Q&A with Geoff: How Can I Reduce the Risk of a Workplace Affair?Jan 25, 2023
I’m recently divorced for the second time. Both of my ex-husbands cheated on me with women they worked with. I’ve now started a new job and I work alone with my boss. I don’t want my boss or his wife to feel uncomfortable with the fact that we’re there alone together much of the time.
I know I’m not ever going to be inappropriate with him, but I don’t want his wife to feel threatened by me. Any suggestions on how to make this work well for everyone?
I see that you’ve ended up on the other side of an unexpected, yet familiar situation and want to make sure you protect the integrity of their marriage. Clearly, your sensitivity to these things is heightened considering what you’ve been through in your previous marriages. Let’s talk about how you can feel more comfortable at work.
First, it’s not your primary responsibility to protect his marriage. It’s his job to protect his marriage. It’s critical you’re clear about this distinction, as it will release you from constantly monitoring something that isn’t your responsibility. Instead, your primary responsibility is to do the job for which you were hired. Stay within those boundaries and conduct yourself professionally.
The trauma you’ve experienced can trick you into believing that you’re doing something wrong by being alone with a married man. The truth is that you’re doing your job in a professional work environment with your boss. You’re not doing anything wrong by showing up and doing your job.
You can also make sure you’re keeping things professional by not allowing conversations to become too personal, familiar or casual. You can be warm and friendly, but you can also make it clear that you’re there to do a job, not to socialize. It’s healthy in any workplace setting to acknowledge that proximity can breed familiarity, which can lead to inappropriate conversations, teasing, flirting and other forms of emotional intimacy.
None of us are immune from the pull of human connection. Even though chemistry sometimes happens spontaneously, most of the time, it’s created through familiarity and ongoing interactions.
I recognize that your experience with workplace relationships is full of blurry boundaries, violations, secrets and broken promises. All of that is terribly threatening and traumatic, so I understand that it’s difficult for you to feel comfortable in a scenario that has been historically problematic for you.
One of the consequences of betrayal trauma is that it can leave you with the very real sense that the threat is still active. Because workplace affairs deeply impacted your life, it feels like a very real possibility even when your current conditions are completely safe.
If the trauma from your previous betrayals is too recent and you’re still in the early stages of healing, sometimes the most direct thing you can do is to change your environment. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with finding a different job where you can have a more supportive environment.
You may feel like this is allowing the trauma to win, but please recognize that our survival systems are designed to keep us safe, so the constant monitoring can be an emotional and physical drain that makes it hard to focus. When you advocate for your own safety, the trauma doesn’t take over your life.
When there are familiar threats in our environment, it’s often more direct to adjust the environment instead of spending our energy trying to find our emotional balance. With proper healing and time, you’ll be more likely to have the psychological flexibility to operate in situations that previously would have been difficult for you.
At the same time, you may never choose to be in a situation where you’re constantly alone with a married man. Healing from trauma and betrayal is challenging enough without adding threatening dynamics that could be eliminated.
If you decide to stay at your new job, then I encourage you to seek professional help to heal the impact of the trauma on your mind, emotions and body. There are excellent trauma treatment protocols that can help you decrease the threat level of the betrayals you’ve experienced.
If you’re having difficulty relaxing and focusing on the task at hand and, yet, want to stay at the job, then invest in your own healing so you can get the relief you need. This will help you switch off the threat alerts that are constantly ringing in your mind. It will also help you stay focused on your responsibilities and your boss’ responsibilities.
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