An ex-lover in the workplace

Last updated 05:00 30/05/2012

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

Send your questions to lifeandstyle@stuff.co.nz, 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.

- © Fairfax NZ News

72 comments
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bauldy   #1   06:57 am May 30 2012

Hi, 1st you put yourself in this situation, playing with a married man is going to cause you pain,I strongly advise you to let him know that at this point of time being friends is not what you are looking for, you also need to talk to your friends and family don't bottle it up it will make things worse for you.2) don't screw the crew

Shannon   #2   07:55 am May 30 2012

The heart-wrenching decisions following an ended long affair with a married man... how unfortunate, for his wife.

Alex   #3   08:12 am May 30 2012

He's emotionally blackmailing you, as the kind of men who have affairs often have the tendency to do.

This is exactly why you shouldn't have an affair. You're suffering the consequences now and if you expect sympathy you're probably not going to get much of it.

PB   #4   08:32 am May 30 2012

Don't try and be friends, just be professional and cool at work and leave it at that.

Just Friends 2   #5   08:52 am May 30 2012

Wow - reading this was like reading a page out of my own life; I too am in a similar situation only we are both married. I’ve tried some of these strategies mentioned as well..But old habits die hard and I find myself falling into the same pattern over and over. I've since found a new job and am due to leave a job I love (with colleagues I enjoy working with so much!!) very soon. It has been one of the hardest decisions. Hang in there and find someone to talk to who can help guide you though this emotional rollercoaster...and remember sometimes we can’t help who we love ... all the best <3

AJ   #6   08:58 am May 30 2012

Maybe you both would like to think about the man's wife?

Michael   #7   09:00 am May 30 2012

Why are you asking for advice, you had an affair. Deal with it yourself. Its your own fault.

LB   #8   09:03 am May 30 2012

I really can not stand 'problems' such as these, sweetheart, you don't have a problem, you have a 'situation' that you and this man chose, the wife has a problem, and the poor woman doesn't even know it, because thanks to women like yourself who enable men like that, the culprit (the married man doing the cheating) never gets damn caught!

So carry on playing whatever little game you are, but don't ask for advice or expect support, as this is a situation, not a problem, I will save my sympathy for his wife.

@ Just Friends 2 - lady you are a wife mucking around with another married person, grow up!

k2   #9   09:04 am May 30 2012

Guess what. Everyone at work knows about it. They also know he is married. As much as they think he is a $hit for cheating, you are the woman that led him astray. You will now be considered either the easy option or a woman to be weary of. So the reality is, your workplace may not be that flash after all. It might be time to see what else is out there, work wise.

SMD   #10   09:11 am May 30 2012

Stay strong, focus on what *you* want and don't let him emotionally blackmail you. I remained friends with an ex for quite a while, however as I was still in love with him I found it very difficult to "just be friends". I told him as much and now we don't see each other at all. I still value him very much as a person, but I'm glad he has the respect for me to know that I need space to get over him and move on. It appears that this man in your life does not have this same attribute.

Don't let him have his cake and eat it too - it will only prolong the situation and increase the hurt.


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