Courtesy of Slumber Party Studio
Valentine’s Day is this week, and love is in the air—even at the office, although not in the way you might be thinking.
About 65 percent of Americans report having had a work spouse at one time or another, according to the Captivate Network Office Pulse Work Spouse Survey.
So what’s a “work spouse,” and do you have one? Specifically, a work spouse is a co-worker with whom you have a special relationship in which you share confidences, loyalties and trust but remain platonic.
Having a workplace spouse has its perks. Some studies suggest that having a work spouse enhances productivity and job satisfaction. On the other hand, it can be incredibly distracting, become the subject of water-cooler speculation and, most importantly, create unnecessary feelings of neglect or mistrust in your actual relationship.
To some extent, office “marriages” are understandable. It’s only natural for people who work together in close quarters for hours to form unique bonds with each another.
“We all do need to connect,” says Walt Ciecko, Ph.D., of the Delaware Relationship Center in Wilmington. “Connection is what we all want, so it’s the normal process.”
What makes office marriages so attractive is that they offer camaraderie without the day-to-day stress of an actual relationship. “We’re showing our best sides at the office,” says Kelly Cunningham, LPCMH, of Associates in Health Psychology in North Wilmington. “We’re not fighting over who’s going to take out the trash or who’s taking care of the kids, so it can create an illusion that this person really understands and is there for me.”
And here’s the ugly truth: If you feel your work spouse knows you inside and out, cares for you and makes you laugh, you may be depriving your actual significant other the opportunity to satisfy your needs.
“Most committed partners expect that important stuff gets shared between the two of them, and that less important stuff gets shared with other people,” says Ciecko. “If it starts heading in the other direction, you have to ask yourself if you’re exiting the relationship and giving more time and energy to this other person.”
Experts maintain that the best office marriages, as you would expect, are the ones in which the parties have established clear boundaries so that the relationship never becomes too close for comfort.
Transparency is important as well. “Be really honest with your committed spouse about what’s going on at the office, about who you feel safe with and who you’re a little unsure of,” says Cunningham. “The lines of communication with your trusted spouse, that’s where the energy should be.”
Diversifying your alliances can also help. Being too cozy with one colleague cannot only cause issues at home, it can hinder your ability to climb the corporate ladder as well. “Have alliances with both men and women in different areas of the organization so that you’re getting the feedback that helps you with your overall career,” says Cunningham. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
So how should you greet your work spouse on Valentine’s Day? “I think what they should do is tell their work spouse that they hope they’re having a nice Valentine’s Day—and hopefully, if they’re in a committed relationship, that they’re doing something nice with their partner,” says Ciecko.