Dating in the workplace is taboo but that doesn't stop anyone. Some of these relationships end happily: A 2011 survey conducted by CareerBulder.com reports that nearly one-third of office romances end in marriage. But with every attempt to find true love comes the risk of a breakup. Unlike a traditional breakup, ending an office romance has the added complication of having to interact with an ex while maintaining professional decorum. Taking the precautions necessary to tactfully end your relationship can minimize the potentially career-altering aftermath.
Choose a time and location away from the workplace to end your relationship. If you work a traditional weekday job, it may be worth waiting until Friday afternoon to break the news -- giving your ex the weekend to cool off.
Statements such as "You make me unhappy" or "You just aren't right for me" are accusatory and place the blame for the breakup on your ex. Take ownership of your feelings and your role in the breakup by using "I" statements: "I am not happy," or "I think that we need to take a break from one another." The use of "I" statements can take the edge off an otherwise tense situation, according to LisaMarie Luccioni, professor of communication at the University of Cincinnati, in her Psychology Today article "The Classy Break-Up: Conversational Templates for Saying Good-Bye."
Prepare yourself to answer tough questions such as "What did I do?" or "Why are you breaking up with me?" Your ex may feel hurt, angry and surprised by the news. If he or she is enraged or questions your motives, you may need to reaffirm how you feel: "I don't see us working out. Going our separate ways is in both of our best interests."
Discuss the fact that it is in both of your interests to maintain a professional relationship. Your ex may go through a period where she becomes desperate for answers, goes into denial about the breakup or even attempts a reconciliation, writes Suzanne Lachmann, clinical psychologist, in her Psychology Today article, "The 7 Stages of Grieving a Breakup." Attempt to come to an agreement to keep the specifics of your relationship out of the office. Agree to talk about any post-breakup concerns privately, after hours. If coworkers press you for information, you might say this: "I'd rather leave my personal life at home and focus on this project." If that doesn't suffice, keep your responses short and neutral: "Kim and I just didn't work out," or "Brian and I are in different places in our lives."
Be polite and understanding about your ex's feelings during and after the breakup. If the discussions surrounding your breakup become heated, you may need to excuse yourself and revisit the situation after you have both calmed down.Take the high road when you have to interact with your ex. Even if he or she decides to bash you in the lunchroom, don't follow suit.
- CareerBuilder.com: Nearly One-Third of Workers Who Had Office Romances Married Their Co-Worker, Finds Annual CareerBuilder Valentine’s Day Survey
- Forbes: How To Work With Someone After A Romantic Breakup
- Psychology Today: The Classy Break-Up: Conversational Templates for Saying Good-Bye
- Psychology Today: The 7 Stages of Grieving a Breakup
Anthony Oster is a licensed professional counselor who earned his Master of Science in counseling psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has served as a writer and lead video editor for a small, South Louisiana-based video production company since 2007. Oster is the co-owner of a professional photography business and advises the owner on hardware and software acquisitions for the company.
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