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?
The Office Spouse Phenomenon continued...
"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.
Crossing the Line Â
"The question is, how do affairs start," says Harley. "They start as
friendships, as kind of a buddy. The person is drawn to you because of your
honesty and openness."
Over the course of his career, Harley explains that thousands of people have
come to him who have developed this kind of relationship at the office and had
it turn into an affair.
"This is one of the reasons why I caution everyone from developing an office
spouse relationship," Harley tells WebMD.
Vault's 2006 office romance survey also suggests reason to worry: 50% of
respondents had known a married co-worker who engaged in an affair with someone
else at the office.
"I'm not opposed to males and females working together," says Harley. "But
it's a thin line between an office spouse and an affair."
Office Spouse Rules Â Â
If you have an office spouse, staying on the right side of the line is a
must, for both your marriage and your career. Here are the rules of
- "Don't share personal information at work, especially information about
your marriage," says Harley. "If someone else starts to share their information
with you, let them know you are not interested. It's very hard to do, but don't
let it get personal. If someone does share personal information with you, tell
your spouse about it so you're not creating your own world at work that your
spouse isn't aware of."
- If you do get personal, be careful how you categorize your marriage. "If
you are not getting along with your husband, and there is someone at the office
who does care for you, and you tell them that, then you're off and running,"
says Harley. "If you say, 'I am crazy about my husband and we love each other
so much,' the other person is less likely to invest time or emotion into the
- "Don't be alone with a person of the opposite sex separate from your job,"
says Harley. "For example, don't carpool one-on-one, don't engage in
recreational activities after work, or if you have to travel for work with one
person, bring your spouse. Romantic relationships develop out of recreational
activities and intimate conversations -- those are the two major hooks."
- "Don't drink with your office spouse," says Jenn Berman, PhD, a
psychologist in Beverly Hills, Calif., who specializes in marriages and
families. "There's a strict no alcohol rule with the office spouse, because
when you drink the lines get blurred."
- "Introduce your real spouse to your office spouse," Berman tells WebMD. "Go
out to dinner with your office spouse and his or her significant other, and
yours. Make your real spouse included in the relationship so it doesn't feel
- "Avoid constantly talking about your office spouse at home," says Berman.
"Your real spouse should know about your office spouse, but don't overdo
According to the Vault.com news release about its romance survey, one survey
respondent said, "If I talk about my 'work husband' too much and in a
somewhat too positive light, my real husband starts to get suspicious and a
little jealous; mind you, nothing is going on, we probably have 'mini-crushes'
on each other, but no more."