’t quit my job, we need to pay our bills.”
5. You can never really be sure it’s over. While it can be hard to know that any affair is truly over (personal devices and technology make it easy to communicate in secret), that is doubly so with workplace affairs. You can insist that your spouse only communicate with the other person for work-related purposes, but since you’re not there to supervise or see for yourself, you don’t really know.
Of course, all affairs are hurtful, confusing, and stressful. All of them can cause chaos in your life and put your marriage in serious jeopardy. I’m not trying to establish a hierarchy of betrayal or pain in this article.
I’m simply pointing out that workplace affairs aren’t just one of the most common types of affair, but they come with their own challenges, perhaps all of which really boil down to finances—and therefore survival—in a way that is quite unique.
If any of this has resonated with you, I hope you will choose to tackle this tough issue in a smart and strategic way, instead of just descending into pointless and unending arguments about it with your spouse and digging your marriage into a deeper hole each time.
My Overcoming Infidelity // For Betrayed Spouses online program tackles co-worker affairs, as well as emotional and physical affairs in general, and offers detailed guidance that is as real and tangible as the pain and confusion you are feeling.
Debra Macleod, BA, JD, is the creator of Marriage SOS™. She has served as an expert resource for major media around the world, from The New York Times and Entrepreneur to ELLE and Men’s Health magazine.