Liaison with firm partner spurs concern for paralegal

Issue March 2005

Q:Only with anonymity would I disclose my concern. I am a 39-year-old female paralegal in a large law firm, and involved in a clandestine affair with one of the firm's partners. I also am married with a 10-year-old child. This is actually my second such relationship at the firm. I don't think my coworkers know, though I'm not certain about his secretary. For me, it's not just the sex, though the secrecy of that, at the office, makes it exciting. It's romantic. I think about him all the time, and how he seems to care more about me than my husband does. The problem is that I realize I'm jeopardizing my family life and probably my job. I can usually justify my behavior to myself by blaming my self-centered husband, but on some level I'm ashamed, and lost as to how to sort this out.

A:Your affair can be looked at in a number of ways. In one way, it can perhaps be understood as a symptom of marital problems, as "acting out" your feelings of neglect rather than addressing them more directly with your husband or going into couple therapy. Although the partner with whom you are involved may be a very appealing man, it may be that the intensity of your attraction to him, and to the object of your previous work relationship, really does not have a lot to do with him as an individual.

Some people may become more obsessed with sex or crushes in connection with mood swings, but will behave in less risky ways when an underlying mood disorder is treated. Furtive affairs sometimes can be seen as a type of "sexual addiction." While men viewed as sexual addicts tend to engage in activities such as compulsive voyeurism, masturbation, use of pornography, or picking up strangers, women seem to be more likely to become obsessed with what feels like romance and what might be called pseudo-intimacy. In either case, there can be a "high," perhaps representing a neurochemical process, that overrides good judgment.

Regardless of the lens through which you attempt to understand your affair, it certainly deserves your conscious attention. Rationalizations aside, you seem to recognize that you may soon find yourself suffering a myriad of negative professional and personal consequences. Why not follow up your anonymous question by coming to meet with us for a full, confidential evaluation and a referral to someone with whom you can face the issue head on.

Questions quoted are either actual letters/emails or paraphrased and disguised concerns expressed by individuals seeking assistance from LCL.

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