It’s surprising the number of women who have been involved in drama filled relationships with men that they work with and I’ve had several requests asking for advice on how to reduce the drama.

It is so difficult to suffer a breakup but it’s made all the worse when you have to say their face day in day out. You have to put on a braver face for a larger portion of time than you would if you didn’t work together.

As usual, I have been there, done that, worn the t-shirt, as the guy with a girlfriend was someone I worked with, so I have first hand experience of having to fend off an assclown that worked within spitting distance of me.

For a start, you need to decide whether you love the job so much that you’re prepared to see his face every day even though you’re no longer together. Or you may be in a situation where you can’t leave the job. Whatever you do, you need to ensure that you are staying in your job for the right reasons…

Are you there because you’re hoping that if he sees your face day in day out that he’ll suddenly go from cockroach to frog and declare his undying love for you?

Or are you there because you know that the relationship is over but you actually want to keep your job?

If it’s the first, you are destined for more drama unless you get over him or get out.

If it’s the latter, here are some tips….

Drop the friendship thing right now!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – the friend card is something that guys throw at you to make themselves believe that they aren’t as big a bastard as they actually are. It’s a way of keeping tabs on you, prying into your affairs, tugging with your heart and libido strings, and keeping you on ice whilst they play elsewhere. Work is for working and friendship is a bonus and I think you guys have done all the ‘friendly’ stuff that you need to. The key is to be civil in awkward public situations…and ignore/rebuff him if he tries to get you on your own.

Lay the terms down

I hate to make things serious, but you are in a workplace environment and some of these ‘interactions’ are actually deemed inappropriate, particularly if they get in the way of you working. I told my ex that unless he had to speak to me about something work related, I wasn’t interested in anything he had to say. I reminded him that it was a place of work, not to email me, and don’t bother calling me up. I told him I didn’t want to hear any of his opinions about what guys coming on to me and not to come out with BS about how he loved me and bla, bla, bla. I told him that I would give him a chance to prove that he could abide by my terms and be polite to him when we saw each other but if he broke the terms, I’d ignore him completely. In the end, I had to ignore him… After a while he adapted to the new rules and we were civil. Every single time he stepped out of line, I cut him off completely, eventually he gave in and we didn’t have issues anymore.

Tell another colleague…or pretend you have

I don’t mean go to a manager but the more people that know that you were involved and that now you aren’t, the less opportunity he has to operate under a veil of secrecy and the more likely he is to come under scrutiny. These guys don’t like people knowing their business, not only because their Mr Wonderful image gets dented but also because they can’t try it on with another woman in the office if the word is out about him. However, don’t be petty. It’s better that people realise that you’ve had a breakup though than think that you’re being difficult at work for no reason.

Avoid gossip

Whilst I made a point of telling certain people that we had been involved, I also made a point of not getting involved in gossip and that included making sure that people didn’t come to me telling tales about him. Workplaces are great for Chinese Whispers and it’s best not to listen to or be at the frontline of the stirring pot.

Break routines

I used to go to various places for lunch with him and initially we kept bumping into each other, so I broke my various routines and found fresh places and made fresh memories.

Don’t engage, don’t explain

These men will find any itty bitty excuse to draw you into engaging with them, often by picking a fight or tugging at your heart strings with a pathetic email. Don’t engage, don’t explain your actions, and certainly don’t respond to emails…unless of course they are genuinely work related. If he calls you because you’ve been ignoring him, ask him if it’s about work and the moment that it deviates, bail out of the call.

Keep him in a real light

From the moment I started seeing him for what he was and was no longer drawn to the drama or chasing a relationship with him, it was a lot easier to deal with him. At first it’s awkward but it is amazing how quickly you adapt.

Create your own life and meaning

Sounds strange but part of the reason why it got easier to get over him at work was because I got on with my life. The more of a life you have, the easier it is to forget him. If you’re spending a lot of time thinking about him, you’re still too invested.

Be careful in social situations

They tend to use this as an opportunity to ‘talk’ as alcohol tends to be involved. The likelihood is that if you engage, you will welcome a whole load of drama into your life. If you guys have to be social, stick to groups, and avoid alone time.

Take some time out

If you’re really struggling try and take a holiday or even a long weekend to get things into perspective.

But what if he’s my boss????

Well unless you start mentioning the words sexual harrassment a lot (and do you really wanna do this?), you’re in a pickle there and it would be advisable to come up with a plan b that doesn’t involve him having power over your career. It sucks, but from the moment that you’re involved with your boss, it’s unlikely that you can revert to just being colleagues. Get out of there or hope and pray you can get a transfer.

But what if he won’t leave me alone?

Then you’ve got serious problems. Explain to him that it’s a place of work and that you’ll report him if he won’t leave you alone. Make a note of days, times, and what happened and use it if you have to. It’s either that or you’re back to leaving the company again.

In reality, you can either let drama in or tune out as much as possible because unless he’s your boss, your workplace environment can act as your protective shield and barrier.

Always act professional at work and don’t let whatever beef you have with him affect your ability to work or how your colleagues perceive you.

Most importantly though, you need to be focused on moving forward. No matter what has happened between you both, take the driving seat and opt out of the drama. Unfortunately because you both work together, it’s a fake it till you feel it situation initially, but if you stick to your guns and don’t engage, you will forget him very soon!


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9 Responses to Coping with breakup drama in the workplace

  1. Girlg33k says:

    OMG what a fantastic article… thanks NML for posting. I was also involved in a work relationship which ended badly.

    This guy at work chased me for over a year and I finally relented. Initially he was all over me and said he really enjoyed being in a relationship with me. That is, until I told him I was a few years older than him. Despite getting on really well, he immediately cooled off and suggested we should be FBs, finally deciding we should just be friends.

    He was very keen on maintaining this ‘friendship’ but at that point I decided to cut things off completely. This was before I even read this article and I’m so pleased I got something right!!

    It’s the only thing to do, and I completely agree with all of the points in this article. If you want to maintain your integrity and professionalism you have to distance yourself as much as possible. Staying friends will only add fodder to the gossip machine and undermine your credibility.

    I guess the old adage is true: don’t sh*t where you eat. Hey, hindsight is a great thing, and for a lot of people, workplace relationships do work out. But if it’s ended badly, I would say follow NML’s advice!!

  2. Fake It 'Til I Make It says:

    Thank you so much for this — I’ve been trying to put much of it into action already, but it’s nice to know I have a handy guide any time I’m feeling shaky.

    I’ve found that it’s hardest for me to keep from making snarky comments about him and the new relationship he has with yet another colleague to myself. But I’m trying my best. I’ll just keep trying to repeat to myself and others, “yes, that does seem strange, but I don’t know anything about it; it’s not my business, and if you’re curious, you should be asking HIM not ME.”

    But it is true that it’s much easier to put these feelings away when you don’t have the constant reminder!

  3. Ashley says:

    Having dated two guys from my office in the past year, this is a subject near and dear to my heart. My recommendations are when it’s first over – apply the no contact rule if you can. (If you have to work with him, just act professionally but only discuss business as suggested.) Avoid him. Take the long way to the ladies room and if he works in the office on a Saturday and you need to work the weekend – go in on a Sunday. After a few months of that – it will get much easier.

    Then – turn it to be all about you and your life. His hold on you will start to fade as you find joy in other areas of your life.

    Of course, my experiences make it easier to do this because both of my exes are not coming ’round any longer. One simply can’t stand me. (This is because I tired of his ways and emotional unavailability and took him off his throne. He hates the fact he gets no more flirtatious attention from me, and well – hates me now. Loser. We also HAVE to work together so – it’s all business all the time. Rather uncomfortable – I’ll think long and hard about any future office liasions). The first ex – well – he took a very long time to get over. But – he’s also fair with me now. He’s honest with me and doesn’t try to use me for his own selfish reasons. Somehow – something happened and I now see him for what he is – and what he cannot offer me – and I am fine just walking away.

    Are we friends? No. We have too much of a history to be true friends. But – it was what it was – and – it’s over and I’m focusing on me now.

    So – in short – sorry to ramble – first – ignore him. Then – as you feel stronger – just focus on you – you’ll forget that you were once focused on ignoring him because you will be happier with your own life.

  4. Honey says:

    This is great–I especially loved the “don’t engage, don’t explain” point. Anytime you give a reason why you are saying “no,” you are giving the other person the impression that you’re open to debate, and that if they can only overcome your reason for saying no, it will become a yes. Simply saying no cuts off this debate before it starts and the guy (or girl) is left with no leg to stand on.

    I used it at a club once. This guy asked me if I wanted to dance, and instead of saying, “no, I’m going to the bathroom,” or “no, I’m going to get another drink,” or “no, I have a boyfriend,” I just said, “No.” Instead of saying he’d wait for me, or buy my drink, or I could do better, he looked shocked for five seconds and then walked away.

    Problem solved.

  5. lisaq says:

    Oh God! This was exactly the situation with The Math Teacher. I did exactly as you recommended…no friendship, no contact, changed up my routine so we wouldn’t end up at lunch together, professional interactions only allowed. It’s new enough that it still sucks when I see him. Some days it’s harder to ignore him than others. But I’m getting there…

  6. Trykindness says:

    Blessings! It’s amazing where they pop up! Feel them. There is a balance :)

    I was absolutely seduced, enraptured and so in love with a co-worker. Stupid happy…But it was a one sided love affair. Those tugs at the gut, the pinch of the heart …knowing he convinced you to keep personal business private was not just for professional integrity. It was for the other potential targets in the office…We all didn’t know that such a “Nice Guy” was such a lothario. EEEEW…As a woman it crushes, as a professional…It could burn. Now that the relationship has cooled and he’s onto the next cutie…He’s not as engaged professionally which makes it all the more obvious in the office…And not a word was said.

    Falling in love is beautiful, doing it at work? Impractical and bound for disruption on some level. BEWARE.

  7. doone says:

    ok. i have a related but not spot on situation. several months ago i reconnected with a guy i knew in college. he pursued me heavily back then but as i was just out of relationship, i didn’t date him. we saw eachother all the time on campus, had friends in common and were friendly but i was typically running in the other direction. don’t get me wrong, this guy was gorgeous, popular, etc. but i was turned off by his gushiness (he was always telling me how beautiful i was, etc.). while this was flattering on the surface, i just felt that it was just too much as it was pretty much all he had to say to me.

    we lost touch for about 15 years then reconnected last march thru an alumni website. he hadn’t changed much (with the gushiness and all) but i agreed to date him on the pretense that this was someone i knew, maybe he did mean what he said back then just had a corny/dramatic way of expressing himself, etc.

    well, without exhuming all the dramatic details, he was EU to the max. we dated for about two months (would likely have been shorter if we lived in the same city) before i broke up with him. i didn’t see/talk to him for over a month when i was in the city where he lives. we met, had dinner and before long he tried (hard) to get me to come home with him. i refused explaining that it was his EUness hadn’t changed, reminded him that he didn’t treat me well hence the breakup, so re-dating him would just be more of the same..and why would i want that?

    to his shock (he’s still gorgeous plus now he’s famous), i insisted on staying with a girlfriend instead of going home with him. his attempts to persuade me were kindof flattering but the more he tried, the more turned OFF i became; it was clear he was not interested in discussing/resolving any of the issues that lead to the break up (as was the case when we were dating) and his insistence on getting me into bed with him was irritating and offensive. it felt great to walk away.

    here’s the current issue. he recently found me on facebook and after a few days i accepted his ‘friendship.’ my rationale being that even though i don’t want to date him, he is extremely well connected to folks that can help me in my career. i don’t call/email/text him/engage with him at all but am wondering do i keep that line open for the other contacts that might find me thru him or do i faceslam him for good, possibly biting off my own nose to spite my face…?

    i have a feeling that he wants to be my virtual friend just to keep tabs on me even though he’s not actually calling/emailing and that is giving me a twinge of discomfort b/c it feels a bit like nosiness..control.

    would love an objective opinion…

  8. yesanotherstupidgirl says:

    for 3 months i had a ‘its just sex nothing more’ fling with a man at work. he is married and has 2 children. it was so fantastic, exciting, addictive. following some close calls of his wife finding out (my fault) he has decided to cool it.

    this is probably about the fifth time he has told me he must stop seeing me. this time it’s lasted over a month since we were ‘together’ and i think this time its really finished. i am slowly beginning to realise, that i may have to admit, that i have fallen in love with him.

    i am trying so hard not to chase him but i miss him so much. its a real, physical pain. i can feel HIM doing the no contact thing with me and it is breaking my heart. i was so happy all the times we spent together and now i am so miserable. i have days where i just want to cry. i have days where i think i’m going to be strong and play it cool and do the no contact thing, but i am just so miserable without any contact from him.

    and he is JUST like the man in the yoyo girl article. sometimes he ‘plays dead’ and completely blanks me (no contact strategy) and some times he drops little flirty hints. hot and cold. switch on – swtich off.

    at work we work in the same office. i hear him in the room behind me or meet in him a corridor and its just unbearable. i never wanted it to get this far. i never wanted to fall in love with him and certainly didnt want him to leave his family. so why am i hurting so much and what can i do?

    I thought as the weeks went on it would get easier but it seems to be getting more painful. i have to hide my emotions 24 hours a day. from him in the office and from my partner at home. i have created hell for myself. most people will say it serves me right. but it was SO good. i couldnt stop it. now i am really paying. please, can anyone help me?

  9. Sara A says:

    Getting involved with someone at work is difficult, even worse when breaking up.

    I’ve applied the NC rule for about a month with a guy I worked with and truthfully, the NC rule helped me to adjust my perspective and focus him as he is. We’re tied together for a few projects and previously since we’re romantically involved, I let him get away with a lot of things and he wasn’t putting sufficient effort to get things done.

    Now, since he’s no longer on the pedestal, I began to call him out on his various inefficiencies since it’s affecting my part of the job. At one point, I have to raise the fact to his superiors on his inefficiencies and refused to have him report to me anymore and instead will request for updates from his colleagues instead.

    Latest update from his colleague was he has been instructed to complete whatever outstanding projects he’s doing with my department as soon as possible and once that is done, he will be shifted to a different portfolio.

    I think having the NC rule cancels out whatever emotion I have for him and allows me to see him in the proper light at work instead of covering up for him and giving excuses on his behalf, all in the foolish name of love.

    I am no longer affected by his presence and I’m glad to say I have no regrets for doing this as it helps me to focus more on improving myself. Thank you NML!

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Tired of dealing with family drama or waiting for them to spontaneously combust in to changed people? Need to find ways to step back and take proactive steps to redefine the relationship from your end? This 30-Day project will help you do just that.