Should you freak out about your husband’s “office spouse?” She knows your hubby’s birthday, his favorite lunch order, and shares his inside jokes — she’s his “work wife” or the more gender-friendly, “office spouse” — a term that describes the relationship between men and women who have grown emotionally close while working in close proximity. And while the term office spouse is meant to describe platonic relationships, the closeness of the relationships formed at work has a lot of real spouses worried.
This week on Daytime, I’m talking about the office spouse, and what you should do if your husband has one.
How long has the Office Spouse phenomenon been going on?
Certainly these types of close relationships between coworkers started as soon as women started appearing in the office. That said, the phenomenon really took off right about the time that the number of women in the workforce was closer to equal to the number of men. A recent study found that currently about one-third of employees report having an office spouse.
Should real-life spouses be threatened by the work wife?
Absolutely, yes. The “work wife” is the absolute biggest threat to your relationship. While researching Is He Cheating? I found that 70% of affairs start at the office. Your husband’s (or wife’s) office spouse is the most likely candidate. Even if the relationship doesn’t become physical, there’s always a strong possibility of an emotional affair. (Emotional affairs have three characteristics: emotional closeness, sexual chemistry/attraction, and secrecy. You have all three, and you have a problem.) If you suspect your wife or husband is cheating, the office is the first place you should check out.
What can you do to keep your spouse from crossing the line?
Secrecy is the biggest danger when it comes to the office spouse and your husband. Make sure he understands the pitfalls of these types of relationships, that he protects your relationship by creating strong work-home boundaries, and that above all, he is honest with you about their relationship, what they do together, and what they talk about.
If you’re the employee, what rules should you follow if you find yourself with an office spouse?
First, don’t share personal details of your life with your office spouse. Inside jokes about your boss? Fine. Inside jokes about your wife? Not fine. Keep the relationship professional.
Second, don’t say nasty things about your wife or husband, even if you just had the worst argument EVER on the way into work, and don’t share details about your sex life, your sex drive, your penis, your marital problems, or how much you argue with your wife, or how she just doesn’t get you/your job/your sex drive. This kind of intimacy not only opens the door to an affair with your co-worker, but it betrays the trust of your spouse and the sanctity of your relationship. If you wouldn’t say it in front of your spouse, you sure shouldn’t say it behind her back.
Third, lay off the booze when you’re with your office spouse. Even one drink can lower your inhibitions (or hers) and take you from friendly coworkers to intimate talks to making out in the bar of the hotel lobby. Which brings us to another no-no. You definitely want to avoid spending time alone outside the office with your office spouse. Dinners for two on a business trip? Dangerous plan. A quick drink or two after work? To your wife, this feels like a date. (And it should, because that’s exactly what it is.) Taking up cycling or pottery or whatever with your Office Spouse after hours is a stupid mistake just waiting to happen.
Fourth, your best strategy to maintain boundaries and make sure everybody is on the same page, is to introduce your real wife to your work wife.
Finally, if your real wife is feeling uncomfortable with your relationship with your office spouse, pull it back, way back. Keep it professional, cool it off, diversify and find some new friends at the office.