The concept of the Work Spouse is fairly new, it’s a response to the growth of office culture. Maybe you’ve heard this phrase thrown casually around the office or at gatherings: “oh, Pam is my co-worker wife” or “I’ve got a work husband, Jim.” It might be cute the first few times you hear it, but it implies something much deeper that has real consequences for your marriage.
Work relationships develop usually in toxic workplaces, but anywhere that involves high stress might trigger a work spousal relationship. The common aspect is that a work spouse seemingly understands you. They might know about your personal life, and be a sympathetic ear. It’s almost always well-intentioned, and it usually starts out platonic, but it could turn dangerous.
Here, we’ll arm you with the facts so you can be the judge on whether your work spouse crosses a serious line.
Your Work Spouse and You
Your actual spouse is like the other half of this totally awesome unit that is capable of keeping kids alive and a home from burning down. Your work spouse feels like your shelter in the storm, your island in the middle of the ocean post shipwreck. They aren’t just helpful, they know the snacks you want when they hit the vending machine. They drop off your favorite drink from the coffee shop without you even having to ask.
They ask about your family, and they mean it.
They aren’t just a co-worker, and that’s the important test. You usually think about a work spouse outside of work hours. You think you know this person, inside and out, and that’s important because it might be a sign of obsession (more on that in a moment).
Pros and Cons of a Work Spouse
The science says a work spouse isn’t a bad thing. They can complement your skill set well and help you achieve greater success through both of your hard work. A work spouse intuitively works with you, and typically doesn’t need the kind of direction you might have to provide to another team member. If you’ve ever thought, “why can’t Dwight be more like Pam!?” you might have a work spousal relationship.
Are your co-workers mistaking the two of you for dating partners, or do they think you’re too cliquey? This could also be a sign you have a work spousal relationship.
All of this is to say that it’s easy to misinterpret what that relationship means without proper boundary setting. The best of intentions can lead to the worst of scenarios without discussing what is or isn’t appropriate. The next challenge is sticking to those boundaries. This is compounded when you have relationship problems, like money troubles, at home. You might feel like your work spouse is a Confidant, then suddenly you’re meeting outside work hours and crossing into inappropriate territory.
You might think you can manage all the nuances of a Work Spouse relationship. Ok, but what if things go sour? How might that affect your co-workers or the team productivity?
We know that these relationships develop in a toxic workspace. Can you create a group of like-minded people to vent to? Can you find another way to grow trust, or build a friendship? Local happy hours are great for this, so long as there is a group attending. You want to avoid solitary meetups that are designed for cheating.
Every relationship, even your marriage, has boundaries. You know what you can and cannot do in your marriage, the same as you understand the policies of your workplace. You can use those policies as a guideline, but in general, it’s helpful to think about personal boundaries. What might you say or do that goes too far?
You can immediately curtail some of this behavior by avoiding private meetings with this person and keeping work the focus of the conversation. However, it’s easy to step out of bounds without realizing it. If you’ve seen these signs, it might be time to re-evaluate your work-spouse relationship:
•You actively attempt to keep your work and real spouse separate
•The two of you frequently complement one another (which turn into something more than compliments much faster than you might realize)
•You meet for social situations that aren’t work related
•The two of you share more physical contact than you do with any other co-worker
Having a work spouse is completely understandable, but crossing the line is quite easy to do. Understanding the risks you face will help you define boundaries, maintain them and be sure that you’re not endangering the life you’ve built outside of work.
Who is Your Lover’s Work Spouse?
So, you hear your lover talk about work and one name is constantly brought up. Questions will run through your mind. It’s natural. What does this person mean to your lover? Why does this person always come up in conversation? Am I the only one?
First, stop and ask yourself if you’re being paranoid or if there are warning signs that cheating is occurring.
Now that you’ve taken some time to digest the situation, you may be able to accept that other people are important in your lover’s life and that doesn’t mean they are being unfaithful to you. Or, you may want to dig deeper. If you feel your partner’s Work Spouse requires some added research, don’t hesitate to check them out in a people search. You will either find what you are looking for or you will have your peace of mind.