In the modern workplace, office romances are a dime a dozen. It makes sense: spending long hours in close quarters with like-minded people can be a major relationship catalyst.
But as it happens, romances can go sour – and in an office, that can cause some serious awkwardness. You can only take so many sick days before people start to realize what’s really going on. If you do find yourself in this tricky situation, here are some tips for keeping things professional and moving on from an office romance that has gone down the drain.
1. Keep it Private
When a relationship ends, it’s totally normal to share your heartbreak (or anger, frustration, maybe even relief) with anyone who will lend a sympathetic ear. But when that relationship was an office romance, you need to handle the situation with a little more tact and discretion.
First, take some time to process your emotions, swallow your pride and come up with a strategy for when you are inevitably forced to work with this person. That can be difficult when things are still raw, but keep in mind that it’s easier to bite your tongue than to explain to your manager why you were belittling your former significant other during a team brainstorm.
Avoid the temptation to air out your dirty laundry in front of the office. Even if they beg and plead, spare your co-workers the nitty-gritty details of the split. No one needs to know how or why it happened, and mudslinging or other breakup hysterics will only hurt your own credibility. Protect your professional image by treating your ex with the same level of respect you give any other colleague (even if they don’t deserve it).
2. Talk it Out
Hopefully, you two discussed how you were going to keep your relationship out of the workplace before you started deleting every trace of your time together from Facebook and Instagram. But it goes without saying that the most important thing to do now is not let this affect your work performance or reputation.
Let’s acknowledge that you are going to run into this person a lot, maybe even every day. If you want to avoid becoming the gossip at the coffee machine, you need to broker some ground rules with your former lover.
Set aside your personal differences for now and talk through what implications ending the relationship has in professional terms: How will you break the news to co-workers? How will you interact at work? What level of communication will you maintain?
Coming up with a game plan will help smooth over the transition and avoid pulling colleagues or supervisors into some nightmarish office drama (a huge no-no).
3. Maintain a Distance
Still feeling that overwhelming rush of sadness every time you see them pass by? Breakup anxiety can be a distraction that can make doing your job feel nearly impossible some days. Ease some of that emotional strain with a tactic straight from your high school playbook and simply avoid them.
This may sound a bit juvenile, but when the wounds are still fresh, mixing up your old routine can really help dissipate some of that lingering sadness. Try arriving at work a bit earlier (or sleeping in a little later). Use a different entrance so you don’t have to walk by their desk. Find a new lunch spot and ask a different co-worker to eat with you. And cut off unnecessary lines of communication.
No, you can’t tell your boss that you’re skipping the quarterly review just to avoid seeing your ex. But for the day to day, out of sight can really be out of mind.
4. Avoid Office Rebounds
It can be tempting to look for a rebound relationship in the workplace, especially when your former significant other is already bragging about someone new they met online. But this is a recipe for disaster that could turn minor workplace drama into the stuff of office legend. Remember, it takes years to build a professional reputation and only minutes to lose it.
Instead, focus your energy toward a new work project. Getting lost in your job will make you forget about that pit in your stomach and will seriously impress everyone with your professionalism and poise.
5. Move On
After a particularly painful office breakup, you may be asking yourself whether you should change teams, departments or even quit and find a new job altogether. But avoid making a rash decision. Give yourself time to move on – don’t give up on your dream job and move across the country over something as trivial as a failed romance.
As a first step, ask your supervisor if you can take some time off. If your ex is acting standoffish or combative following the break, you may want to consider switching project teams or clients to avoid any potentially embarrassing squabbles. If it is still too intense, moving to a new floor might be the perfect way to put some distance between you two while things cool off.
After a significant period of time, if you still find yourself too distracted to perform your job or getting into heated disagreements with your ex, it may be time to look at making a career change. Go to human resources and let them advise you (they’re the professionals at this sort of thing after all). The issue may not be with you at all, but with your former significant other. And you shouldn’t be forced to move on from a job you love because of that.
Navigating the emotional twists and turns of any breakup can be treacherous. That becomes even more daunting when the person you hate the most right now works just down the hall. But if you follow these tips and give it some time, you (and maybe even the rest of your office) might forget you two ever even dated.