Emotional infidelity in the workplace is a serious issue. There's the issue of undermining trust, damaging professional relationships, and decreased productivity, but there's also the issue of dealing with the personal fallout of your primary relationship.
Emotional cheating is defined as:
"a type of relationship between people. The term often describes a bond between two people that mimics or matches a romantic relationship's closeness and emotional intimacy while not being physically consummated."
Regardless of how it starts, emotional affairs are dangerous for any relationship. They require open communication and understanding if they are to be resolved successfully. Employees must recognize the signs of an emotional affair and take action to prevent them from developing further.
But what are the signs of emotional infidelity in the workplace?
For that matter, how can you tell if your partner is cheating on you emotionally?
Signs of emotional infidelity in the workplace
If you think your partner is having an emotional affair in the workplace, you must talk to them about it. However, this isn't always as easy as it sounds. Often, when people are involved with emotional cheating, they may try to justify their involvement or say their emotional affair partner is "just a friend" or "just a colleague."
If your partner is constantly talking about someone else at work, spending more time with them than usual, or seems to be getting defensive when you mention them, they may be having an emotional affair. Additionally, your partner may suddenly become distant, avoiding emotional intimacy.
Some other signs of emotional detachment from the primary relationship may include:
Spending more time at work
Increased attention to their phone or laptop
Comparing your relationship to others
Disinterest in spending time together
Avoiding physical intimacy
Lack of motivation
Projection of shame, jealousy, and making accusations
Sudden and new interests
How do emotional affairs in the workplace start?
Emotional affairs in the workplace often start as innocent platonic relationships. For example, two people may become friends and share their thoughts, feelings, and aspirations. As these conversations grow more intimate, a connection may form between the two individuals that go beyond a typical work relationship. But unfortunately, this emotional bond can quickly become an affair if it is not addressed.
More than 60% of emotional affairs begin in the workplace, according to a 2020 study. Interestingly, the motivations for an emotional affair can also differ between genders.
Why do men have emotional affairs in the workplace?
A study from American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) found that 45% of men have reported being drawn into an emotional affair at some point. However, emotional infidelity does not register as cheating for many men because there's a lack of a sexual relationship. Often, men rationalize their involvement as a platonic friendship or the "I did not have sex with that woman" justification.
Additionally, for men, there may be a downward spiral from approval and validation from their affair partner. At the same time, emotional indiscretions may manifest into sexual tension between their emotional affair partner that could become a physical affair. However, only 8% of men report that sexual unhappiness was their primary motive for having an emotional affair.
Why do women have emotional affairs in the workplace?
For women, emotional affairs may result from seeking an emotional connection they do not have in their current relationship. For example, a study from Couples Therapy Inc notes that "while 66% of women involved in emotional affairs described themselves as unhappy in marriage, a huge 34% described themselves as happy or very happy with their partner when the emotional affair began."
The study also points out that, for women, engaging in emotional cheating that "just happened" is much less likely than for their male counterparts. This may be because women are often more in tune with understanding the risks of becoming involved in a workplace affair and what losing trust with their primary relationship could mean.
How do you prevent emotional infidelity in the workplace?
One of the most effective ways to overcome emotional infidelity in the workplace is to set boundaries. Set clear expectations about how you want to conduct yourself at work and establish limits on what details from your personal life you share in your professional life. In addition, maintaining a close connection with your primary relationship helps reduce the possibility of an affair in the first place.
Make a conscious effort to the following behaviors in the workplace:
Do not share negative details or complain about your primary partner.
Do not discuss personal relationship problems in the workplace
Do not talk negatively about the relationships of your coworkers
Do not encourage coworkers to look for comfort outside of their relationship (telling them "they deserve better")
Avoid going to workplace functions unless other coworkers are present. This will prevent the opportunity for professional meetings to feel more like a date.
Get help overcoming emotional infidelity in the workplace
If you struggle to overcome the damage done by an emotional affair in the workplace, seeking counseling may be a good option. Counseling can provide you with the support and guidance you need to repair your relationship and move on from the affair. It can also help you learn how to communicate better with your partner and prevent another affair from happening.
If you feel therapy could benefit you, talk to your partner about it and see if they're willing to go together. You may also want to consult a therapist before deciding whether or not to seek counseling. Doing so can give you a better idea of what to expect from the process and whether or not it's right for you. Make sure you seek therapy from someone who has advanced training in working with affairs and infidelity.
If you want to learn more about how to heal from an affair together, schedule an appointment with us at Evolve Therapy.