My new client Julia* had no sooner sat down in my office when she burst into tears.
“I can’t believe what’s happened. I love my husband Bill* but somehow I’ve gone and fallen in love with my work colleague Peter*. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to get a divorce but I don’t know what to do about Peter.” This was by no means the first time I’d heard such an anguished lament …
The Separate Lives of Men & Women
In the latter half of the twentieth century, something new and unprecedented began to emerge in the life of human beings.
Perhaps for the first time in human history, the relationship between men and women was being deeply questioned and debated. With the rise of the women’s movement and the struggle for equality between the genders, the worlds of men and women for the first time began to merge. This merging has had an extraordinary impact upon the way the way women and men interact and interrelate.
Before World War Two, men lived in one world and women lived in another. Post World War Two found women and men side by side in the workplace – and society in general.
One of the truly remarkable effects of this merging has been that as men and women meet and get to know each other in the workplace and beyond, they begin to become friends, and inevitably some of these friendships blossom into full-blown love affairs. The fact that some of these friendships tip over into love affairs – and especially if they are “illicit” affairs – have made many commentators question whether it is actually possible for men and women to be “just friends”.
Can we be Just Friends with the Opposite Sex?
This is certainly the position of Billy Crystal’s character in the movie “When Harry Met Sally”, and the popularity of this movie can be in part explained by the fact that so many could relate personally to its exploration of the question: can we be just friends with the opposite sex?
Because most of us have spent our whole working lives in the company of the other gender, we forget that this experience is completely unprecedented and that we are all in fact enrolled – without our really knowing it – in a huge ongoing relational experiment.
Is it any wonder that there is so much confusion and why so many “good” people find themselves falling in love outside of their marriage, embarking on clandestine affairs – and then suffering through all the relational convulsion and carnage that my client Julia was currently experiencing.
Our colleagues get the best of our energy. We are most awake, most alive, most attractive when we are at work.
Most married/committed couples work all day before coming home to each other, tired from their day. Then there are the chores and the children and finally, after all responsibilities have been seen to, there is the TV or internet to collapse in front of, before slumping wearily off to bed.
Even on the weekend, there are all the social engagements; the children’s sporting and cultural events; and more chores … So our colleagues get the best of us and our partners get the dregs of us!
So how can the sad situation of Julia be avoided? Couples need to be aware of the very serious challenge that they are facing – and therefore need to consciously make time for their relationship.
This does not mean that they need to fearfully hold on to each other, forbidding each other from having friends with the opposite sex – but it does mean that they need to check in with each other regularly, to keep abreast of how the other is travelling and not take each other for granted or let all the other responsibilities and chores get between them.
If you are finding that you are struggling to do this, or that you are finding yourself attracted to a colleague, it might be a good idea to make a counselling appointment either on your own or with your partner to discuss it.
Author: Matthew Ryan, B Psych (Hons), MA (Marriage & Family Therapy).
Matt Ryan is a psychologist with over 25 years’ of experience, and a keen interest in helping individuals, couples and families to negotiate the various challenges of life and relationships.
To book an appointment with Matthew Ryan call 1800 877 924 or book online today!
*Not real names