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How to Handle Working with Your Ex

Working with your ex can be awkward, but it doesn't have to be impossible.

Most people have never been in a position where they've had to work with someone they've dated. Unfortunately for my friend, she found out that the venue that she was just hired to work for is the same place where the boyfriend she ghosted worked for the past two years.

I remember her calling me in a blind panic, asking me for advice. At the time, I didn't really know what to say. The guy was crushed when she dumped him, and I wasn't really sure how he'd handle it. She ended up deciding not to take the job.

It shouldn't have to come down to that, you know. It is possible to handle working with your ex like an adult. Now that I'm older and wiser, I have some advice for people interested in overcoming this awkward issue like a pro.

First, gauge how bad the situation is.

There's a difference between working with an ex that you had an amicable breakup with, and working with your ex that had a restraining order slapped on him. It's important to take that factor into consideration when it comes to dealing with the situation.

If your ex was violent, behaved in a way that made you concerned for your safety, or has a vindictive streak, you have to take that into account. If your ex was the type of person who was mellow about everything, then you may have a much better outlook.

If you are worried your ex may damage your reputation at work, talk to HR before he does.

Let's say that the breakup was bad. Maybe you wronged him, or maybe he wronged you. Either way, the split was ugly enough to make you worried about what he'll do to try to harm your career here.

When you have legitimate reason to worry about your ex's behavior or role at work, you should schedule a meeting with HR immediately. In the calmest, most professional tone, explain to them your concerns and past.

This way, if your ex does start to harass you or badmouth you, they will have a record of your concern, and will be able to see that he has a grudge.

Remember that HR is also there to ensure that everyone remains safe; if you don't feel safe, tell them why.

Human resources is there to protect the company, and that extends to the employees in it. If it was a matter of domestic violence, HR may also be able to keep the two of you in separate departments for your own safety.

The majority of HR reps want to recruit the best people for the job and also keep them. If word gets out that they hired an abuser and he hits you while on the job, they won't be able to adhere to their best recruiting practices, otherwise facing a serious scandal.

People who feel very uncomfortable about working with an ex should consider resigning.

I'm not going to lie; sometimes, there's really just no way to emotionally handle an ex being a coworker. If the breakup was way too fresh, or if you really don't feel like you can be in the same room with him without losing your cool, you need to consider turning down the job offer or resigning.

You don't necessarily have to say the reason why. If they press you for answers, you can explain to them that you don't feel comfortable around your ex for reasons that deal with your past relationship with him.

This is often a far better route than losing your cool around your ex and getting yourself fired.

In many cases, staying silent is a good tactic.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that people have become less and less confrontational as years pass. If your ex was very non-confrontational or would get anxious for being called out on something that happened, silence might be your best move.

Seriously, just being quiet and avoiding him may be the best way to handle him in these cases.

If you don't think that the situation is dire, you can choose to talk to your ex in private about the matter.

This is often the most politically correct way to handle working with an ex on your own. Usually, this is most advisable when you're dealing with an amicable breakup or a breakup that occurred in the distant past.

Simply reassuring them that you will keep your personal life personal and focus on business is often enough to erase the drama in the workplace. Obviously, if you mistreated your ex, make it a point to apologize for your wrongdoing.

In an ideal situation, you two will come up with a game plan to help you both keep your jobs and excel at them. If at all possible, do what you can to try to make this happen.

Your goal at work is not to stir up drama with the ex—at least, on your end.

Working with an ex isn't easy, but it is possible. To do this, you're going to have to keep your mouth shut and pretend like you've only met each other for the first time. This means that you should do the following:

  • Don't bring up your ex among coworkers. You don't want to feed the rumor mill, do you?
  • Pay attention to their body language. Does your ex look seriously skittish? If so, back away! They may be low-key freaking out about this and will need space to digest it.
  • Don't see them outside of work—at least, until you're sure it's okay. Most exes will want to be given space, simply because of past history. Give your ex the space they want.
  • Badmouthing your ex is a no-no. Much like just casually chatting about your dating life with your now-coworker, this is a very unprofessional look.
  • Don't be passive-aggressive to your ex. This isn't professional, will make everyone's lives harder, and will likely get you a bad reputation in the office. Don't be that person.

Remember why you're there.

You're not at work to make friends. You're not at work to make your ex feel bad that they dumped you. You're there to make money, and that's what you should focus on.

Just realizing that fact can be a huge boost to your morale, and can also help you keep your mind off the drama.

If your ex can't behave professionally, report him.

Let's say that you are doing everything correctly, but your ex has decided to take the low road. At this point, you will have to fight back. This isn't always easy, but it is worth it.

This would be a time to explain to HR what your ex is doing, how he's hurting productivity, and show proof that you are doing what you can to stay professional.

Of course, you can't win every battle. If you're worried that this is a war you won't be able to win, or if you've been given indicators that HR will side with him, it's time to dust off your résumé, read up on job interview tips, and start working on changing jobs before you're given the pink slip.

Above all, don't be the person who starts an office romance with an ex.

This is, by and large, the number one rule of working with your ex. Do not date your ex, and understand that the risks of dating a coworker will multiply if it's the person you've already been involved with.

You will be sharing an office and seeing this person on a daily basis for a while. If you don't want to make things even more awkward, don't try to repeat history with them.

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