Nipping an emotional affair in the bud

Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

bio | email

DEAR AMY: I am a happily married man in my mid-40s. There is a lady who works in the same office, and we visit with each other a couple of times a day. She is also married. We have been very friendly for a few years; we confide in each other about work stuff, and we sometimes phone and text small tidbits of information after work. Occasionally, we will have lunch or grab a cocktail after work. We have never been romantic. I know there is "chemistry" between us, and I know she recognizes this as well. I have noticed a growing closeness between us, but I have never addressed this issue. I recognize a need to change our situation. I am confused because I am happy in my marriage, but at the same time I can't ignore my feelings for my co-worker. Is there a way I can "reverse" our relationship without hurting anyone or jeopardizing anyone's career?Hopelessly ConfusedDEAR CONFUSED: Your query perfectly illustrates an "emotional affair" in its earlier stages.

These relationships grow over time and participants face any number of opportunities to change the nature of the relationship -- but they don't change it because they don't want to.

You can alter this work relationship by behaving differently. Limit your private time and private communication. No more lunches unless other colleagues are with you. No after-hours cocktails unless your wife can join you.

Don't generate or return an after-work phone call or text unless it is a work emergency (otherwise deal with it the next day).

In short, treat this person the way you treat your other workplace friends. Be aware that there are special risks with this friendship -- so work hard to avoid them. This could be painful as you adjust, but you can adjust as you shift your professional relationship from becoming too intimate.