Workplace emotional affairs, according to some studies now comprise 73% 0f all infidelities. This is up from 60% only a few years ago. It helps to consider your workplace culture and the permissive environment that might promote vulnerability among you and your co-workers.
Therapist M. Gary Neuman is proposing a new standard for defining infidelity. If you discuss personal matters with a co-worker or prefer to spend inordinate amounts of time with them, perhaps the very notion of “just friends” is highly problematic. Perhaps you are already a cheater for doing so.
“We can’t fool ourselves into believing that we can have intimate relationships at work and still have a great relationship at home,” says Neuman. “My message is that if you want to infuse passion and have a buddy for the rest of your life, you have to keep that emotional content in your marriage.” M. Gary Neuman
Neuman, a Miami Beach, Fla., psychologist, has proposed a new social standard which ostensibly defines friendships with attractive others outside the bonds of matrimony as ( drum roll please)… a form of adultery!
Here’s the problem. Prevailing social norm tells us that Neuman is probably a moralistic whack-job. But so much of the science of couples therapy is counter-intuitive. The question he affirmingly posits, “Do friendships between attractive others pose a threat to homes and families?– is confirmed by stacks of research. While Esther Perel might find Mr. Neuman a bit narrow and provincial, many prominent American couples therapy thought leaders such as John Gottman, and my personal favorite thinker on this topic, Michele Weiner Davis, are not buying the “affair as growth” model anytime soon either.
Dr. Shirley Glass was the first researcher to warn that as women were entering the workplace the metrics of workplace affairs were changing dynamically. In 1998, researchers at the University of Chicago posited that about one out of five married men, and 17 percent of married women in this country admit to infidelity. But Glass’s subsequent research indicated it was much more. It was actually about 40-50% of men and about 25 percent of women.
When Shirley Glass was doing her research, a little more than half of her study subjects might admit to an emotional infidelity. She indicated her belief that the problem was growing, and recent data has proven her to be correct. Dr. Glass was more careful and measured than Neuman. She offers that workplace emotional affairs require 3 key components; an emotional intimacy which is beginning to eclipse that of the marriage(s), growing sexual tension, and secrecy.
“Friendship becomes a problem when it becomes a replacement for a marriage or takes place outside a marriage,” Glass says. But Newman suggests that permissive workplace environments which tolerate friendships between attractive others in the first place have a role to play in establishing a more family-friendly “new normal.”
Dr. Shirley Glass, before she passed in 2003, was more sanguine about workplace emotional affairs. She felt that the trend toward a vibrant co-ed workplace was inevitable. She was unwilling to condemn the cultural norm of co-ed workplace friendships wholesale. Her preferred approach was to promote psycho-education of the risks of crossing emotional boundaries by sliding instead of deciding about your emotional attachments.
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Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. using EFT, Gottman Method, and the Developmental Model.