Risky Office Affairs

Includes a book review of  “Sexual Detours- The Startling Truth Behind Love, Lust and Infidelity” written by Dr Holly Hein

In my previous article “Poison Ivy in Office” two startling facts came to light. The Economic Times survey results indicated that 1 in 5 Indian is sexually harassed in office. The TeamsLease survey indicated that 1 in 3 Indians see no harm in having sexual relationships in office. Both these surveys indicate a damaging trend in corporate behavior.

There are two aspects to it. While it is normal for singles to be attracted to other singles, and a relationship with a colleague it is considered is positive light. When married people get involved in sexual relationships with co-workers, the organization culture is negatively impacted. The consequences of a sexually charged culture in the organization are:

  • High risk of sexual harassment legal cases being filed against the organization.
  • Loss of respect for managers who are involved in sexual affairs. Both parties, senior and junior involved in the affair lose their reputation.
  • Perception is developed amongst employees that actual performance is not rewarded and one has to have a sexual relationship for growth in the organization.  
  • Loss of focus on organizational goals; as employees do not believe they will be rewarded to achieve them.

 With permissiveness increasing in the society, it is considered cool to have adulterous relationships or indulge in serial monogamy. The personal and professional consequences of such relationships are either not understood or ignored completely. The society pays a huge cost with higher rate of divorces and relationship breakups. The cost is borne by the children of single parents and parents having bad marriages.

In some countries (example India) adultery is a legal offence; however it is becoming an acceptable social norm. The public is forming this viewpoint as it is seeing a number of famous personalities having affairs outside of marriage. Considering the above mentioned aspects, understanding the root cause of the human psychology to have second or more relationships needs to be analyzed.

I was reading the book “Sexual Detours- The Startling Truth Behind Love, Lust and Infidelity” written by Dr Holly Hein. In the book she has explained the primary reasons for extramarital affairs. I am covering some of the aspects here, and I would recommend you to read it if you are in a relationship or if it is breaking.

A triangle is formed when a married person enters into a relationship with another outside his/her marriage. The reason a person enters into such a relationship is that they are facing some painful issues within themselves and these may not be related to the marriage. The issues are both intrapersonal and interpersonal, and they prevent intimacy with the marriage partner and the other partner in the affair. The triangle generally complicates and worsens the marriage.

The most common example of a triangle; is of a single woman getting involved with a married man. The common perception is that the single woman is desirable whereas the wife is not; hence the man is pursuing the single woman. The single woman believes that there are some grounds for a relationship since the man is attentive. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a marriage, a person chooses a partner with care. In an affair, a person is not so choosy. A person chooses a partner (target for affair) on the basis of what he/she wants to be and sees those traits in the target. The target may actually not have any of the traits which a person is envisaging. In reality, the person may not be seeing the target clearly. Hence, the affair does not last long since sooner or later the person is disillusioned with the target.

The primary reasons for involving in an affair according to Dr. Holly Hein are:

  1. A search for identity – The affair is generally a cover story of hiding our true self. A person has something missing in his/her own identity and needs someone else to validate it for them. Hence, the person tries to look for power, beauty, money, intelligence, status etc. as a substitute for a whole sense of self.
  2. An avoidance of life issue– The affair serves as a distraction for some profound life issue. A fling is basically a pleasurable way to deny the conflict within the person. For example, if a person in childhood has felt abandoned by his/her parents, he/she may choose not to acknowledge the pain of abandonment and have numerous flings.
  3. An escape from anxiety- Sex becomes a way to relieve anxiety and stress of life. The physical intimacy with another temporarily makes the person feel better. Sex becomes a compulsion as it is used in the same way as any substance abuse. The person avoids emotional intimacy and chooses numerous sexual partners, including prostitutes.
  4. A substitute for intimacy- The person feels a fear of emotional intimacy due to some childhood mishap. Sometimes if the relationship with parents is not intimate, due to sense of abandonment, the person may not even realize what emotional intimacy feels like. If the parents were excessively controlling, the person will fear intimacy tremendously. Hence, in both cases a person will use physical intimacy as a substitute. 
  5. In search of self esteem- The person’s self esteem is low, maybe because of career, spouse’s constant criticism, lack of success etc. A person needs to feel appreciated and validated by other people is the self esteem is low. The appreciation which a person sees in a lover’s eyes due to the newness of the relationship in a sense restores the self-esteem. However, self-esteem is always internal so basically a person is deluding himself/herself. 
  6. A source of power- Sex adopts the nature of a conquest and is a protection against a feeling of powerlessness. It is used to control, defend and manipulate and has a strong sense of aggressiveness. Anger and hostility transform into arousal. The person who uses sex as power remembers constant criticism from aggressive and controlling adults in childhood. An innate dislike and fear of opposite sex is present in most conquests. The hostility that underlies the sexual behavior may be present to the degree that they humiliate, overpower, and overwhelm- even punish- with sexuality. 
  7. A way of sustaining status quo- Sometimes affairs are used to keep a marriage going. For example, in India some families consider divorce unacceptable as an option. Under these circumstances, the affair takes a parallel road to marriage. In these the spouse is in a long term affair with/without knowledge of the other spouse and this arrangement is continued to keep stability in relationships. Although, this is incorrect since the partner needing the affair has a problem and is dealing with constant internal instability.

 The seven reasons mentioned above clearly indicate that there is a lot of internal pain which a person is dealing with who is having an extramarital affair. The person’s behavior is also causing a lot of pain to the spouse, children, sexual partners and third parties. This definitely indicates there is nothing cool or glamourous about having an affair when in a committed relationship or with a person in a committed relationship.

Organizations are attempting to deal with office affairs and sexual harassment by issuing policies and guidelines in respect to acceptable corporate behavior. I wonder whether these can be successful without understanding the root cause of the behavior and addressing the same.

In your opinion are these policies effective? According to you, what should an organization do to address the problems of the negative impact of office affairs? How do you think the society should address these challenges? Welcome your comments on it.