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          How to Keep Boundaries with a “Work Spouse”

          February 28, 2011

          “The work spouse” is a popular term cropping up to define a platonic relationship with a co-worker. This type of relationship is on the rise, as American’s work longer hours in close quarters with the opposite sex. In many ways, these relationships can mirror a real marriage. According to, out of 693 people surveyed in a variety of industries, 32 percent say they have, or have had, a work spouse. Should you commit? What you should know before you say “I do” at work.  

          These relationships start out due to proximity, but oftentimes they continue for a variety of reasons, from providing an emotional support system during challenging times, to bouncing off work ideas, getting advice, releasing work-related stress, sharing inside jokes and understanding frustrations with a boss or internal politics. Research even shows that employees will devote more to their work, and go the extra mile, if they have close ties on the job. Work spouses will also complement one other in skill and ability in the workplace, making a successful and productive team. Although these relationships aren’t intimate, there is an intimacy, and a thin line, that when crossed, can go from friendship to adultery.  

          “How do affairs start?” Williard F. Harley Jr. PhD, president of Marriage Builders asks. “They start as friendships.”

          So, is it worth it? And, how do you avoid crossing that line from friends to the unforgivable? Like anything, there has to be rules:

          • A healthy work spouse situation is between people who would never let their friendship venture in to an inappropriate space, and understand that fine line.
          • Don’t share personal information about yourself at work, especially private details of your marriage. If someone does share personal information with you, tell your spouse so you don’t create a secret world your spouse is not aware of.
          • Be upfront and honest about the closeness and bond of your real-life relationship.
          • Don’t be alone with a person of the opposite sex separate from your job. Romantic relationships come out of recreational activities and intimate conversations.
          • Don’t drink with your work spouse. When you drink, boundaries get blurred.
          • Introduce your real spouse to your office spouse, so it isn’t exclusive.
          • Avoid constantly talking about your office spouse at home. Don’t overdo it.
          • Aim to keep the mood light and happy with your work spouse so that drama from home doesn’t bleed in to what should be a professional relationship.
          • Keep the lines of communication open between other co-workers and your real-life spouse so that your work spouse relationship is not interpreted as a clique, or exclusive.

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