Infidelity: From Shop Talk to Pillow Talk, Infidelity in the Office is Increasing

When shop talk becomes pillow talk, you know you’re in trouble. The office has become the most common place for an affair to blossom, say experts, especially for the unsuspecting.

“People spend a lot of time at work, and it is easy to confuse common interests with work interests,” said LeslieBeth Wish, 60, a psychologist and social worker based in Sarasota, Fla., who has been a relationship counselor for 30 years. “It’s very easy to make that mistake. What happens is you share common talk and pretty soon your comfort zone increases. And then you start talking about other things like shared values and viewpoints and common interests. So it slowly evolves into something more than just being coworkers.”

Having the shared interests from the workplace is a powerful aphrodisiac because often times, the workplace doesn’t include your spouse. In addition to lots of time spent together in the same environment, the workplace provides the optimum factors for such things as mutual respect and even intimacy to be fostered, according to Tina B. Tessina, a Long Beach, Calif.-based psychotherapist.

“The office is an affair incubator. Just like college. If you are single and dating, the best time in the world to date is in college, because you are together with a bunch of other people who all have same things in common. You have a common focus and lots of opportunity to get to know each other before you date. It is a relationship incubator, just like the office,” said the 64-year-old author of “Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media 2008).”

“It’s the same kind of situation. You are together, working on something. It has nothing to do with a personal relationship at all. It’s a pseudo-intimacy. But you have this constant contact and you start to appreciate that person.”

And that appreciation, although seen through the myopic, narrow lens of only working together can be enough to spark interest. Add to it the simple fact that this person isn’t your spouse, and it can make him or her much more attractive. With all this appreciation going around, something that psychologists say is the first thing to go in most marriages, the spark gets more intense and is often flamed by the flattery of attention.

It’s called the attention factor according to Alice Aspen March, a Los Angeles-based public speaker and author of a book and series of workshops of the same name. “Attention is not just the number one reason, it’s the only reason people have affairs. Our lives are all about our need for attention,” said March, who is in her seventies. “The hours spent in the office are very long and you don’t have the stresses you have in your family. People stay at the office because they don’t want to go home. First they become friends. Then they go out for a drink. And then they don’t want to go home because of what is at home. The relationship becomes an escape.”

The novelty of it is huge. “At the workplace, someone pays attention to you and thinks you are wonderful,” agreed Michele Weiner-Davis, founder of and author of several books about marriage/relationships. In her private practice, based in Boulder, Colo. and Woodstock , Ill., Weiner-Davis provides what she calls eleventh hour counseling for couples saving marriages on their last legs.

“You don’t have to attend to the mundane problems of home and day- to-day living at work. Work is a separate island for most people. I have heard it said that it’s not so much how your spouse feels about the other person; it’s how the other person makes your spouse feel about him or herself. It’s the primary reason people have affairs ““ attention, accolades and appreciation that a new person can bring,” she said.

Office affairs are so common, Glamour Magazine and sponsored a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive. According to the survey results, 41 percent of employed Americans ages 25 to 40 admitted to having engaged in an office romance. And an overwhelming majority (76 percent) believe that office affairs are on the rise.

“Office affairs are tricky. Some companies forbid it. But the truth is, many people spend more time at work than at home,” said Wish. “The excitement of working together on a project and being successful at it, produces pleasure brain chemicals,“ endorphins,“ that can trick the person into feeling emotionally closer to their colleague than they would feel if they met the person out of the work environment.”

“But troubles arise when coworkers mistake or confuse that emotional closeness with true emotional closeness. An increase in emotional intensity begins to feel like emotional intimacy. It is a general truth that intense emotional experiences bring people together. Survivors of plane crashes, floods and natural disasters often form a camaraderie around the experience, one that may have never happened under different circumstances. All intense experiences produce intimacy. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it leads to emotional love,” Wish said.

For like an incubator, the office is often a closed environment that keeps out the outside world. If the relationship were to take the next step, it would mean integrating that person into the other person’s whole life. And that isn’t so easy, says Tessina, because the lure of the relationship in the first place is the fact that it is separate and apart from the rest of one’s life. And provides something that one believes can only be gleaned from the work environment.

“It gets very easy to slide down that slope. All affairs are not sleazy, negative things when they start. It may be a lovely, healthy connection between you and the other person, but the fact that you are betraying someone else turns it dark,” added Tessina.