We don’t usually think of the workplace as a hotbed for romance, but the Associated Press Journal of Marital and Family Therapy says 36% of men and women admit to having an affair with a coworker (and those are just the ones who ‘fessed up). It’s not rocket science: you spend a lot of time with someone whose work ethic you admire, or maybe it’s their sense of cool under pressure, or their mysterious ability to unfreeze your computer screen with a stern look. And frankly, it’s refreshing to look forward to going to work instead of dreading it.
But when casual chit-chat with a co-worker turns to soul-baring conversations, you are beginning to build what Nina Chen Ph.D, a human development specialist for the University of Missouri, calls emotional intimacy, which is often how workplace extra-marital affairs begin. “When people have an office affair, they no longer spend time working on their marriage,” she says. And far from being a casual thrill, office romances can destroy even good marriages. To avoid the slippery slope of falling for an affair with a coworker, Chen advises taking that energy and focusing it on reimagining your marriage.
Talk, talk, talk. Chen suggests committing to open communication daily about the issues that affect you and your spouse. “Make sure to have couple-time and dates regularly,” she says. “Time with your spouse alone every day can be a time for reconnecting and recharging your emotional batteries.”
Prioritize. Make your marriage number one and adjust your thinking accordingly. Thoughts don’t always become actions, but “thinking about intimacy with your coworker…may increase chances of acting on those thoughts when there’s an opportunity,” Chen says.
Establish clear boundaries. Your coworkers should not know more about you than your spouse does. If they do, that means you’re investing more energy in companionship and intellectual sharing at work than at home. “That’s a warning sign sign of an affair with a coworker,” says Chen.
Three’s a crowd…and that’s a good thing. Avoid being alone with the object of your workplace desire. “The more you do activities together alone, the more likely it is that you may form an intimacy bond that could lead to workplace affairs.”
Just the facts. Keep conversations with coworkers to work-related topics. “When the conversation moves to a more personal level, you need to stop and make a quick exit. The more you open up to each other emotionally, the more vulnerable you are to develop an emotional intimacy and withdraw emotionally from your spouse.” Chen says that this can cause more harm to your marriage than a one-night stand.
Divorce mediator Diane Neuman cites some top reasons for having an affair—craving excitement, yearning for romantic love, seeking sex, responding to a midlife crisis, acting out anger, escaping an unpleasant reality, addressing loneliness, obsession, and seeking a soul-mate. But while it might take work (and some counseling), you can address any of these deficits in your marriage before workplace affairs wreaks havoc. Make a commitment to reinvent your relationship with your spouse and you just might stop thinking about wild nights with your coworker because you’re too busy having wild nights with your spouse.