Have you ever heard of the concept of a 'work wife'? Or a work husband, work spouse? Though it sounds rather serious at first, at its core, it's just a nickname for a close work friend who makes your hours at work better.
Work-spouse relationships vary in intensity, and while many are platonic and casual, some start to develop further. Their sneaky nature and existence away from one's own partner lead many to believe that a developing work-spouse relationship is more emotionally devastating than an affair.
Day After Day
Developing friendships in the workplace is only natural. After all, we spend hours and hours every single week at work, it only makes sense that we start to form bonds with the people we see constantly. Sometimes it feels like we spend more time in our respective office or otherwise than we do at home, and those long days paired with stressful moments that crop up in any job only strengthen the bond you have with workplace friends.
If there's enough in common besides a shared employer, some friendships might extend beyond work, with conversations and hangouts during your free time.
Friends At Work
This can centralize on a single person, a best friend, so to speak. There's a joking term for these close work besties that become such a large part of our work lives, and that's a work spouse (or a work wife/work husband specifically, if you prefer).
That term can seem a little loaded for the jealous types out there. Hearing a partner discuss having a 'spouse' outside of your relationship, even if it is strictly platonic, can feel a little jarring, but it's actually extremely common, according to a recent study.
The Society for Human Resource Management conducted a survey regarding the work spouse phenomenon and real workplace romances. They reported that 25% of American workers admit to having a work spouse.
Now, it's worth mentioning that a 'work spouse' is only considered such if they're a good friend and also the gender you're attracted to, otherwise they're just a friend. This leads to the study's next finding: of the 25% that have a work spouse, over half of them admitted to having romantic feelings for that person.
What Does That Mean For Established Relationships?
Well, that's dependent on the individual situation.
If your partner has a work spouse and also happens to have feelings for that person, that's something you'll have to tackle as a couple and decide what to do with. Every person and relationship has different boundaries, so no one person can dictate what you do with that information.
Some even believe the title itself plays into why this attraction happens. Would people feel the same way if these work spouses were simply called friends? Is the spouse, wife, or husband labeling creating a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Slow It Down
Not every close workplace relationship comes with any romantic or sexual intentions though, with some even believing that having a work spouse makes them a better person.
Your partner shouldn't be your only friend. Having other people to talk with, express close thoughts and secrets, go to for advice, and otherwise gain perspectives from is always positive. You should never shy away from befriending a coworker due to worry about what your significant other might think. That certainly indicates toxicity, but on the other end of the relationship.
Be open about your work friendships with your partner. This will help keep the air clear and immediately dispel any potential doubts that could crop up if they find out later or via other means.
Your partner might even be grateful for these connections you have at work. Relationship expert Tracey Cox was told a story from a woman whose husband had a work wife she genuinely loved after getting to meet her.
"If we can't solve an argument, I tell him to talk to her to see what she thinks. She's great at making him see the female perspective and that I'm not being outrageous in what I want from him," she recalled.
Far Too Far
Not all of them go so well, with some spouses finding that workplace relationships have become too close, even before it officially delves into romantic territory.
Another story told by Cox involved a couple who was really struggling to start a family, a fact that had been a huge burden on the both of them. The husband would go to his work wife for comfort, advice, and to vent about the situation. He says this friend "got him through it all", which greatly surpassed the wife's comfort levels surrounding that friendship.
"I was furious and confronted him about it and he was genuinely perplexed as to why I was upset," the wife had told Cox. "He said he thought I was going through enough without him offloading his emotions on me."
The wife considered the discussion of their private lives with a third female party such a betrayal of trust that they wound up breaking up just a few months later.
Both stories show that having a work wife, husband, or otherwise really only matters if it matters to you. Do you have a problem with your partner being so close to someone else? If not, why worry about it?
Is There A Tipping Point?
With that said, a friendship you're okay with can spiral into one you're no longer accepting of or comfortable with. We can't control the actions or feelings of others, and as with any friendship, there's a potential for feelings to develop.
Cox suggests a few signs to look out for that may point to a work spouse relationship being a bit more than just best friends. She urges people to ask themselves the following questions about their partner and the work spouse in question.
Do they want you to meet their work spouse, or are they being cagey? If you do meet them, what is their reception to you? Are they warm, like they've heard good things about you, or are they more standoffish? And what about the time they spend together—is it a lot? Is it more than your partner spends time with you? Is it more than they're telling you?
The answers to these questions can dictate whether or not any suspicions are warranted and if it's worth questioning further. The existence of a work spouse doesn't mean anything about the stability of your relationship, but being secretive about said work spouse might.
Lines And Boundaries
As mentioned, having friends at work is essential. It contributes to a happier work environment and healthier social life. Being bound to just one person you feel safe enough to open up to will only lead to feelings of restriction. You deserve a supportive, thriving circle of friends who care about you.
But be mindful. Be able to recognize if the feelings you're having for a work friend are developing in ways that make you or could make your partner uncomfortable. Address the root of these thoughts and handle them accordingly.
The Core Issue
There's nothing inherently wrong with having a work spouse. It's a cute nickname for a fun, helpful friendship that makes going to work more bearable.
If your partner has a work spouse, there's nothing wrong with that either! Be happy they have support in other areas of their life and don't need to rely on you for all of their emotional needs.
No matter which side of the situation you're on, just keep your wits about you. Handle things as they come, and be willing to have tough conversations if it comes down to it.
If worst comes to worst and a relationship has to end, it wasn't the work wife or work husband's fault. It was whatever unstable ground the relationship was built on or the unreliable feelings one half already felt.
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