How Can I Get Over Caring About My Boss, If He Wants to End Our Affair?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about
dealing with the emotions of an affair:
How can I stop caring so much? 

Question: 
I have been working at my job for about two years and some way, somehow I ended up having sex with my boss. He and I are married. We have been like this for over a year and I have tried to stop, but my feelings always have me going back to what we had. Neither of us have intentions of leaving our significant other for one another.

Lately my boss has been very distant and I give him his space. I think he knows it’s time to stop. Unfortunately I got attached to him. I don’t know what to do so I can just stop having feelings for him. 

Should I change jobs? I’ve never been in this kind of situation. I feel really bad. My intentions are not bad at all and I know it’s not fair for his wife or my husband, but this just happened and I feel something so strong for him it hurts to let go.

Please, any advice will help.

 Answer:
Hello and thank you for sharing your difficult situation with us. Let me preface my response by saying that I am not a medical doctor, psychologist or certified counselor, so the thoughts I’ll share are my personal suggestions, based on research and reading from a variety of sources, my own intuitive thinking, and the feedback I have received after advising many women and men about similar situations.

 There are at least four issues that will have an effect on how you approach this problem and how successful you will be at dealing with it.

 You, as a whole person. The way you will deal with this will have a lot to do with personal traits and your overall emotional and mental health and strength. How you deal with other problems will carry over into how you deal with this one. (And working through this one effectively can help you with other problems as well.)

 Your relationship with your husband and if you have children or not. It is much easier to not start an affair if one is deeply in love and so committed that having an affair is simply unthinkable. When the relationship is not so deep or when something is missing that seems to be needed, the mental door is open to possibilities and temptations—and if an affair starts it is more difficult to stop.

Children add a much bigger risk of loss, if things go wrong. In addition, there can be a negative effect on them, even if the parent having an affair tries to avoid it. Time with them can be diminished, the guilty-feeling partner can act less joyful, the children see less closeness with their parents—and those are the less severe effects. If the affair is discovered, things can get much worse. So, if you have children they may provide you with additional reinforcement for ending the affair both physically and mentally.

Your work skills, work environment, job security, and the likelihood you could easily get a job somewhere else. You need and want to have a job, so your decisions about this work situation will need to include the reality of potential loss of your job and thoughts about the kind of job you could get if you leave.

 The nature of your relationship with your boss and his caring, affection and respect for you. If he is callous in his regard for your feelings and has been hurtful or if he is moving on to someone new, it may be impossible for you to continue working directly for him with any degree of self-respect or emotional calm. If he has been concerned about your well-being all along and seems to continue to treat you with kindness and courtesy, even though he may be trying to place distance between you, you have a better chance of resolving the problem while staying there.

 You say your boss has been distant and you think it’s because he knows it’s time to stop. He may be feeling badly too and would like to find a solution, just as you want to do. If so, you can have a role in helping him and helping yourself also.

 I’ve sent you, by email, a document about workplace affairs that provides the HR perspective. It acknowledges that the closeness of a workplace can lead to feelings of attachment and can result in sexual relationships, but cites a number of problems that can result. The article also points out the liability risk and overall negative effect of a workplace romance between a boss and an employee.  

That material can help you consider the situation from the probable viewpoint of your company’s higher levels, guided by the HR section. It provides a foundation for everything else because it can be reminder that there are few if any workplaces where a boss having an affair with a subordinate would be accepted—especially if one or both of them are married. The risk of serious negative results is too great.

Here are some other things to consider as you develop a plan of action for dealing with this situation:

1. Consider this struggle to be like the process of overcoming any addiction or dependence (addiction and dependence are separate things but with some commonalties), such as quitting drugs, alcohol or smoking, breaking an addiction to gambling or shopping, trying to stop overeating or to reduce time on video games or the Internet.  One part of you wants to be free of the burden but another part wants the good feeling part of it.

However, if some people can stop smoking for the rest of their lives and others can completely quit using cocaine, you can do what you need to do also. That is easy for me to say and not so easy for you to apply, but it is a good thing to keep in mind. We tend to be judgmental about people with very serious addictions and wonder why they don’t quit, when we can’t give up other things that are also harmful, but much more achievable.  

2. If you have any access to counseling from a psychologist, counselor or teacher, I hope you will seek it, so you will have someone close by who you can meet with and talk to face to face and who can give you personalized advice. For right now, check out the Internet site for Psychology Today or other psychology or counseling sites and search their archives for articles about addiction, dependence, affairs and relationships. You will find some very helpful information.  

I am severely limited by time, space and knowledge of your situation, when it comes to really being of lasting assistance. I can only give you some things to think about and some suggestions that may work for you. You need something more and better and I hope you will look for it.

One of the worst things about an affair is how alone you are with it. The people who would usually be your confidantes can’t be told; there is no way to explain why you seem sad or withdrawn; you have to hide anything you’re reading or writing that might give away the problem with which you’re dealing. It isolates you and makes you feel as though there is a weight on your heart that will never go away.

But, when you can talk to people who understand you and who can give you tough advice as well as supportive advice, you can realize it is possible to move through this just as you have with other situations in your life.  

Just make sure none of those people you talk to work in the same place or know any of the people involved personally. Even the people you think you can trust completely may someday have a reason to use your conversations against you. Read the story of Linda Tripp, the devious “friend” who cultivated Monica Lewinsky’s confidence so she could use the information against President Clinton.

I don’t approve of President Clinton’s behavior and there is no way he could have considered it an equitable relationship, given he was the President of the United States and Ms. Lewinsky was a young intern. However, I consider Linda Tripp to be the lowest of the low for acting as though she wanted to help a young coworker, but really just recording conversations to use as a tool of revenge.

3. The most common suggestions for ending a relationship at work is to leave the job or stay at the job and seek a transfer or in some other way reduce time with the other person.  

If it is possible for you to quickly find a job with similar pay and benefits and one that will use your knowledge and skills and allow you to grow in the work, then that might be something for you to seriously consider, especially if you think you will never be able to accept a change in your relationship with your boss.

Keep in mind that if your relationship doesn’t end on its own, it will be found out and one or both of you will be fired or at least discredited. I don’t think you want that to happen to him and you don’t want your husband to find out about you. So, if you think you can’t resist pushing for a continuing relationship, leaving the job will probably be your best decision.  

Part of that consideration is your work level and the impact leaving would have on building a resume or keeping your credentials or whatever else might be involved. But, it would certainly take the pressure off you and him.

What you would have to watch out for though, is that not working for the same company might make both of you feel that the threat of firing is gone, so the affair could continue with less of a problem. The only honorable solution to this situation, if you both are going to stay married, is to stop the affair. So, quitting to go to another job should be done to achieve that goal, not to make the affair easier.

If you can transfer within the company where you won’t encounter your boss, that would be an option too, but I realize that is not an easy thing to accomplish, especially in a small or medium sized business.

 4. There is another way to handle the situation and one that I have seen to be successful many times, when done by strong, mature people who have self-control and commitment to do what they know to be right. It may sound like an over-simplification but it is this: Stop the sexual part and keep all the elements of a close friendship, at the level that is appropriate for the work environment (that part may vary, according to the workplace.) Agree to it and don’t spend a long time discussing rules about it—just do it. Only be great partners at work, fulfilling your work responsibilities to high levels but having no intimate conversations, no physical contact or relationship and keeping work completely separate from your personal life that is spent with your family and friends.  

The reason it is so hard to stop a long-term workplace romance is because there is usually so much more to it than sex. Your boss was your guide about work, your supporter when you did well, your encourager when you had problems, the source of your inside information about work, the person who made it worthwhile to get up, get dressed nicely and get to work in any weather. To your boss, you were someone who looked up to him, needed his knowledge, appreciated him more than others did, understood what he was dealing with and made him feel male and strong. Meeting for sexual activity was probably also about being alone together with freedom to say and do what you wanted. It probably made you and him feel special for different reasons, but it felt good mentally and emotionally as well as physically.

You situation may be different, but for many in your situation, the thing that is missed most when the affair stops is the close friendship, the laughter, the shared smiles and the private conversations about work. It is depressing and heartache causing, to suddenly be merely boss and subordinate or colleague and colleague, only engaging in business-like, courteous but not open conversation.

On the other hand, I know many people who had an affair, either with colleagues, bosses or subordinates, then for one reason or another, stopped the affair part but have continued the very close friendship, minus the “I love you” and “Let’s make love.” (Elaine and Jerry did it on Seinfeld, too!) In many cases, there is no reason to feel that the only solution is to, as the song by the Manhattan’s went, “Kiss and say goodbye.”

My experience has been that when both people have a commitment to keeping a good working relationship, it is easier to change the nature of the relationship back to former times. Sometimes one person suggests it and the other person feels they should be resistant, so it takes a while for it to settle in, but it can and does work.

You are not obligated to have a sexual relationship, but you also are not obligated to forget that you have spent two years learning ways to work well together and to make work fun. Keep the fun part and replace the sex and romance part with more focus on your work, your family and your own well-being.

Here is a real-life example. A highly respected CEO at a well-known non-profit, was involved with his administrative assistant for several years. They felt they were in love, but both felt guilty about it, especially since their spouses (who they knew to be wonderful people) were friends and they often did things as couples. Also, because of the public nature of their work, if their affair had been discovered, a lifetime of dedicated work would have been mocked and sullied.

They tried breaking up, but since they were still around each other, they always ended up getting back together, especially in stressful times at work. Still, at the back of their minds, all the time, was the need to stop the sexual encounters and the desperately passionate kissing in the backroom.  

Finally one day, the Administrative Assistant came in the CEO’s office during work hours, rather than meeting in private after work where the romantic tendencies would come out, and said, “I release you from the kind of relationship we’ve had and I’d like to reapply to be your Assistant and Friend. Will you accept me for that job, so we can go back to having fun like we did five years ago?” He was stunned, but said yes and they both turned a corner with that brief conversation.  

It’s now twelve years later and they often can be heard laughing over something at work, seriously talking about family issues, being best friends in many ways, while getting a prodigious amount of work done. However, there is an appropriate mental and physical distance as well, so the rumors they used to hear have gone away, there is no risk of physical contact and no conversations that make it tempting to do more than talk. I’m very proud of both of them and respect what they’ve done.

Here is another example: A female executive and a male senior manager were getting together every Friday evening at her home and having lunch several times a week, after which they would find a private location for whatever they were doing in a car or sometimes stopping by her house. They exchanged deeply romantic emails on private email accounts and used codes to convey romantic messages in their conversations at work. When she described it to me, she said she felt that their love was written in the stars and they should have been together always.

The manager’s wife became pregnant, which was a shock to the executive and for a while the two were on-again and off-again. (I don’t know if she thought he was being faithful to her at home or what, but she was very, very hurt over it.) They started having conflicts over everything at work, to the point that employees began speculating about it and the other managers were grumbling about the lack of focus. For a while they got back together, but it was strained and she felt insecure about his love for her. Throughout it all as the need for secrecy.

One Monday, after a weekend of soul-searching and decision-making, the executive asked the manager to meet her for coffee in a busy shop and she said, “Mike, I apologize for dragging this thing out for so long. I think we’re both ready to stop the sex part of our relationship but I would like for us to keep the part that made us a great team. Let’s pretend we never went through this unhappy part and let’s watch each other’s backs, like we used to. Can we go back to October, 2005, and start working together again?”

That was all the manager needed to allow him to open up about how he didn’t want to give up their friendship but he felt he had to stop the rest of it for the sake of his family and because it was a continual worry. He said he was going to stop the griping at work and start being a better support for her leadership in the office. She told me later that it hurt her all over again that he was so obviously willing to stop their affair and only be friends, but she was mentally prepared for it and just smiled and was the strong one in the conversation.  

They worked together very well for the next couple of years until Mike was promoted and transferred to another branch of the business. A couple of years ago I saw the executive and mentioned Mike to her. I asked her if she ever missed him in a romantic way. She laughed and said that until I reminded her, she had forgotten that they had been involved and she couldn’t imagine now, why she was so angst-ridden at the time. (So much for a love written in the stars.)

I don’t expect your story will be like those, but they happen to be two I know about. In both cases the people involved were so heartsick they could barely function. They didn’t feel like eating, they couldn’t sleep, they thought of the other person all the time and wished they could make things right again. What they had to accept was that “right again” was BEFORE the affair started, not after. They weren’t able to get back to feeling good until they went back to the way it was before the affair, when they were friends, admirers, trusted colleagues and great supporters at work, but not involved away from work and not intimate in their actions while at work.

There is a lot to be said for being the one in an affair who has the strength to say, “Let me make this easy for you and let me help myself at the same time. We were friends, then friends and lovers. Let’s be friends again so we can keep the part of us that we know can last for a long time. And let’s get back to work and show what we can do.”  

5. In whatever way you decide to say those words, you will find a relief in saying them and it will start you on your road to recovery. After that, do as everyone who is trying to form new habits has to do: Replace one thing with another thing. Find some things you can’t easily do without concentrating on them. Then, fill some of the time when you mentally mope around thinking of him, with things that require concentration.  

Have immediate plans for your time before work and after work, so there is no risk of going to work early or staying late. Focus on your husband and on activities for the two of you. Learn something together or work on a family issue together. Start a fitness program and set a goal for weight, a sport or something else.

One of the best things you can do is to become even more effective at work. Be a great coworker, be empathetic to others who may be going through their own sadness or frustration, learn new work skills, be the most pleasant and most efficient employee possible.  

The main thing is to keep moving forward and don’t let yourself wallow in misery. That is not the way you want to be seen by others and not the way you want to live your life. My mother, Creola Kincaid Lewis, a wise woman who lived a challenging life, gave me some good advice about sorrowful things. She said, “If you wrap it up in a nice, thick plaster cast and leave it alone until one day the cast cracks on its own and falls off, you’ll heal just fine. Don’t do like some people and take it out of the cast every few days and wiggle it, then cry because it still hurts.” That is good advice for a lot of things.

I hope these thoughts have been helpful for you. I also hope you will find some support near you who can learn about you and your situation better and help you help yourself. This is one of those times when you will need to draw on your inner strength and the character you possess, so you can be the woman you want to be. Best wishes for a very successful outcome.

If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what decisions you make. Stay strong!

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors