Lifestyle

Ask Amy

Emotional affair makes the workplace wobbly

Q. I have worked closely with a colleague since the beginning of our careers. We are both in our 30s and extremely close — she was there for me during my divorce, I attended her wedding, our kids have met, and we do “non-work” stuff together.

She returned to work after a year off for maternity leave and something was different. We realized pretty quickly that we were actually in love with each other.

Though I am single, she is still very much married. We have been dancing around the issue, and have toed the line but never broken into a physical affair.

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Ultimately, she has decided that in lieu of choosing between her husband and me, she is going to focus on her marriage.

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Regardless of whether this love between us was mutual or one-way, we still work very closely together.

Do you have anything to offer as to how I should deal with working so closely with someone I very much want but cannot have?

Work is Tough Enough

A. Your characterization of her as focusing on her marriage “in lieu of choosing” between you and her husband sounds like a red herring.

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You should assume that she has actually made this choice, and she is choosing him, and her family, over the personal destruction this affair could cause.

This is a very tough situation, but people do survive from emotional love affairs.

It is not easy to roll back this sort of intimacy, but it will get easier with time. You have a large emotional gap to fill. You have to “behave” your way out of this, and your feelings will follow.

For now, you and she should not communicate outside of work. Talking with her about your mutual feelings reinforces the emotional intimacy.

If working together is triggering too much emotion or sadness for you, you should pursue different assignments, which will take you into other professional and personal realms.

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You need to build up a life that is separate from this person. You should force yourself to meet new people. Get out there. Take up a new activity outside of work. Give other women the opportunity to get to know you.

Q. My wife has a friend, “Donna.” They’ve been close since college.

Donna is high maintenance and selfish, but I’ve always been nice to her, and have no trouble interacting with her.

I do not like the way Donna treats my wife. She is demanding, completely self-centered, and domineering.

My wife works full time. We have two children. Donna works from home and is single. Everything is based around Donna’s scheduling, and if my wife objects, Donna flips out.

My wife has cried many times over something hurtful Donna has said to her. When my wife doesn’t go along with Donna, she tends to cancel all future plans, ignore all communication, and wait for my wife to come crawling back, which she always does.

My wife is planning a group trip for my 40th birthday. I’ve asked her not to include Donna on the invite list. She is very concerned about how Donna will react and what this might do to their friendship.

How do I get my wife out of this cycle? How can I make her see that this relationship is bad for her?

Worried Husband

A. You should not feel obliged to invite your wife’s bully to join you on your 40th birthday trip. Hold firm on that.

Otherwise, you should determine not to give this relationship any attention at all.

You will not get your wife out of this cycle, because you are a small part of it: “Donna” bullies your wife. She cries to you. You react either with sympathy or annoyance. You two discuss Donna at length. This relieves some of the pressure. Time passes, and the cycle begins again.

Your wife is going to have to determine for herself that she is sick of being bullied and burned.

Q. I’m responding to the question from “Not So Fat,” whose mother bullied him over his weight.

After a particularly nasty visit to my father-in-law, my husband and I made a plan: At the first nasty remark during the next visit, we just got up, walked out of the house, and drove home. By the time we got home, he was calling to apologize. The visits got much better after that.

Success!

A. I highly recommend this quick and quiet exit. I call it, “Gee, look at the time. . .”

Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@amydickinson.com.