He Has An Overly Friendly Co-Worker
My spouse has a co-worker that is overly friendly and it is creating fears, doubts and insecurities in me. I feel my spouse is not seeing the possible danger, and is even off-putting to my concerns. I fear there are unhealthy boundaries and just worry about a “slip-up,” or that they are missing the beginning of an emotional affair. Any help would be great.
Concerned and Curious
Some of the most painful seasons we face are when doubts and insecurities arise in our most intimate relationships, especially in a marriage. This is a difficult place to be in your marriage, as you may also be facing a number of other hard questions, like should you trust your fears, doubts or insecurities? What are healthy boundaries with an overly friendly co-worker? Is your spouse really that close to an affair, and at the core, do I really trust my partner?
Here is my advice: Your feelings and concerns and worries need to be addressed, whether valid or not. If a perceived boundary is being crossed, or even if you are drawing the line in the wrong place, for your relationship and marriage to be healthy your doubts and fears need to be heard. I would start with prayer and ask you to reflect on the deeper feelings going on inside you. Identify as best as possible the worries and concerns that you are feeling, such as a fear of being abandoned, or disrespected, or cheated, or disconnected, or unloved. Write these out, and give them to God in prayer. Ask for his wisdom to guide you, as David did in Psalm 139: "Search me O God, and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way."
Then, thoughtfully open the conversation with your spouse and address the issue as soon as possible. Avoid blame and judging and criticism and contempt. Your spouse needs to be able to hear your concerns and issues, and to recognize and own their role in the situation. As you express your concerns, be willing to listen and hear from your spouse. Try to see the issue from their perspective. At a minimum, you both need to get to the deeper issues of what is going on in your hearts.
If it remains painful and a resolution is still far away—either of you feel unheard, or misunderstood, and you are still at an impasse—you must together find a trusted pastor or professional counselor to help you navigate the issues.
Here my advice to everyone else reading this:
All of us can relate to such this concern. Human resource departments everywhere have stories of pain and sorrow that is caused by overly friendly co-workers leading to ruined careers, family break-ups and broken marriages.
Even if you have never faced it yourself, most of us have a friend or family member who is right in the middle of it, and often with very few people being aware of it. Too many people have reported that they regret letting their guard down and are now paying the painful consequences of a connection at work that started out as fun and enjoyable, but eventually led to something much deeper: An emotional and/or physical affair, culminating in too many broken relationships.
- Be aware. It can happen to anyone, in any setting, from large office to small, in a school or church or business. This means we must always be on guard for the emotional quicksand which looks so innocuous from the outside, but is such an easy (and life-altering) trap to fall into.
- Be proactive. Have a plan. Pray and set a hedge around you. Do a prayer walk around the perimeter of any office setting either of you work at.
- Examine your heart and actions. If your spouse expresses concern about your behavior, examine yourself: Are you behaving in an honorable way, above reproach? If you are in a situation with an overly friendly co-worker, take steps to be above reproach.
- Put up appropriate barriers. This could mean you need to explore a transfer to another department, or even finding another job. Don’t wait for the situation to get out of control.
- Seek the help of a trusted co-worker or friend. Ask them for accountability, to help you avoid any hint of inappropriateness or getting too close to a dangerous relationship. Ask them if the overfriendliness is being noted by others, or if your behavior is ever part of the office gossip? Ask if perhaps some actions are being questioned or misconstrued, like the amount of time you spend with this other person?
- Use the HR office. Find out if they have any help or insights, and at minimum learn about your office rules and regulations and consequences. There may be history that you are not aware of, or other helpful resources you can take advantage of.
- Trust your gut. Scientific research shows that when we have an emotional or physical connection to another person, we are cascaded with relationship altering chemicals like oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. These create not just pleasant moods, but powerful feelings of excitement. These can easily lead us astray when they are stirred up by the presence of someone other than our spouse, but they can also serve as a warning flag. Listen to them!
- And finally: Ask for God’s wisdom to guide you, as David did in Psalm 139: Search me O God, and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way.
Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.