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Workplace entanglements
By Caterina Spinaris
Published: 05/19/2008

Heart2 Editor’s note: This story is being shared with us by Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, a non-profit organization dedicated to the well being of correctional staff and their families. From time to time, Corrections.com will publish articles from the Desert Waters newsletter, Correctional Oasis.

As in other branches of law enforcement, sexual involvement is not uncommon among corrections staff who are married or are in otherwise committed relationships. These behaviors cause a multitude of complications in the workplace and can also wreak havoc in people’s personal lives.

Here are some thoughts as to why corrections staff may get entangled in such relationships.

False sense of intimacy

Staff spends a good portion of their waking hours in close quarters with coworkers. In many cases they spend more time with coworkers than with their own partners. Together they share stressful and even traumatic experiences.

They bond with one another like soldiers in a combat zone. Staff may not confide in their partners about work to not cause them worry, to maintain professional confidentiality requirements, or to for- get about work while at home.

Over time they may come to believe that fellow employees understand and support them better than their own partners at home. Physical proximity coupled with shared unique experiences on the job can cause professional boundaries to collapse, and so affairs happen.

Emotional release

The corrections environment tends to be one of underlying tension, negativity and/or boredom. Distressing emotions get stirred up on the job with few healthy outlets. Romantic involvement in the workplace provides a jolt of excitement, a means of escape from unpleasant emotions, a mood-altering “fix.”

Self-worth issues

When a coworker flirts with a staff member with low self-esteem, the targeted per- son feels desirable, “special.” That person starts to think, S/he chose ME! I’m preferred over others! I’m hot!

So responding to a coworker’s romantic overtures ensures that these exhilarating feelings keep getting generated, at least for a season.

Sex addiction

The processes of seduction and sexual activity provide powerful yet temporary mood lifts. As the effects wear off, sex addicts seek new “highs” through new conquests and new experiences.

And the pattern keeps getting repeated. In some cases even sex addicts fall for the games of others who are deeper into their sex addiction, who are more of a true sexual predator on the “hunt” for their next victim.

So those who just wanted to “play” may end up devastated, feeling used and discarded later on.

Role modeling

Exposure to certain behaviors desensitizes people to them. Staff’s conduct influences other staff.

When exposed to coworkers’ involvement with fellow employees, some staff might come to regard this as acceptable or even advantageous behavior, and they may follow suit.

What can keep staff from getting caught in these traps?

Count the cost.

Is a fleeting thrill worth destroying years of investment in your partner and your family? Is it worth damaging your integrity, your self- respect, and perhaps your career?

Seek help

If you find that you are strongly attracted to a coworker, ask to be moved to a different team, a different shift or even a different facility. Seek professional counseling to learn to distinguish between love and infatuation, and to address addictive acting-out patterns.

Examine your beliefs about yourself

The less you truly love and respect yourself in healthy ways, the more you’ll expect others to make you feel lovable and respectable. Sooner or later your partner will disappoint you. If you can’t shore yourself up through your inner resources at low points in your committed relationship, you’ll look elsewhere for an ego boost.

Get help for these issues, as they are not likely to go away on their own. Your future and your family’s future depend on it.

Caterina Spinaris Tudor, Ph.D., is the founding Director of Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, (www.desertwaters.com) , a Colorado nonprofit corporation dedicated to the well-being of corrections staff and their families.


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