How to deal with a relationship gone wrong at work?
February 3, 2011 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Where do I turn now that things have gone disastrous at work?

I am a younger guy, I have a government job and have worked in the same office with my boss, whom I had an affair with, which I did participate in, but did not instigate. During this time, we worked together in the same office full time, and things not surprisingly went downhill for me (arguing at work, depression, etc). The affair lasted for a while, and then I broke it off. I feel that I haven't been able to let go of this person, and we continue to work together, although I just put in a request to finally be moved. I felt that we would not be able to even be friends (which we had tried to do, at least agreed upon doing, after the breakup). I recently found out that this person has moved on and is back together with their ex. Out of anger, I decided that we wouldn't be friends and wouldn't speak to each other anymore. I am still having a very tough time dealing with all of this, and will soon be moved. However, I have told other people at work about our past relationship, as everyone was curious as to why we would always fight. My boss would only tell her supervisor that I was going through depression, and as a result I have been spoken to about my work habits which have been sub par. I feel that I have been caught up in a bad situation. I am not interested in taking this person's job, however I feel like I needed to get some things off my chest with those that I work with, and at least give others, supervisors included, reasons why I am in the place that I am, and inform them that this relationship certainly made things difficult for me. Now that there is no communication with my boss, what do I do in order to keep my job, aside from showing up on time and getting the work done? Is it wiser for me to just leave and get a different job? Now that I will be moved, will I get over this person? Please help, hivemind. I will provide more details if needed.
posted by nurgle to Human Relations (17 answers total)
Get another job. You burned your bridges by telling people at work, when your boss had done the right thing and kept it quiet.
posted by canine epigram at 11:41 AM on February 3, 2011 [14 favorites]

The first rule of office romances is to never tell anyone anything. If you're going to get moved to a different department, move, forget about it, and keep your mouth shut.

If you think you are going to get fired because of the affair, document everything that has happened, and discuss with an employment lawyer.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:43 AM on February 3, 2011

Get another job as soon as possible, don't sleep with your boss, and if you do don't let it affect your work or tell people about it. Your relationships should not impact people outside them.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:43 AM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yep. There are aspects of your life it's okay to share with coworkers. There are aspects that it is NOT okay to share. And once you've shared the latter, you can never un-share. It's kinda like nude photos of you being posted on the corkboard in the break room: you WILL be viewed differently, and it will not have any beneficial effects on your career there. Trust me.

Let it be a learning opportunity in professionalism and discretion.
posted by julthumbscrew at 11:46 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

agree with what folks have said - this transfer - would it get you to a different building? would you still have to interact with folks from the current position?
posted by anya32 at 11:48 AM on February 3, 2011

Addendum: you never "have" to tell supervisors anything salacious about your personal life. They don't want to know, they SHOULDN'T know, and it will make things awkward at best, dangerous for you at worst. "I've been having some pretty severe issues outside the office. I'm sorry for any ways in which they've impacted my performance, and I'm taking steps to ensure that they don't do so in the future" is enough. If you blow a tire, your boss can know. If you blow your BOSS, their boss cannot.
posted by julthumbscrew at 11:48 AM on February 3, 2011 [8 favorites]

I have known a number of young guys who felt after a failed relationship that they would never get over it, that their lives were irreparably ruined by this intolerable loss, but they all got over it, and you too will get over it, in all probability. You will meet someone else, have a new and (we hope) better relationship, and your life will move on.

And yes, as canine epigram points out, the existing situation has now become too emotionally strained for you to continue with it, so you have to move on. This, of course, is exactly why people are generally advised to avoid forming romantic relationships with co-workers. You don't want the added complexity, if a relationship fails, of having to deal with the problem of working with that person. And relationships are, in general, very unpredictable. However promising they are when they start out, problems develop, quite often.

I will also note that your decision to end your friendship with this woman because she got back together with her ex, is not entirely rational. When you break up with someone, that person is not still obligated to remain faithful to you. Right? What did you expect her to do, take a lifelong vow of celibacy? Become a nun, perhaps? You move on, and she moves on. If you didn't want that, you shouldn't have broken up.
posted by grizzled at 11:49 AM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yes, I'd be somewhere else. And no, interaction would be minimal.
posted by nurgle at 11:49 AM on February 3, 2011

what do I do in order to keep my job, aside from showing up on time and getting the work done?

There's nothing else. Work, document everything, try not to make mistakes. In this situation, you're lucky to have a government job where you can't easily be fired. That all said...

Is it wiser for me to just leave and get a different job?

... yes, it's time for you to leave, if you can reasonably do so. Chalk this one up as a learning experience.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:50 AM on February 3, 2011

Agreed. Well, looks like I'm moving on to a new job.
Thanks y'all
posted by nurgle at 11:52 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just keep in mind it may take years to shake off the feeling. But like anything, people move on to other interests and eventually forgive and forget. Take a deep breath, recollect, redefine, and move on the best you can.
posted by samsara at 11:52 AM on February 3, 2011

Once you start your new position, things should be better for you. In the meantime, hang in there. There is light at the end of this tunnel. Just show up on time and do your work until you get to your new post.

Some people can have workplace affairs and survive the breakups. You are not one of these people. I'm sure you've figured this out yourself by now, but don't date people you work with anymore. It's not a good idea for you. Good luck.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:52 AM on February 3, 2011

At many government jobs, affairs between supervisors/bosses are unacceptable and it's the supervisor/boss's responsibility for not doing it, or, if they do it, to report it to *their* supervisor and for arrangements to be made to stop the supervisory relationship between the people who had the affair. We learn this as part of implementing a sexual harrassement free environment. You should check your workplace's policies about this type of affair.

The reason these affairs are frowned up is because the power differential makes the relationship semi-coercive, even if both parties agree to it. Sort of like teacher/student affiars. It also tends to create messes when the affair ends, as you see.

On a career level, you may indeed want to move on, etc.

But, if there is a policy prohibiting this kind of contact, you may want to consider speaking with your HR department, and letting them know what happened.
posted by jasper411 at 12:07 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

i agree with a bunch of what was said above. putting the relationship and some of the comments you made about it and your anger/etc. to the side (other people can address that), if this is a government job where you'll have space and a chance at a newish start in the transfer position, you may be able to stay.

do you like this job itself? does the work make you happy?

depending on how human resources is structured, what type of relationship your former (ex) boss and your future boss have, etc., there is a possibility of a new beginning. it's a really challenging job market out there, so i wouldn't jump ship unless you know you have a new job (but that's just my way of moving throught the world).

that said, document everything going forward to create a paper trail. have no contact with your ex, except that which is absolutely required by the job and act professional and only speak to work-related topics. do not discuss your relationship with anyone tied to work - especially not in the new position. if you need to vent, reach out to your support network (friends, family) or create one (therapy - if that works for you).
posted by anya32 at 12:39 PM on February 3, 2011

I suggest that some confidential counciling/therapy might be in order, if you have access to such a benefit or the inclination to seek it out. Not alot or forever, but some, to offload and examine the emotional aspects of the situation with regard to the you of now and the you of the future.

Moving on location-wise is definetely the right thing to do, I think another department might be enough, although I could see how a job seach would put you back in the driver's seat, which I think you need right now.

And yes, take the talking-to about your work habits as your very own bitter, bitter medicine to swallow; know that adults are expected to not let personal feelings impede or even be visible in the work environment if they are anything other than teh happyz. It's bullshit. People lie and act like hypocrites. But you would be doing yourself a disservice to not accept that, in some measure, this is how it is.

Your description of the situation:

"had an affair with, which I did participate in, but did not instigate … not surprisingly went downhill for me"

says the following things to me:

This did not begin with attraction and love between peers, like a hookup with a friend or stolen glances at a bar. You were on the bottom in a power dynamic (on preview, power differential), an unusual position for a gentleman. Please know that if you are in the U.S., sexual harassment laws do work for you too. I'm not really suggesting angry, vengeful legal actions, as you seem to have accepted responsibility and taken actions to move on (for which I am very proud of you, internet stranger). But I want to show you that the power dynamic is a serious, serious issue. And you are already in an angry place with the feeling that you are not being recognized (she is blocking the 'real' reason for your work disfunction; having it known by your peers is not enough; you want it to be known to her supervisors that her actions in her personal life are critically impacting your function in the workplace).

Regardless of gender and persuasion, regardless of who instigates a relationship, if a relationship is healthy, if both partners work on communication, boundries, and communicating boundries, there is no reason for it to go downhill. And regardless of how this began, your description of your current state shows you are feeling just as much emotional fallout from the breakup as you would for your highschool sweatheart.

If you decide new job is too much of a PITA or just not happening, therapy could be a way to show current job "Hey, yeah, I was depressed and it was affecting my performance, and I took advantage of benefit x to do y and z and as you can see, things are on a better footing! Yay, job!"

But if you decide therapy is PITA, I really do think you have the externals (move to new department, be on time & do good work, try to get new job) solved. Its your internals that cause me concern. Feel free to ranty memail me if you need a place to offload.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 1:05 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think you have done enough talking for a while, don't you? You'll get over the person when you're not in the same office with them.

Attraction is based on 1) physical attraction ('chemistry'), 2) proximity, 3) similarity, 4) reciprocity.

Number one you can't do anything about. You had some good spats, so looks like number four is out the window. You're not that similar anymore excepting that you have both established yourselves as a set of damn fools. And with the move, you'll take care of proximity. Out of sight, out of mind.

If I were you, I wouldn't try to win this one with lawyers and sexual harassment and whatever. The anger will probably dissipate quite quickly in the new role. Then you can mend the fence and not f*ck yourself with the inability to get a recommendation in the future.

That being said, please repeat after me...
posted by nickrussell at 1:26 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Your supervisor had an affair with you. This may be sexual harassment. It's probably against the rules. However, you sound like you were a willing participant. By letting this information out, you may have caused consequences for your supervisor. That's now Supervisor's problem.

I think you should move to a different job, and avoid Supervisor. "Getting things off your chest" is really just stirring things up. Don't do this at work. Show up on time, get the work done, and behave as if nothing romantic/sexual Never Happened between you and Supervisor.
posted by theora55 at 1:46 PM on February 3, 2011

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