Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Health & Sex

Font Size

The Office Spouse: Rules of Engagement

You’re married, but you’ve got a close relationship with a co-worker -- otherwise known as your office spouse. Is it possible to keep it platonic, or is an affair in your future?
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

He knows your birthday, your favorite food, worst fear, and deepest, darkest secret. No, it's not your husband, the man you promised to love and cherish until the day you die. It's your office spouse -- a phrase coined to describe the new relationship phenomenon that's developed as Americans work longer, harder, and in closer proximity with colleagues of the opposite sex.

"An office spouse meets emotional needs, going beyond the requirements of the job," says Willard F. Harley Jr., PhD, author of His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage. "If you are in a bind, here is a co-worker -- someone of the opposite sex -- who will care for you, who you can depend on, and who you can confide in."

Recommended Related to Sex & Relationships

Get Sexier — Without Sex!

By Lindsey Palmer Can taking a break from making love actually improve your sex life? Sex therapist and REDBOOK Love Network expert Ian Kerner, Ph.D., proposes just that in his new book, Sex Detox. Here, Kerner explains how it works:  

Read the Get Sexier — Without Sex! article > >

Maintaining a healthy and nonsexual relationship with an office spouse can be tricky and sometimes detrimental to your real marriage. From walking a thin line between friendship and adultery, to avoiding a workplace husband or wife altogether, to keeping it strictly platonic, experts give WebMD the rules of engagement when it comes to the office spouse.

The Office Spouse Phenomenon

While you wouldn't dream of cheating on your loved one to whom you are legally bound, you do work closely with someone of the opposite sex all day long, Monday through Friday, in many cases upwards of 60, 70, or even 80 hours a week. You do lunch, you talk about your life and family, and you stick together through the good times and the bad, in sickness and in health. You share your thoughts, hopes, and ambitious dreams -- there's an intimacy between you ... yet you're not intimate.

"It has to do with proximity," says Harley, president of Marriage Builders, a marriage counseling organization and web site. "It is easy to care about someone of the opposite sex who is working next to you for eight hours or more a day."

The concept of an office spouse is new but not necessarily uncommon. A survey conducted by Vault.com, a media company for career information, found that 32% of 693 respondents from a variety of industries reported having an office husband or wife.

"The phenomenon of the office spouse is increasing," says Mark Oldman, co-president of Vault.com, a workplace information web site. "Only recently has it been acknowledged that you can have a relationship approaching the intimacy you have with your significant other, but at a very different level."

Office spouses speak the same language: they get "inside jokes," understand each other's frustration with the boss and internal bureaucracy, and can pick up on work vibes, both good and bad.

"One sense we got from the survey was that there are certain things you can share with an office spouse that are more difficult to share with a real spouse, in part because of the practicality of it," says Oldman. "Talking about a circumstance at work requires background and personal experience that a real spouse just doesn't have."

So on occasion, an office spouse is more in tune with your life than a real husband or wife, which is when things can get dicey.

Today on WebMD

flowers behind back
Article
Upset woman sitting on bed
Article
 
couple kissing
Article
Exercises for Better Sex
Video
 
Life Cycle of a Penis
Article
HIV Myth Facts
Slideshow
 
How Healthy is Your Sex Life
Quiz
Couple in bed
Video
 
6 Tips For Teens
Article
Close-up of young man
Article
 
screening tests for men
Slideshow
HPV Vaccine Future
Article