Is it okay to have a work spouse?

One of those jokes that isn’t really a joke is when your partner claims you have a “work spouse.” These words are usually a dry jest while also a confession of jealousy, even if you don’t realize it.

Even in industries with a lopsided male/female ratio, most of us work with lots of people of the opposite sex. We develop relationships with all our coworkers to some degree; and some of us have the dumb luck of really hitting it off with someone. But what does it mean if that coworker is…well, the same sex as your romantic partner?

If that someone ends up being your workplace “partner in crime,” your go-to in times of need, and your ready ear for your least-professional rendition of “what they were saying in the lunchroom,” you might have a work spouse.

But work spouses are platonic. And if it’s platonic it’s okay, right?

No no, it’s about flirtation – it’s about the ungodly amount of time you spend together.

If you see that sour-puss face on your partner after your sixth work story of the night, it might come out that you talk about him too much. Your work spouse. But really, if your partner complains about how much time you spend with your “work other,” is that fair for him to say?

Think of it this way: if you spend 40 hours a week at work, that’s more time than most people spend with their families. If you’re one of those who works 50 to 60 hours, you’re simultaneously losing more time at home and getting even more weirdly close to coworkers. But what can you do?

If your partner’s complaint is about the time, talk it through so that everyone can calm down and be realistic. Okay, maybe you can stop inviting your work souse over for Sunday football. But outside of that, a work spouse isn’t a bad thing if s/he helps take the edge off the long days at the office. You still come home to your real spouse, after all!

“The hours are one thing, but do you have to talk about her so much?”

Perhaps it’s your partner who has the work spouse. Does your man have to talk about that other woman so many times in a day? Does he only tell work stories that have her in them? Or do ALL of his work stories have her in them?

The thing is, this concept of “work spouses” is pretty new. Why? Because men and women weren’t working in the same places before! At least, not in the same roles. If you feel like your partner is talking too much about his work spouse, ask yourself: how much do you talk about your own work? Is your man still doing his job and just liking it a little more? Without loving you any less?

If you trust your guy, it might be better to celebrate that he has this extra thing at work to make him happy.

If it’s really an issue, talk about it.

Okay, so you’ve thought about it and you know why it bothers you. You know now how MUCH it bothers you. What do you do?

• Talk about how you feel, and think up some boundaries that your partner could set that would make you feel more comfortable. See what you can think up together.

• Start with maintaining work and personal boundaries. Maybe those 40 hours a week with the work spouse are enough—try and keep your personal life hermetically personal.

• If you’re the one with the work spouse, make sure you’re really doing your job well. If your work marriage is affecting your performance (or you’re having too much fun), that could be a sign of muddy waters downriver.

Really though, is a work spouse more than a good friend at work? 

If the definition of “work spouse” is that platonic, I-see-you-every-day-and-we-get-along vibe, what’s the big deal? A pretty solid argument could be made that the fuss is over the language, nothing else. Just because we call someone a “work spouse” doesn’t mean anyone’s being replaced.

Maybe some of you have had that weird encounter where you go out with your sibling of the opposite sex, and strangers just see two people of a similar age and assume, “They must be a couple.” Yuck! It’s the same thing with a work spouse – just because you get along and help each other out, it’s only a social tick that assigned that “spousal” nickname and blew the thing up.

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The lessons learned about the much-debated work spouse are simple. Stay smart, and work hard! There’s nothing inherently wrong with having a work spouse, just brace yourself for the weirdness at home if you talk about him a little too much. Keep your eyes open and know when to shut your mouth. As long as you remember which spouse is which, the world is right.