An Emotional Affair at Work — Should I Quit My Job?

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Reader’s Question

I have a friend to whom I feel deeply connected. We are both married to other people and I really love my husband. My husband also knows how I feel about my friend, as we had a rough patch and this came up.

My friend was my mentor at work but was released five years ago and we kept in touch. It is a platonic relationship but I have had an emotional affair. Now my friend has been rehired at our workplace, where I have been very successful. I am normally a calm, logical person and have successful work relationships, but I am an emotional mess with this relationship with my friend. We do the same job and will be working directly together again. I am contemplating leaving my job to avoid this relationship. There are no other full-time job openings in our area and my husband will not move for something like this. Please help with advice.

Psychologist’s Reply

“A platonic relationship but an emotional affair.” What an elegant distinction you make in human relations. From your story, I learn that one needn’t be sexually active with a person in order to have an affair with that person. Now, you’re thrown together again with this person with no good alternative but to work it out. Is it possible? Is it even worth a try?

I’m wondering what you’ve got to lose by trying to work this out with your friend. Going against your husband’s wish to relocate, facing unemployment if you quit — your alternatives seem bleak. Therefore, I’d encourage you not to go gently into that good night, but fight against it in a constructive way. You may fight and win, in which case you have really accomplished something. You may fight and lose, in which case you would be facing the same alternatives that you are now. I wonder if your husband would be more supportive of you if he knew you’d tried your best to work this out.

It’s easier to decide to fight for your rights to stay than to actually do it. How would you approach your friend and when? Is it best to be direct and go to the core issues that trouble you? Would it be better to wait until your friend comes to work, and then simply state the ground rules for your future relationship? Should you approach your friend alone, or do you need support from family, friend or counselor? These are the questions that you must answer for yourself.

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Whatever you choose, there will be consequences. Whatever problems you have won’t be solved in a single conversation. You will certainly have to deal with the aftermath of the initial confrontation. And that’s a good thing. Relations can grow and change. Relationships are more troubled when they’re static and stuck. Although you have a troubled history with this person, you may be able to get over this stuck place and be civil and professional to each other. You don’t have to be friends to work together. You certainly can’t be lovers. Start by deciding for yourself what limits and boundaries to your relationship would make working together tolerable. Then, you can start to shape your relationship so it stays within those boundaries for as long as you need it to.

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