Working With Your Ex: When Going Cold Turkey is Not Possible


From co-worker to lover to co-worker – do you fit into this scenario? Creating deliberate distance from your ex is a key ingredient in the prescription for recovery. So what do you do when you still have to see them everyday at work? You utilize the unique solutions to combat the unique complications presented when working with an ex. In order to understand the techniques we offer, let’s first address the specific problems.

Problems Unique To Working With An Ex:

Undercover Lovers. Romances that develop at the office are often not made public. For various reasons – company policy, unwritten rules, negative connotations, extramarital status – people keep office relationships under wraps. The issue with any clandestine romance is that the break up is also concealed. Not that you want to send out announcements about your broken heart, but keeping your relationship private denies you the support from friends and co-workers that help you through this difficult time.

Contact Overload. Office relationships often come with lots of emails, texts, ims, and hallway looks. You are in the presence of this person all day and are experiencing the effects of “in sight and in mind”. Going from constant correspondence to normal communication can be grueling.

That Little Something Extra. Regardless of your level of professionalism with one another, when you are dating in the office, you always get a little something extra in your exchanges. Whether it is a wink in the hallway, an email with a smiley, or a special lunch together, there are often veiled signs of affection. After the break up, the extras vanish and this can be difficult to bear.

Mixed Signals. Sometimes the little something extras do not actually disappear as quickly as they should setting in motion a state of confusion. You may still get that special email, but there is no other sign of a reconciliation to come. Mixed signals will keep you in limbo. This neither gets you the relationship you seek with your ex, nor does it allow you to move forward.

TMI. One of the reasons that distance is required for the healing process is that having all the information about your ex such as their reaction to the break up or new dating prospects does not help your recovery. When you work with an ex, you just have too much information about all aspects of their post break-up life.

Give us Hope, Hope, Hope!

There is hope. Many of the issues endured when working with an ex are based on expectations and habits that remain on auto-pilot. We wait for that email and expect the that little something extra. We can’t get them off our mind because they are sitting in front of us. Well, we are going to teach you some methods to get rid of those expectations and habits. Soon your constant thought of walking past his desk or incessant impulse to check for her email will fade. You will build strength and move forward.

Lean heavily. If you fall under the category of a private romance with a private break up, lean heavily on someone outside of work that you can trust. Tell them everything. Use the community here to help you. We are not here to judge, we are here to help.

Change. You’ve probably had the experience of scent or a song triggering a poignant memory of a person or point in time. This is because our mind is like a filing cabinet that efficiently stores memories with certain associations. We have yet to unravel the mystery of all of the triggers; however, we do know that even the most mundane detail can generate an association to your ex – the angle of your computer, the scent of your office, etc. With this in mind, it makes sense to change some details and create fresh associations.

•    Rearrange your work space.
•    Place your computer in a different spot.
•    Change your pictures and knick-knacks.
•    Spray an unfamiliar scent in your office.
•    Drive a different route to work.
•    Walk a different path to your workspace.
•    Wear new clothes.
•    Talk to different co-workers.
•    Mix up your lunch destinations.

Email and other correspondence. Write down how you feel while waiting for his email or after receiving a disappointing text from her. Write it in code (if you have to) and put it on a post-it next to your computer, phone etc. Every time you want to send your ex a message, reference your post-it. If your urge overwhelms you, try the following:

•    Write an email. Yes, open a document and each time you want to send them a message, type it into this document. Record the time and the date and write it. Do not send it, just keep the document as a running trail. Review the document after a few weeks – we promise your urges will reduce in quantity.
•    Get raisins. If you hit “F5” fifty times an hour to refresh your screen, get a bag of raisins. Each time you want to hit refresh, eat a raisin instead. What you are doing is exhibiting addictive behavior and this technique helps to break it. Don’t not feel bad about it or reinvent the wheel, there are plenty of techniques to kill addictive habits and this is one of them.

Count before answering. It is of utmost importance to maintain your professionalism with your ex during the recovery process. While there may be a fleeting moment of satisfaction from throwing your swinger stapler at his head, we promise you will not feel good in the morning. Before answering any direct or indirect question to your ex, count to ten and ask yourself how your co-worker would respond. Respond in that manner.

Quit. Not your job, the game. Quit the game of sending and receiving inappropriate signals to and from your ex at work. If he or she winks at you in the hall, it is in your control to deny this signal. It is in your control to take a different route to the bathroom and reduce run ins at the office.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. You don’t need to discuss your personal life, nor do you need  find out about what your ex is up to. Do not fool yourself into thinking that finding out about his dating life or her weekend plans is providing you closure. Closure comes from within, from working through healing steps. Think of how you act with another colleague that you are not friends with at work – mimic this behavior with your ex.

You can do it. You were a working professional before this relationship and you can continue to be one. A unique challenge has been presented to you in this life. You will conquer it and when you come out on the other side, you will be better, brighter, and stronger.

Do you work with your ex? Perhaps you go to school with them or are still living with them- tell us why it’s hard for you to go cold turkey.

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164 Responses to “Working With Your Ex: When Going Cold Turkey is Not Possible”

  1. bancs February 27, 2014 at 5:10 am #

    thanks amelie

    i’m really burning up inside. i’m (was) involved in a relationship that i can’t proudly shout it to the world about how much i love her, i sincerely do. I have never felt something so strong as this for anyone before. the story started at around the summer of 2011 and we pratically fight everyday and make up before leaving work. we are so inseparable and deep down, i still care about here even up till this moment.

    The reason why i am not proud of it is mainly for 2 reasons and please, you can judge me if you want to because i can’t get enough of the judging i’ve been through in the past 3 years.
    She is 10 years older than me and she happens to be my bosses’ wife. we’ve manage to keep it secret for this long and we both know its not right, even as a christian i know its a sin. i’m 27 and she’s 37 and we work next to each other. but sincerely from the depth of my heart, i want to end things.. but each time i do or she does, we just simply rush back because of the pain. Last march, we broke up for 6 months, she talked to her family about it and a psychologist, we weren’t even on talking term during that period, it was the saddest 6 months of my life. i have a girlfriend and sincerely i love this lady more than i could imagine. we forgive ourselves so easily and just laugh over our stupidity.

    we broke up again last week thursday and i caught her more than 5 times seriously crying and telling me that she’s really sad and unhappy. i don’t want to ruin the home more than i’ve done, she wanted to leave her husband but she’s got 2 kids and i won’t ever forgive myself if i make them go through a broken home. i want to do the right thing and i can’t just proudly talk to anyone about it. i know what i did is not right, i just dumbly fell in love but i want to do the right thing now.

    **crying writing this because i am so heartbroken, i miss her so much.please help me, i don’t know how to go about it. i’m scared that i’m gonna re-live those past 6 months.


  2. Louisa February 19, 2014 at 9:10 am #

    I was with my boyfriend before we started working together. I think that us then spending 24 hours together might have been a bit hard. Also as he is 6 years younger does add further complications.

    We both work in tv, I direct, and he is the camera man. It is hard because we are so lucky to have full time work within this industry, but it is so hard to be around him all the time and to have to work so closely, its not just sharing an office, but having to go away together for trips. And now I’ve just found out he is seeing somebody else. And my heart is just breaking. I just don’t know what to do.

  3. sad susie December 28, 2013 at 1:30 am #

    Hi…my ex always goes into this depression state during the holidays and will just up and stop talking completely for days. Considering he talks or texts me every day I start to worry about him. I told him after day three of not hearing from him that I couldn’t handle him not talking. He went crazy and mad at me and ended things with me for the second time. This had happened two years prior and I thought we worked through it and had an understanding but apparently not. I love and miss him everyday. We have had a five year relationship. My heart is breaking and I don’t know what to do. All I do is sit at home and cry. The worst of it all is we work in the same place and my co workers ask about him and it’s like a dagger to the heart when I hear his name.

  4. Karla December 25, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

    I met my ex through my brother and we both thought we were each other’s soul mate and we ended up working together but after dating for 18 months everything went from good to worse I felt that he was pushing away his excuse was that he loved me but he was not UN LOVE with me to me I thought that was the lamest excuse I guy could come up with so we just decided to break up it’s been 5 months and it still hurts seeing him at work to make matters worse he flirts with my co worker and thinks it’s ok plus at the same time he is good friends with my brother but they don’t hangout that much. I tried being professional at work but sometimes I just can’t stand seeing him just flirting with my co workers. I’m currently looking for another job . I still love him and I want him back but at the same time if I’m going to try and move on I need to get a new job.

  5. Simon August 27, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    If only i knew then what i know now. I sit opposite her and have to work alongside her. She was the only woman i had really had a mutually satisfying and affectionate time relationship with, but she grew tired of me and ended it after 9 months. People had warned me off her, said it was her pattern… But i let my ego do the talking.

    Total nightmare trying to get emotional distance when you are in her proximity. Like an alcoholic trying to get sober in a bar.

  6. Susan March 19, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    A guy I work with who is also 10 years younger than me started acting interested in me and I was very reluctant at first as I was in a relationship with a coworker before and it was incredibly hard when it ended. He was so nice though and I eventually let him convince me to give it a chance. I fell for him fast and hard. He was so thoughtful and so appreciative of little things I tried to do for him. We didn’t tell anyone at work, but I was ready to and then he just texted me one day and told me he couldn’t handle being in a relationship with a coworker… what??!! Then after I broke the ice a week later, we started talking again and a couple weeks later started seeing eachother again. Things were even better this time and again I was SO happy. I went out of town for a week to visit my parents and he constanty texted me and said he didn’t want me to forget about him while I was gone. 2 days before I was to return he text me and told me he was going to try to work things out with his ex girlfriend from several months before… I was devastated and 3 weeks later I am still very depressed and hurt and I have to see him everyday at work and it is torture. I know I shouldn’t want to get back with him but I do!! I miss him so much and hurt in places i didn’t think I could hurt..Seeing him everyday is torture, but not seeing him scares me too. I am a mess and i feel like it will never get easier. i have thought about transferring but it really isn’t an option and i would lose a lot of seniority. i just want to crawl in a whole and never come out.

  7. Lillian January 22, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    I am a nurse in the ICU and my ex-boyfriend is a surgery resident. We dated for a year and a half. I broke up with him, for non-work related issures in our relationship. I still love him and miss him a lot, but I know it could never work between us, we are too incompatible. When I see him at work, I act cool, calm and professional, but I can’t hide the red blochy rash I get all over the front of my chest and neck. Whenever I am nervous or emotional I get this red blochy rash, its a physilogical reaction I have to my emotons. I am so afraid he is going to see it, he knows why I get that rash. I am afraid my co-workers are going to notice. I am trying to do whats best for myself, but I don’t know how to keep myself from getting nervous and turing red.

  8. Sian January 15, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

    I was in a happy relationship but didn’t feel sexually fulfilled. Then a new guy started working at my office who I found very attractive. Because I had a boyfriend I just saw him as a nice bit of eye candy. Anyway, this guy started to make it clear that he had the hots for me too and asked me out for drinks. I declined because of my relationship and I’d also found out he had a girlfriend. He persisted in chasing me for months and even split up with his girlfriend because he said he couldn’t be with her when he had such strong feelings for me.eventually I gave in and met up with him outside of work to see if we got along. What followed was a whirlwind romance, he truly swept me off my feet! I ended my long term relationship with my boyfriend to be with him. Things were amazing for the next few weeks until he abruptly ended it after christmas by text message! He didn’t explain himself properly he just said that he isn’t good enough for me, the feelings he has for me are too intense and too soon and he relationship has progressed too quickly for him. I am truly heartbroken. I feel that he has come into my life like a tornado and messed everything up. Now I see him at work every day and I want to cry. He won’t talk to me in person about what happened and I don’t really have any closure to enable me to move on. Every time I look at him I feel like my heart breaks a little more. He has even sent me drunk text of a weekend saying that he misses me but he clearly doesn’t want to get back together and I doubt I could even trust him with my heart again.I feel trapped and massively depressed but just hope time will help heal. If it doesn’t I’m scared that I’ll have to find a new job which grieves me as I’ve been at the company for five years and he’s only been there six months.

  9. Sam October 28, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    I had a my true love for 18 years. Both of us were married but stayed for different reasons. Me for the children and my wife and I had not shared a bedroon for over 15 years. We are business partners and involved with multiple organizations related to our profession. Our offices are directly across from each other. We traveled together multiple times each year.

    We finally decided to make our relationship legitimate. I moved out into my “man cave” started divorce proceedings. She was to follow in 6 months. After all of the promises (even 2 days before she ended it) she got caught and abruptly broke it off. The texts, calls, physical touch were instantly gone. I will rightfully lose half of my assets, now I am extremely lonely, and reminded daily of her presence. She comes to work and acts like nothing is wrong.

    I am not sure after 18 years I’ll ever get over it. My point in writing is never put off anything and never pull the trigger on making it legit unless both parties do it simultaneously. Once you commit and burn bridges you lose any control of the future. How can ever trust another woman again? 18 years and poof!

  10. Joy May 8, 2012 at 12:50 am #

    Early this morning, I googled “heal my heart”. Been suffering from the complication of having to work as a pair with my ex. I never knew many people around the world faced the same or more.
    However, all cases are unique to itself.

    I’ve been pondering on what exactly to do about my situation.
    I just know my heart’s aching:
    I cry randomly, get angry for no reason, can’t sleep well…
    It’s obviously aching and I know why. Yet, I don’t know exactly what steps to take to be healed.

    In my case, it’s me seemingly “starting” a company with my ex
    And it’s not just an ordinary “ex”…
    It was a short relationship and he went back to his ex.
    Now, this new company is born.
    Been considering leaving and starting afresh (which is going to affect me and him)
    But I’ve been “starting afresh” too often (goals and accompliments).
    I’m afraid of losing something that has the potential of “lasting” (how I arrived at that forecast, I don’t know)
    I’ve been feeling used for a while.
    But I really want this company (which affects my career) to work,
    Though I’m paying with my heart – hurting daily.
    Seeing him answer call from his “supposed ex”… Burns me. I’m trying to put it all behind me, but is it possible when it’s all in one’s face and we have to work as a team?

  11. Hoofwah May 2, 2012 at 4:38 am #

    I work with my ex. We had a two year relationship which called off last July. I saw the error of my ways and tried to get back with her last September. My efforts failed as she was dating someone else. We went through a very protracted stage where she gave me every indication that we might get back together. This went on for months but she says she can’t take that leap of faith at risk of me hurting her again. I’ve broken pretty much every rule above. We went to a work event last Wednesday and ended up kissing. It’s been awful since, she won’t leave her new partner. I have told her I can no longer do the cosy lunches or constant IMs etc etc. It’s killing me but I now realise that we’re not going to get back together and I need to move on….

  12. victor April 4, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    Hello all,

    Even though the heartache I’m going thru from my ex is not related to workplace I think my dillemma still related to this blog. You see I still have to see her on a daily basis because we still live together and we have to wait for our house to sell before we can really part.

    Anyways, we split up 9 months ago, and though it was very hard (for both of us), the pain did eventually go away (even with me still seeing her on daily basis). So I thought I was completely over her. But then all of a sudden for the last few weeks she started being away for the weekend, which was ok with me as I did’nt even try to analyse becuase sometimes not knowing is better. But then, last saturday (she left saturday for the weekend again) I get this strange callback from a motel (and close to home too) saying that someone from my line called earlier for info.

    Well needless to say my heartache pain came back full force, crying like I’ve never cried before! I’m shocked at myself, here I am 9months after the breakup(feeling pretty good) but then still these feelings come back?(maybe it’s cuz it makes sooo final?!?,maybe I still love her?)
    Anyways, I don’t blame her for that call, I mean we have been seperated 9months now!

    It seems she continued her life, whereas I put my life on hold till house sells and get clean start(I think bad move on my part)

    So now how do I deal with this heartache pain in the meantime, and knowing EXACTLY what she is doing on saturday nights?(ouch) I’m even having hard time wanting to go out with freinds since this pain is weakening my very fiber of existence.

  13. In a corner January 25, 2012 at 3:55 am #

    Hi all, I hope you don’t mind.. i need to let out some thoughts. ..I’m a normal bloke in a tough situation. A girl at work chased me for six months, took me home to meet the parents etc, and all her friends. Basically the feeling was mutual and i fell in love with her. .. Then she decided it was a mistake, told me she’s not intereted.. ouch. But ok. I can be a professional and deal with it. No hard words, just acceptance and move forward as friends.

    A couple months down the track, she’s informed me that she’s entered a gay relationship with a female work colleague (one of my senior managers) who’s more than a decade older than both of us.! . What can I say? am completed shattererd. I can’t face either of them in the office, my heart is broken and stamped on. She’s trying to make me feel guilty because I’m not ok with it all. I don’t know what to do .. I’m too embarrassed to talk with my friends about it. The situation has me really down and I’m almost tempted to leave my job over it.

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