Is your ‘work spouse’ working for you?

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to be a guest on a radio show about work spouses. At first glance I thought that the topic was related to spouses who work together, which can lead to all kinds of conflict and break down in the marriage. But this was about something different. On the day that I was asked to be on, there was an article in the business section of NBC News entitled “You may be surprised at how many people have crossed the line with their work spouse.” So, Chris Chreston, the AM 640 host, wanted me to shed expert advice on the topic.

The phrase “work spouse,” according to Wikipedia, refers to “a co-worker, usually of the opposite sex, with whom one shares a special relationship, having bonds similar to those of a marriage…” Within my practise, I have seen people for whom these bonds do not have to (and often don’t) include sex, but most often include an intimate relationship within which a man or women confides in the work spouse (often about his or her real spouse) and shares other intimate details of their lives (children, parents in law, friendships, for example). Often, one’s “real” spouse has heard the “work spouse’s” name, but typically not in reference to him or her as a “work spouse.” Typically, he or she may be referred to as a close co worker or colleague.

A problem often arises when the two co workers begin sharing intimate details of their lives with one another rather than their partners at home. Its easy for this to happen. Couples often complain to me about barely having enough time for themselves, let alone time together. When they’re home from work at night, they say that they don’t feel inclined or have the energy to talk or listen to one another. So, it seems that its much easier to chat with a “work spouse” instead without the hassle of bringing him or her up to speed in regards to the context of the incident within their working environment. In addition, a relationship can flourish at work when there’s more time for adult banter, no other distractions such as children, making meals or paying bills. A co worker may have more time for a colleague over lunch, for example, than does a spouse over dinner after a long day away from home.

So, even those relationships at work that begin as platonic, sometimes take both people down a path they hadn’t intended. Along with the undivided attention a co worker may receive, he or she may also connect as a result of sharing a similar passion or interest that led to their career choice. So, that too can be appealing.

When I talk to couples about being unfaithful, this often includes an emotional relationship that his significant other has developed with another. In fact, a relationship that’s emotionally intimate can pose even more danger to a monogamous relationship than a strictly physical one. Even though sex may cause one to become emotionally involved, a relationship that begins as an emotional connection can be more difficult to pull back from, especially if one’s emotional needs are not being met at home.

If you begin feeling guilty about time that you’re spending with a co worker, or purposely withhold information about having lunch with him or her, for example, these are red flags. If you begin to feel less inclined to share details of your life with your at home partner, either because you feel that he or she is disinterested or as a result of working through the issues during the day with your “work spouse”, then that too is a red flag.

Having said this, one may develop a special relationship with a co worker or assistant (for example, a professional who has been working with the same assistant for 30 years) that adds to his or her life. The “work spouse” and the “home spouse” may be in regular contact with one another, may even work together to keep tabs on their shared “spouse”, may get together outside of working hours and may be very clear and respectful of boundaries.

It’s important to keep tabs on your relationship – both at home and work. Do you know or spend more time with your “work spouse” than your “home spouse”? Is your “work spouse” filling a void that has been created because you’re not feeling listened to or appreciated at home? If so, talk to your real spouse as soon as you recognize the red flags. That way you can safeguard against your “work spouse” becoming more significant to you than the spouse at home.

“Beautifully written, you are a wise woman with powerful words. Your success is beyond deserved and then some.”– Rochelle L.