11 ways to help figure out if you are in an inappropriate workplace relationship.
Historically, "work spouse" is a phrase, mostly in American English, referring to a co-worker, with whom one shares a special relationship, having bonds similar to those of a marriage. Early references suggest that a work spouse may not just be a co-worker, but can also be someone in a similar field who the individual works closely with from a partnering company.
A work spouse has been defined as “a special, platonic friendship with a work colleague characterized by a close emotional bond, high levels of disclosure and support, and mutual trust, honesty, loyalty, and respect”.
Are you in a stable, committed, long-term relationship, but admittedly have a “work spouse”? Having a “work wife” or “work husband” is a common thing in society today. But, what if sometimes your “work spouse” relationship makes you or your coworkers uncomfortable? Assuming there is zero physical flirtation to take into consideration, how do you know where the line is? Sometimes, even just an appearance of impropriety can damage your reputation at work and home.
Here are 11 things to ask yourself to decide whether you might be stepping over the bounds of an appropriate workplace relationship:
1. Your partner is no longer the first person you’re excited to tell things to, and you often assume you’ve already told them about “x.” In reality, you already told your “work wife” because of your close working relationship, and assume that you told your partner as well.
2. Rather than doing things to impress your partner, you do them to impress your “work spouse.” Example: you’re usually pretty frugal & don’t buy little indulgences often, but around your work wife, you want to show them you support what they support, so you buy girl scout cookies from a random girl scout, despite already having purchased some from the work wife’s kid. Or, you’re not someone who typically gives bums any spare change, but you find yourself doling out $10 at an onramp with your work wife in the car on the way to a job site.
3. The idea of losing your actual partner doesn’t bother you because you know your work partner will be there to support you and help you through it. They’ll also help you justify your actions in the primary relationship’s breakdown.
4. You find yourself wishing that your partner would be more like your work partner. Perhaps, you lose sight of the fact that your “work wife” can’t afford to lose her cool at work and show how she honestly feels, while your partner at home feels safe enough around you to show their real emotions.
5. You discuss inappropriate things with your work wife, such as your actual relationship. You also talk about things you should instead ask your partner about instead of the work wife.
6. Your work wife/husband is very flirtatious and often brings up sexual things in conversations where they have no place. Example: you’re a banker, and they talk about leaving their spouse, but only if the person they leave them for has a “very big weiner…etc.”
7. Your work wife is more “needy” and “vulnerable” than your partner, so you find yourself being compelled to cater to them and thinking they need you. This might cause you to start ignoring your actual partner’s needs because they seem so small in comparison to all that your work spouse requires.
8. You start expecting your partner at home to “read your mind” more often, such as assuming they’ll realize what you want them to do, even regarding topics that have never been approached. Have you lost sight of the fact that communication at work has to be direct, face-to-face, and clear, or the project will stall? While at home, it’s much more comfortable to assume things than confront them.
9. You justify your work partner’s actions and defend them at every opportunity, even when there is no attack on them by anyone.
10. Inside, you may realize you’re overly protective of your “work spouse,” but justify it by telling yourself it’s just your job and you can’t afford to damage your working relationship.
11. You feel like it is not “real cheating” because you would never physically cheat, or there’s a big age gap or any seemingly plausible, but actually entirely superficial excuse because if you’re emotionally closer to someone besides your partner, there is an issue.
If you agreed with one or two of the above statements, you’re probably in the clear. After all, you can only talk about work so much, and inquiring about other people’s lives is normal, natural, healthy, and contributes to a friendlier work environment. No one wants to work somewhere, where no one cares about their family life, or they feel like they can’t be themselves.
However, if you agreed with the majority or all of the 11 statements, you might want to:
Come clean with yourself.
Come clean with your partner before irreparable damage occurs, and
Have a talk with your “work spouse” to set more appropriate boundaries before either of you take it too far.
The last thing you want to do is damage the trust you have at home via an inappropriate work relationship or to damage your career through the appearance of an inappropriate relationship.
Good luck! And be honest with yourself!