Do you have a “work spouse”?

Categories: Career, Hacking Life, The Juggle


My husband has several wives. Me, of course. But he also has a wife who is his dietitian for the medical study he’s involved in, and another who sits just a few feet away from him at the office — his work wives.

There’s no flirting involved; his dietitian is engaged, and his work wife has been happily married years, with kids who are grown and out on their own. And though my husband and I work for the same company (and have since long before we were married), at the office, for the most part, we are married to each other but I am not his work spouse.

When it comes to work, we tend to operate independently — and his having a work wife makes that a lot easier in many ways. For instance: Right now, our company is going through what one might call “a rough time,” and my husband and I have been communicating like crazy with coworkers — and sometimes with each other — via Facebook. Which means that for late-night work-related discussions, he and I are often in the same room, on separate computers, posting nearly simultaneously, from separate accounts, on the same site. It’s funny to describe, but it doesn’t faze us — or anyone we work with — because we’re not really thought of as a unit in the office. defines a work spouse as “a co-worker of the opposite sex with whom you have a close platonic relationship” (If you’re wondering whether you’ve got a work spouse, you can ask yourself these seven questions). Their post points out that the relationship can mirror a real-life marriage in many ways, and that’s the danger for many people, I suppose; there’s a line that you can’t cross with your work spouse, lest the relationship change from one of emotional support to one of emotional dependency. And the work-spouse relationship has been blamed for plenty of real-life spousal distress.

But there are more positives than negatives to the work-spouse scenario, in my book. For one, your work spouse can understand things your regular spouse might not be able to — at least, not without an awful lot of back story, at which point your gripe with the coworker who leaves the mini-fridge open all the time seems silly or, more likely, just not worth the effort to explain. And if you’re able to vent the small stuff easily, you’re better able to focus on the things that are really important — like your real-life relationship — at home.

What do you think about the work-spouse relationship? Is it a good thing? A necessary evil? Totally inappropriate?

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3 comments so far...

  • Well, this can go either way. If it’s based on mutual respect and esteem, I feel it’s more likely to be healthy, because if you really care about someone, you’re not going to do something that would screw up his marriage / career. You just aren’t going to go there. I’ve had a great work relationship like that, and yes, we were very close, but not in the wrong way. I’ve had another work relationship (when I was younger and less wise) that started out great, but ended with him “trying something.” And when I say “ended,” that’s exactly what I mean - everything that was “good” about the relationship was abruptly gone.

    Although I’m sure we can all think of a list of “do’s and don’ts” to prevent this problem, the fact is that we can’t control the other half of the relationship. So I guess if I have any wisdom, it would be to always keep the doors open and act like there is a video camera and a microphone everywhere you go. Hold each other up, but not at anyone else’s expense.

    SKL  |  June 8th, 2009 at 2:02 am

  • It’s funny - I hadn’t even heard this term prior to one of our higher ups calling last week and asking where my “Work Husband” was. And now this! But yes. I have a Work Husband. He’s my boss, I’m his Deputy. We share the leadership equally and apparently, argue like an old married couple constantly.

    He and his wife are also Amelie’s Godparents.

    You see, there was a time when we first started here on this contract when it was just the two of us - and we built our shop from the ground up. It’s fairly common knowledge that he’s the figure head…but in the end, we’re more on an equal basis than boss/subordinate relationship.

    It works just fine. My real husband adores him, and he my husband. Like any platonic friendship, having a work spouse is simply a matter of understanding boundaries. I think those that are most prone to crossing the lines from work relationships into actual, intimate relationships are those who would do so anyway and have more going on in their personal lives to begin with. Conveniently, someone they’re already close to is right there with them every day, at work. But those in mature and strong personal relationships do just fine with work spouses. They know where to draw the lines.

    Interestingly, although I adore my Work Husband and would do just about anything (work related) for him, I am not in the least attracted to him. As friendships go, we have little in common outside of work - but we love the larger integration of both of our family units (his grandson and my daughter are great playmates) and this sort of closeness makes us more effective - and formiddable - at work.

    Phe  |  June 8th, 2009 at 7:24 am

  • I definitely have one. He is my boss and believe me, there is not even close to anythnig romantic between us. He is much older and more like a dad/uncle if anything. However, anything that he is going on with him affects me greatly as well. Right now, his elderly mother is very sick and his father has gone off the deep end because of it. So, all of his stress comes down on me. I have had to do more in the office and help him find live in help, etc. Anything that happens to him, affects me. I really don’t like having an extra.”spouse”! It’s way too many people depending on me for too many things!

    Oceans Mom  |  June 11th, 2009 at 12:02 pm