Most people have a BFF at work. You know, the one you share inside jokes with, gossip with and even give a heads-up on the boss’s mood. Without quite realizing it, you become very close and spend your entire day together, gossiping. You feel like you’ve found your soulmate at work. The soulmate could well be your work wife or husband.
The term first appeared far back in 1930 in Faith Baldwin’s book ‘The Office Wife’ and is now a common norm used in almost every workplace. A relationship with a work spouse mimics all the components of a marriage, except for a romantic or sexual connection. Well, the BBC puts it right, “The best fake marriages are the 9-5 kind.”
As long as you set the right work wife boundaries, this platonic connection can make dreary days at the workplace more bearable. However, it is when the lines begin to get blurred that trouble may take hold. In such situations, a work spouse can intrude into other aspects of your life. If you already are married or in a committed relationship, this can spell trouble in paradise.
Even otherwise, getting too deeply involved with your work wife or work spouse can be bad news because you may find that the dynamics of your relationship outside the workplace are not sustainable for the long haul, and your bond can take an irreparable hit. If you have that someone special in your life who qualifies as your work spouse, it’s important to consciously make sure that you’re not breaching the boundaries of your relationship.
Who Is A Work Wife?
Some people are married to work and then some people have work wives. A work spouse is an American term used to refer to a coworker with whom you share a special bond, akin to the relationship between a husband and wife. The work wife meaning is best summed up in this definition – “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.”
As is clear from the work wife meaning, this person isn’t your actual wife obviously but a close colleague with whom you share a strong friendship. If there’s a work-related activity, you bet you’re gonna do it with your work wife. But the relationship that you share is purely platonic – it is strictly non-sexual and non-romantic.
However, when you work so closely with someone and spend a better part of your time with them, day in and day out, this equation may get complicated. Work spouse attraction isn’t uncommon but it can certainly spell trouble not just for your relationship with them but also for other aspects of your life.
For instance, what happens when the “I think I’m in love with my work spouse” realization hits home and your workplace has a strict policy forbidding romantic relationships at the workplace? Or you’re oscillating between “I love my work wife” and “I love my real wife”.
To steer clear from such pitfalls, it’s important to set the right work wife boundaries. For that, you must first acknowledge that you do, in fact, have a work spouse, and that person could take over your life if you don’t handle the relationship well.
Signs You Have A Work Spouse
Having a work wife can make you happier and more productive at your workplace. Your morale goes up and it reflects in your performance. Many people already have work spouses without even realizing it. If you share an exclusive bond with someone in the workplace then you’ve already got your match! Look at these signs to know that you had a work wife all this time:
- You have lunch with her every day: You never sit alone and have your lunch. Your work wife is there to accompany you every day. You don’t even need to save a seat for them or vice-versa because the entire office knows that you two eat your meals together, so other colleagues invite you to sit at their table or join you at yours
- You have your fair share of inside jokes: Cracking jokes only your work wife can understand is a vibe. Sometimes just a smirk is enough for her to get the joke. You know you have a work spouse when you can convey and understand each other’s messages with just a look or nod from your respective cubicles
- She is always there to support you: When you are buried under a load of work, she is there for emotional and mental support. You can always count on her to make your day better. Getting through even a single day at the office without your spork spouse by your side feels like a drag
- You leave each other gifts on the desk: You both like leaving small surprises on each other’s desks. These surprises and gifts always hit the nail on the head because you know each other like the back of your hands
- She knows everything: Be it your birthday or your marriage anniversary, she knows it all. You might even forget these days but she doesn’t and might even remind you. Not just important occasions and events, she even knows and remembers the tiniest details about you – just how you like your coffee, how many blue shirts you own, the drawer you keep your secret stash of smokes in and so on
A work spouse connection can feel like a great support system. However, all marriages have their downsides, even the 9-5 ones. Is your work marriage crumbling down too? Have you and your work wife crossed professional boundaries and worked into your personal life? Do you have a work wife with benefits? After all, the lines between innocent friendship and sexual spark can blur quickly. Then, it may be time to reassess your equation and set some clear work wife boundaries.
Related Reading: 12 Ways Office Affairs Can Spell Trouble For You
13 Signs Your Work Wife Is Taking Over Your Life
You may become very dependent on your work spouse and not be able to imagine an environment without them. It grows to the extent that you feel like you cannot function in the absence of your work spouse. You may not even switch your job for the fear of losing your work wife and let better opportunities go by.
An emotional affair surfaces in your life and you wonder if it counts as cheating. You may be accused of not giving enough attention to your own family, and things may get complicated. “I love my work wife. She gets me in ways that my girlfriend just doesn’t. But I don’t know whether she feels the same way about me and I don’t want to jeopardize what I have with her,” Marwin confided in a friend, without divulging any details about who this work spouse was.
His friend then drew Marwin’s attention to the fact that his work wife was taking over his life and this complicated equation may cost him dearly. Like Marwin, are you too dealing with work spouse attraction and struggling to maintain the boundaries of this special relationship? Pay attention to these red flags to find the answer:
1. Your productivity takes a downward curve
While it is said that having a working wife increases productivity, it can impact it adversely too, especially if you develop feelings for your work spouse. You tend to lose interest in your work and your motive for going to work slowly becomes spending time and gossiping with your work wife. Your boss begins to frown whenever you leave the desk even for a cup of coffee.
One of the biggest signs of work spouse attraction is that being with them becomes the key highlight of your time at work. Seeing your work wife becomes the only motivation for showing up to work every day. If these feelings are not reciprocated or either of you is already in a committed relationship, things can spiral out of control pretty quickly.
2. It gets personal with the work wife
When you get too close to your work wife, your personal and professional boundaries start blurring without you even realizing it. You share your deepest secrets with her thinking that she is your confidant and your relationship with her turns personal. She starts doing the same and before you know it, you’re no longer just colleagues.
This kind of intimacy can lead to a strong attraction on both sides, and you may even end up in a work wife with benefits situation. Joe and Amanda, for instance, ended up having a night of raunchy, mind-blowing sex after meeting outside the office for drinks.
Since the expectations were not clearly defined, their equation quickly became muddled after that. Joe couldn’t shake off the “I love my work wife” feeling whereas Amanda just wasn’t ready for a full-blown relationship.
Related Reading: The 9 Do’s And Don’ts Of Dating A Co-Worker
3. She drags you down with her
When two colleagues have the same level of intellect, they mutually help each other to perform better in work. But if your work wife is the exact opposite of employee of the month, she also drags you down with her. Her influence on your life might turn you into an average performer like her.
This is especially true in case you’re stuck in an “in love with my work spouse” phase or your work wife is attracted to you, as you may be prepared to do anything to win her over – be it blowing off work to spend more time with her or picking up the slack for her at the cost of your own professional responsibilities.
4. You have closed yourself to other relationships
You’re so involved with your work wife that the only relationship that you have at work is with her. You have left no room to develop friendly relations with other colleagues, thus hampering your work relations. They don’t see you as their friend and when you ask them for favors, they will be reluctant to oblige.
A work spouse connection, if not handled correctly, can take up a lot of your headspace and time, not leaving any scope for networking with other coworkers. In many professions, this can prove to be an impediment to your career growth.
5. Calls don’t stay in the office
Your relationship with your work wife doesn’t stay limited to the doors of your office after a point. Both of you start having personal conversations that are far from just office goss. By continuing your relationship with her beyond your workplace, you both have crossed the boundary of only being work friends.
Soon, you will start hanging out at off hours, if you haven’t already. This is a clear sign of work spouse attraction that can soon snowball into a full-blown relationship, or worse an office affair if one of you is already committed. Ask yourself, “Am I ready to take things to the next level with my work spouse?” If not, it’s time to set some clear work wife boundaries.
6. One of you starts catching feelings
If you don’t set ground rules and work within your boundaries, a time will come when emotions will take over and one of you will develop feelings for the other. When work relationships take a romantic and emotional turn, things get over complicated. This is when you should look for an exit from your work wife.
Susan met Priya at her husband’s office party and found their closeness and intimacy extremely unsettling. “They were finishing each other’s sentences, laughing at inside jokes. Priya was even acting all territorial with my husband. Seeing your husband’s coworker flirt with him so unabashedly is naturally a bitter pill to swallow. Despite being his wife, I felt like the outsider in the equation. It became clear to me that day that my husband has a work wife and she has feelings for him.
“Even though my husband brushed off my concerns at the moment, it wasn’t long before their connection graduated into a passionate affair. His work wife with benefits equation cost me my marriage.”
7. You don’t have a life of your own
By merging your work life with your personal life, you don’t actually have a separate life of your own. You’re constantly juggling between work, home and the responsibilities that come with both. If you’re constantly distracted at work, one day you can find yourself buried in so much backlog that you may not have time to do anything else.
You feel stuck with your work everywhere. It’s as if having to make one marriage work wasn’t enough, now you have to deal with working things out with your work wife too.
8. You prefer spending time with her instead of anyone else
You find yourself picking your work wife over your own family and friends more and more often. If given a choice between having fun with your friend, dinner with your wife and kids, and watching a movie with your work wife, you would pick the latter. You do this because you consider her company a refreshing change from the usual goings-on of life but trust us this feeling might not last forever.
The fact that your work spouse takes precedence over much else in your life also indicates that your relationship is no longer platonic. There is no point in hushing up the “I love my work wife” voice in your head because you know as well as we do that those feelings have taken hold. What you need to do instead is take a step back and assess how you want to handle this relationship going forward.
9. Office becomes a battleground when she loses it
Your professional life no longer comprises just work. You also have to deal with your work wife, especially if you are facing issues. No relationship is smooth sailing and you’re bound to face some issues with your work wife too. Since you share a personal relationship with her, you have to make up to her in case things turn south or vice versa.
You cannot concentrate on your work because you must also give attention to her. In case you are the one who’s sour, you can’t help but demand attention from her either. You can no longer forget your personal problems at home because you have them at work as well.
10. You don’t have anyone else to go to
Your life suddenly revolves around your work wife. You have lost contact with your friends because of your newly found best friend. Most of your activities revolve around her, from grabbing lunch together to watching a movie. You think that she is the solution to everything but in reality, you have unintentionally blocked out your other friends.
Just take a moment to think about what would happen if your work spouse switches jobs or moves on emotionally after finding a more meaningful connection with someone else. How isolated and alone you’d feel then. So, set and adhere to work wife boundaries, so that she doesn’t become the be-all-and-end-all of your life.
11. Your actual partner feels threatened
Your actual partner feels threatened because of your close relationship with your work wife. She might get suspicious of your relationship with your work wife and jealousy and insecurity can creep into your relationship.
Well, you can’t blame her! “My husband has a work wife” or “My boyfriend is closer to his work spouse” are not happy realizations. If your work spouse becomes so important that your primary relationship suffers on that account, it’s bound to create issues. Unless you take proactive measures to check this tendency, your work spouse connection may well take a toll on your relationship with your wife or girlfriend.
12. You start taking credit for each other’s work
Do you ask each other to help you with big projects? You agree to help and before you know it, you’re doing it all. You want to help each other but on the other hand, it still seems to sting when only one of you gets credit for all that work. When this happens, the person who does the work without being credited for it begins to feel like they’re being handed the short end of the stick.
That’s when your relationship with your work spouse can become muddled and strained. This is why boundaries are important while maintaining work relationships. It may not feel like a competition but it can turn out to be one.
13. She starts acting like a real wife, and you like a husband
Once you start sharing every detail, the nature of your relationship begins to change. You will start asking her opinion on everything. From the clothes you pick for work outings to what time you want to get off work. She does the same. Before you know it, you both will be influencing each other’s decisions outside of work as well. You’re behaving like actual spouses and you don’t know how to make it stop.
Having a working wife, though quite rewarding, can have a flip side too. It is very important to set ground rules and adhere to them so that your relationship stays within the boundaries of professionalism. If your work wife is taking over your life without even leaving room for other relationships to evolve, it is time to break it off. Be careful who you get close to at work because it can hamper the overall atmosphere of your workplace. Remember that you come here to make a career and know what is at stake!