**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a former client, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
“Janice” had been married for nine years when she discovered her husband “John” was having an affair with “Helen” a woman at his office.
“We were happy before they started working together,” she said. “Things were good.”
John’s relationship with Helen seemed innocent at first. “They were associates, so of course, they spent a lot of time together,” Janice said. “And I liked her; she was nice.”
As time went on, the workmates began confiding in each other about their personal lives, and John playfully referred to Helen as his “work wife.”
“That didn’t bother me at first,” Janice said. “But then I started to feel like he was more involved with her than was necessary.”
Janice eventually confronted John about his relationship with Helen. He denied having feelings for her and insisted they were just friends.
But Janice wasn’t convinced.
“He withdrew emotionally after that,” she said. “He was distant and would change the subject whenever I asked about her.”
When the truth finally came out, John confessed to being romantically involved with Helen for the better of two years. Janice was devastated and felt betrayed by both her husband and Helen.
“It was embarrassing because everyone in the office knew about it,” she said. “I felt like a fool, and my confidence was shattered.”
John apologized and went to great lengths to reconcile with Janice. “We went to couples therapy for months,” Janice recalled. “He said he wanted to make things work, and I was willing to try because I loved him.”
“He even got a job at a different firm to put distance between them,” Janice added. “But I guess he couldn’t stay away.”
She later found out that John remained close with his former “work wife” after the split — they continued to meet for lunch, and the pair exchanged emails regularly.
Janice eventually filed for divorce, citing “irreconcilable differences.”
“I couldn’t trust him anymore,” she said. “Maybe he wanted us both… I don’t know.”
Janice’s story raises important questions about what constitutes an appropriate relationship between coworkers and why people are drawn to such relationships in the first place.
The Benefits of Having a Work Spouse
“Employee satisfaction increases nearly 50% when a worker develops a close relationship on the job. These relationships make work more enjoyable and impact employees’ commitment to their jobs and coworkers.” — Kristin Ryba, Quantum Workplace
We all crave a sense of affiliation and companionship, which is why nurturing relationships is essential to our physical and mental health. Relationships help us adjust better in life and boost overall well-being. A lack of human connections can adversely impact our bodies, minds, and spirits — ultimately affecting all aspects of living.
Studies show that personal connection in the workplace can enhance performance and productivity. Having a positive relational work environment can boost employee morale. It can also reduce workplace stress and lead to healthier behaviors and outcomes.
But there are risks associated with these kinds of close-knit bonds in the office. And even if your “work spouse” is an invaluable confidante, they are still colleagues.
The Risks Involved
“The intensity created in the work situation, then, can mirror the intensity we experience in sexual relationships. Such feelings of attachment and unity can be similar enough to cause confusion. Even if the conscious mind does not acknowledge the connection, often the subconscious will.” — Gregory L. Jantz Ph.D.
There is often a thin line between professional and personal relationships. Workers must understand the implications of crossing this line and tread carefully when forming close relationships with their colleagues.
Those in a “work wife” or “work husband” situation should understand the potential consequences. Becoming emotionally attached to a work spouse may lead to disastrous consequences for employees and their spouses or partners.
In addition to causing enormous emotional distress for all parties, this type of relationship breach can also damage workplace dynamics if left unchecked or poorly managed.
The consequences of breaching appropriate boundaries in the workplace can be severe, ranging from accusations of harassment to even termination. It’s essential to be cognizant and rectify any transgressions promptly to prevent similar occurrences in future work relationships.
Boundaries and Appropriate Behavior
“Of the average person’s waking hours, a large majority of the time may be spent working or at the office. When you combine this extended time together with the intensity and partnering caused by work-related tasks, it’s no wonder that the workplace breeds romance. Therefore, as co-workers co-mingle, it is up to each individual to set their own set of boundaries.” — Gregory L. Jantz Ph.D.
While having a supportive colleague at work can bring numerous professional and social benefits, professional boundaries are crucial.
Even minor boundary violations can cause big problems.
Maintaining and reestablishing appropriate boundaries takes a lot of self-discipline and awareness. Workers must be mindful of their interactions with colleagues and be aware of any behavior that could be misinterpreted as inappropriate.
The key is to respect each other’s boundaries, regardless of how close the relationship is or has become.
Mixing business and pleasure is a slippery slope. It is important to remember that even seemingly innocent workplace relationships can quickly become complicated.
Setting and maintaining boundaries with your coworkers is key to avoiding potential risks. If you or your spouse slip into a “work wife” or “work husband” situation, ensure that the relationship remains firmly rooted within professional boundaries.
Have you ever had a “work spouse”? What was the experience like? How did you ensure that lines weren't crossed? Let us know in the comments.
Comments / 92