Are you hip to the terms: work-wife, work-husband, work-boyfriend, or work-girlfriend? Well brace yourself… having a Work Spouse is becoming quite the norm in the workplace. Some consider it an innocent term used to identify a coworker of the opposite sex whom shares great workplace synergy.  Most work spouses are developed based on a number of factors including: how well you work with an individual in the workplace, personality traits, or just plain chemical attraction (i.e. if you mesh well together). Work spouses do everything from collaborate on projects to picking up medicine if their “spouse” becomes sick on the job. A work spouse is considered a non-sexual relationship shared by co-workers of the opposite sex. There are many relationship similarities in having a work spouse. The prime example is choosing your work spouse. Much like courting in a real relationship work spouses are selected and exclusive to only one partner (one work spouse at a time).  It’s a mutually agreed relationship.

Wikipedia takes it a step further and characterizes a work spouse relationship as “A potentially key relationship when one’s actual spouse or boy/girlfriend is not able to be there.”

This is where things get a little sketchy… “when one’s actual spouse or boy/girlfriend is not able to be there.” So basically a work spouse is a placeholder for a husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend in the workplace. The notion of having someone else of the opposite sex to rely on and hold accountable for relationship duties in addition to work related duties brings to the surface a form of emotional cheating.

As almost any woman will attest…emotional cheating can be more painful than physical cheating. Emotional cheating requires matters of the heart, emotions, time, and energy. Whereas physical cheating can be a matter of just physical sexual energy.  Emotional cheating can also be more difficult to identify and stop since it’s a matter of personal definition. Emotional cheating can be as small as a man giving roses to multiple women on Valentines Day; to a woman always offering a shoulder to lean on to a lonely bachelor. These are small things anyone can do to show love to someone of the opposite sex. Larger forms of emotionally cheating can range from a man in a relationship going over and beyond to be a provider for another woman (changing her car tires, loaning her money, etc) to a woman in a relationship going over and beyond to be a nurturer for a man (offering lofty warm hugs, being a shoulder to cry on, etc)

When in an exclusive relationship certain universal relationship holidays (Valentines Day) and gestures like flowers just because are especially reserved for individuals in a relationship. Flowers just because, spa gift packages, home cooked lunch meals, and confidential conversations—all sound like things typically reserved for that special person in your life. However, these sentiments are now shared by co-workers who want to congratulate their work spouse on a work accomplishment by sending flowers just because, or giving a mini spa retreat for a tough day at work, or even scheduling which days lunch will be provided by his/her work spouse.

“How do affairs start?” Williard F. Harley Jr. PhD, president of Marriage Builders asks. “They start as friendships.” Assuming we’re all familiar with the power of words, the mere title of work wife or work husband is powerful in that along with the title comes responsibility and accountability and most harmful– emotional availability.

The work spouse title is comfortably thrown around in the workplace and is becoming the new norm for individuals of the opposite sex who have great workplace synergy. I’m hoping the whole idea of work spouses diminishes or at least stops there— in the workplace. What’s next “Gym Spouses”,  “Vacation Spouses”!?

Would You Accept Your Mate Having A Work Spouse?

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