Is His Work Wife (or Office Spouse) a Threat? (Is He Cheating?)

September 11, 2012

Lisa Daily Daytime ShowShould 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 Is He Cheating by Lisa Dailyrelationship 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.



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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracy September 12, 2012 at 10:21 pm

I am so sick of reading about forgiving your cheating spouse and trying to reconcile. There are 10,000 crappy sites like How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage… and Jesus Thinks You’re a Failure If You Divorce compared to the much needed “leave the jerk already” site. To begin with, there are people far better than the one that cheated on you. Actually, you could walk into any bar in the world, swing a cat, and hit someone that is better than your current spouse, simply by virtue of the fact that that they have not cheated on you.

I don’t believe people that say their marriages are stronger than before. If you lost a leg, you would not argue that now your body is stronger than before. You’ve lost your trust in your spouse. Your security. Your ability to ever love your spouse unreservedly again. Your spouse can’t unring that bell or unsleep with that other person. And while you may be one of the rare couples that reconciles successfully, you’re over selling it when you tell people your marriage is BETTER. It endures. Affairs don’t make marriages better, no more than spousal abuse and hurling your spouse down the stairs once, makes a marriage better.

For every day of your life you have to live with the knowledge that this person cheated on you and gutted you emotionally. If it didn’t gut you emotionally, you weren’t that connected to them in the first place and your marriage has never been “great.” They are capable of betrayal. And while you may be able to do the mental gymnastics to live with that, I can tell you from experience, that it IS better on the other side. Either being independent and alone not living with the drama (BTDT) or happily partnered up with a person who loves you right and doesn’t need therapy and 12-steps to be faithful. Cheaters often cheat again. Who wants to live waiting for that shoe to drop?


Lisa September 14, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Great post.

Here you go: Leave the jerk already.

Unless you have kids, in which case, you might feel the need to sell your soul and stick it out.

I couldn’t agree with you more. Once your partner has cheated, you’ll never get back that innocence, that trust, that “you and me forever” feeling. Sure, your communication might be better once you’ve spent a year in couples therapy, and maybe you’ll solve whatever problems caused the affair in the first place (unless you’re married to one of those guys who cheats despite the fact that he is actually very happily married, in which case you’re basically screwed) but you’ll never ever ever feel completely safe, completely secure, completely trusting again unless you’re medicated or lobotomized.

You’re also right about cheaters cheating again. The first time, they have the most to lose because they’re not sure how you’ll react. By the second or the fifth or the forty-eighth time, they know exactly what you’ll do. Cry, scream, throw dishes. Nothing.


Nadine Hartkemeyer January 17, 2013 at 8:35 am

A close relationship with someone of the opposite sex in the workplace sets the stage for infidelity. If he or she is so inclined, there’s not much the wronged spouse can do to change it. If you already suspect that your spouse is having an affair with someone at work, what’s to stop him from having another one and another one and another one, hurting and betraying you each time. Forgiving him is only going to let him think that you condone his behavior. Now’s the time to get him out of your life and allow yourself to start over with someone who isn’t going to disrespect you this way.


Lisa March 26, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Agreed. While there are some couples who are able to work through infidelity, most of the time it just keeps happening over and over again.


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