How Can I End a Relationship With My Boss But Still Work Well With Him?

Question: My Boss and I started dating this year for about 9 months. As normal or should I say as expected, some of the feelings are going away. I feel hurt because some of the things he normally does, he stopped. Calls, special attention, stealing kisses.. especially the morning calls and show of affection. It sometimes makes me brood at work as well. I forgot to add he is married. The last months have been so wonderful, too good to be true even though I know it was just for a matter of time. These days, I feel and know it’s coming to an end.

I have asked him if he is tired or done but he keeps denying it. I know this isn’t true. And when I even ask questions like why didn’t you call me this morning and the sort, it usually leads to raising of voices and how he is pressured and how I don’t understand him. Most times , leads to me going to the rest room to cry my eyes out.

Please, how do I go about this? I don’t even have a bf so it makes it difficult. Am used to not going home early because I go home with him at night. How do I change all this and end the affair and also have a good working relationship with him? And how do I manage my feelings in all this? I feel like it isn’t possible. I would break down emotionally and mentally.

Response: Ending a sexual relationship but maintaining a working relationship will involve your boss’s attitudes as much as your own. However, if things continue the way they have been going, the relationship will end unhappily and there won’t be any chance of a good working relationship.  I’m glad you want to have a role in wrapping things up and moving forward, rather than desperately hanging on as the situation deteriorates.

If you look at our archives you’ll see that I have often reminded women (and a few men) that it’s not surprising there are romantic/sexual relationships involving coworkers, especially involving bosses and employees. People who work together share common interests and may share work pressures and emergencies that make them feel united and linked in a special way. Bosses and employees usually come to work well-groomed, dressed nicely, and showing their best traits. Bosses often exhibit confidence and authority, which can be very appealing. Quite often, male bosses are a bit older than female employees and they are often economically more stable—all of that is attractive. There are many romance novels with those elements!

However, the sexy and romantic fantasy fades when harsh reality takes over. There are two major things that end such relationships: The first involves having the relationship discovered by others. (The boss and/or the employee are fired, demoted or sanctioned, when higher levels find out; the spouse of one or both of those involved finds out and families are broken apart; wives, husbands, children and even parents and other family members are hurt when they hear what has happened; coworkers become resentful of the favoritism they perceive and they report what they have observed.) Any of those things pour cold water over what started out romantically. Rarely (I could probably say never) is the relationship strong enough to continue.

The second thing that ends secret relationships involves what you have been experiencing—one or both people start feeling as though there are a lot of strings attached and they don’t like it. Maybe your boss thought you were only interested in casual fun and you were aware there was no future to it. Often women give that impression, as a way to further a relationship. If that is the case, he may feel he isn’t obligated to call you in the morning or do all the extra things that were part of the “honeymoon stage” of the relationship.  

He may be feeling guilty about being unfaithful to his wife and realizes that it’s rather tacky of him to be doing with you all the things he ought to be doing with her. He might be under pressure at work and is more concerned about that than about fun and games. He may be worried that your continuing questions and demands will soon become embarrassing and will cause him harm at work or home. Or, as hurtful as it is to think about, he may just have enjoyed the newness of being with you, but now that it’s routine, he’s lost interest. Nine months into a relationship is long enough to realize that some aspects of the other person are irritating or unpleasant or unexciting. Even if everything is generally fine, unless the sex part has become an abiding love or a very deep friendship, it fades away.

I mention all of that to reinforce for you that you are on the right track if you realize the relationship will end at some point and you would like to be able to stay working there after it’s over, without discomfort by either of you.

The first thing to do, starting right now, is to put your focus on your work. It’s the source of your salary and the way you can build stability for the future. You can’t be focusing on your work if you’re in the bathroom, acting out your unhappiness. You can’t be focused on your work if you’re basing everything you do on whether or not your boss has called you or interacted with you in some way. If you can’t find a way to do your job 100% while you’re there, maybe you should look for another job before you lose this one! One of the best ways to give your boss breathing room and to show that you aren’t obsessing over him, is to think about how you worked on your first day or first week. You were determined to do well and you didn’t take any shortcuts. You spent time learning and being a strong employee. Do that again.

Next, find things to do instead of the things that involved time with your boss. Put your focus on your own life and well-being. Go to a gym or start an exercise routine that requires concentration—such as yoga or martial arts; go home and clean one room at a time, until your whole house or apartment is the cleanest it has ever been; visit your family; go to church or to a volunteer organization;  find something to do that requires you to concentrate, so you can block out many of the melancholy thoughts. Don’t listen to romantic music. Don’t purposely think of unhappy things. I’ve noticed that some people take the approach of a person with a broken arm who regularly removes the cast, wiggles it and says, “Ouch, it still hurts!” Let yourself heal.

I’ll especially advise you to strengthen yourself during this holiday time. Nothing can make a person feel lonelier than romantic Christmas songs. Don’t do that to yourself! Fake being happy and carefree if you have to…but get out and be part of the world and other people. Put a smile on your face and make other women envious of your composure and joy!

You will probably miss the closeness and intimacy of sexual activity, until you find someone else to share those things with. Most people experience that feeling—like coming off drugs or alcohol or any other habit. It won’t harm you to abstain for a while and will be part of the Boss-Cleanse process.  The old musical, “South Pacific” has a song about “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair!” Take showers, drink green tea, do whatever it takes to detox.

All of that will make it easier for you to let go off the feelings you’ve had for your boss and accept that since it will be over sometime, now is a good time. My advice is to not get together with him again after work. But, if he asks, I know it would be difficult to say no. At least you can wait for him to ask. Just come to work, do your work and go home. If you see him or talk to him, be the friendly person you were the first days of your job, but no more. Avoid being alone with him, instead of seeking chances as you used to do. Make it unlikely he can steal a kiss, rather than trying to find ways to make it possible. If you have coworkers, interact more with them, so you aren’t just sitting and waiting for a word or two from your boss.

When your boss talks to you, don’t lead the conversation to your relationship or what you’re trying to do to end it. If he mentions it, just say you don’t want either of you to be unhappy at home or at work, so you’re trying to put your focus on work and on your own life, and on keeping his friendship. If he tries to start things up again, say you’d like to take a break so you can focus on your work and your own life and making sure that the two of you stay friends at work. Be a broken record about it….you want to take a break, put your focus on your work and your life and make sure the two of you can stay friends. You can be in control this time around, so do it.

Since I’ve mentioned music already, I’ll remind you of the Paul Simon song, “There Must Be Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.” All of the ways involve getting it over with quickly. But, when you work with someone you have to be more gentle than that. You can make it easier on both of you by not chasing after it any longer. If he decides he can’t live without you, you’ll know it when he tells you he’s getting a divorce and wants to marry you. If that doesn’t happen, you’ll know it was a limited time arrangement and the time is over. At the very best, he wants what he wants but he knows he can’t give you what you want.

I hope you truly will put your focus on work and on your own life and free yourself mentally and emotionally to find someone else. You know you will, it just might not happen right away. While you’re waiting, get prepared by making this a maturing experience and one that leaves you stronger and more self-reliant than ever before.

Best wishes to you. If you  have the time and wish to do so, let us know how things work out for you.

Tina Lewis Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors