Writer and broadcaster

I’ve fallen in love with a colleague – but I’m married with children. The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

I’m 40 and married with three children. I have a loving wife and a career that, while it doesn’t pay that much, keeps me happy. However, right now I’m deeply conflicted and at my wits’ end. I’ve fallen deeply in love with an office colleague. 

She’s my age, apparently has a boyfriend and I actually hated her at first. I couldn’t give a damn whether she completed her tasks or not, or whether she’d even come to work. She’s emotionally fragile and would easily get upset. It was frustrating at first, but then she started confiding in me about things that were bothering her.

We carried on conversations by text for months and months. I warmed to her and grew to like her. She has a good soul, she cares about her work and what happens in our workplace. It was nice talking to her. Then, 10 months ago, I realised I was in love with her. I couldn’t stop thinking about her and, quite out of character, I would go out of my way to do things for her. I’ve not confessed, and she has mentioned not to do things for her because she doesn’t want people to think we’re involved. 

I’ve tried drowning myself in work, avoiding situations where I’d have close contact with her, but I can’t stop thinking about her. I don’t want to leave my workplace and she doesn’t want to either. What should I do?

 Once you develop a big crush on someone it’s really hard to stop thinking about them unless you a) stop seeing them and actively stop thinking about them or b) the crush wears itself out. Both take time. I do think this is a huge crush you have. That isn’t to undermine how you feel, but I think you need to see it for what it is. I think you also need to ask yourself what you would like to happen – really like to happen. Because I bet that, when you consider the reality of what leaving your wife and starting a relationship with this woman might look like, it won’t appear to be quite so much fun.

The great thing about fantasies is that they can be whatever you want and by their very nature they are not about the humdrum or fallout of real life. It did make me wonder whether you have much time for fun in your life and whether this provides some levity away from what may be the “grind” of everyday life.

It’s totally normal to have crushes, but when they tip into being all-encompassing like this, something else is going on. Really intense crushes can also be less about the person you are projecting on than about yourself. This is something Richard Simpson, a relationship counsellor (cosrt.org), picked up on straight away. “You’ve got into an obsessive thing. I don’t think this is about her, I think it’s about you.”

Simpson also wanted to know what “intimacy was like with your wife” and “what do you need that the fantasy is providing? What is it distracting you from?”

Sure, married people fall in love with other people and they leave their partners and start a new relationship. It happens. But I don’t think that’s happening here – at least not yet. Not least because nothing concrete hashappened; it’s all, still, very much in your head. It doesn’t sound as if this woman reciprocates how you feel: if anything I wonder if her comment, about not wanting you to do things for her lest people think you’re involved, was actually telling you to back off.

Simpson is interested in your family life, and your place in it. “No one tells you what it’s going to be like when you become a dad. As a male you are no longer the primary focus … it can be depressing, confusing and isolating.”

He also feels you are “not communicating – not to the woman at work [about how you feel] nor your wife”.

I don’t think you should communicate how you feel to the woman at work. I think this has the potential to have a negative impact on your work environment and may be seen as harassment if it’s not welcome. (And if it is? Then what? Do you want an affair with this woman? What do you want?)

But you could definitely work on the communication with your wife – this is what intimacy is. Simpson recommends taking a “daily temperature reading of your relationship”; if not daily then regularly checking in on one another. He recommends something called the Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills (pairs.com), where you sit down, ask specific questions of each other, talk and listen. I find it a little formulaic but hopefully it will give you some ideas. That’s if you don’t want to see a relationship counsellor, which may be a great idea for both of you.

What do you think your wife’s life is like? There’s little mention of her here other than she is “loving”. She’s probably knackered and may well have a crush on someone too. How would you feel about that? Relieved? Jealous?

I think it’s not surprising you are having this work-crush. As I said, crushes can be harmless if, as Simpson puts it, “usually common sense comes in”. “What I would be doing,” says Simpson, “is looking at the obsession and what that offers you.”

I think you’ve created a fantasy to fill a void; I think finding out what that void is, is key.

This article was first published The Guardian Family section on 12 May 2017.