An ex-lover in the workplace

A reader wonders how she and her lover can work alongside each other now that they've broken it off.

Send your questions to, and remember to include a nickname if you don't want to be identified.

Dear Chris,

Can you be friends with an ex-lover? I have been having an affair with a married colleague for the last two years on and off. I am single. We have both come to our senses and decided to end things (not the first time).

I am writing to you to ask for advice on how best to deal with the fact that we see each other every day. Neither of us is in a position to change jobs and I am finding it difficult with the daily reminders of seeing him and the associated feelings. I know the current line of thought is for "no contact", but this isn't possible.

We have had many arguments because of the situation. I have never expected him to leave his wife for me; I didn't want that to happen. He now wants to be "friends", but I feel this isn't possible. There are too many emotional issues still present to be just friends.

He says I don't value him as a person because I don't want his friendship. It's not that; it's just too painful for me to do this. I have told him this. I deal with him on a professional level at work but find having lunch etc together extremely difficult as I still love this man.

I'm looking for some strategies to make work less stressful and to help me move on.

Just Friends

I think you answered your first question – is it possible to be friends with an ex-lover – when you said there are too many emotional issues.

Your situation is tricky, but there are several strategies you can use to help you move on.

The first is to set very clear boundaries around contact at work. Repeat to him that you are willing to be a friendly work colleague, but not to socialise as friends – this includes lunch, unless it's a work event. Don't seek out conversations with him at work, and if you have to interact with him on professional issues keep the conversation around work only. Avoid going out in a group for drinks after work until you are sure you are over him.

The other main strategy is to understand yourself and get support for your decision to move on. It sounds like you've tried to end things on a number of occasions but fall back into the relationship. You also say you still love him, which would make it difficult to stand wholeheartedly behind any decision to end the relationship.

The third strategy is to develop a broken record technique to use for yourself and him: "I am happy to be work colleagues; I do not want to socialise as a friend". You have already told him it's too painful to be friends – tell him he needs to respect your feelings and leave you alone. If he does not respect this wish, you know he is putting his desires first. If you keep giving in, this will just continue.

If you stay in the same work environment, your unresolved issues are likely to be triggered when you see him.

I would urge you to see a counsellor who can help you process what you are going through, make sense of what keeps you hooked in this relationship, and find ways to disengage from it. If you can do this and gain more self-awareness, you'll find the triggers decrease in intensity and you can start to move on.

For more advice and information on counselling, visit Relationships Aotearoa online.

We'd love to hear your take on this week's issue. Before you comment below, though, remember that this is a real-life situation. This reader has bravely shared their personal life with you; please show them respect by refraining from hurtful or abusive comments.