Most office and coworker relationships start off gradually and innocently, i.e., complaints about supervisors or management, sharing jokes, supporting your co-worker through a difficult day at work, giving or soliciting advice, talking about children and family, grabbing a bite to eat, etc.
However, some work relationships extend beyond the office or the company, drifting to personal and inappropriate area like dinners out, social engagements (outside of work), the home, or even a hotel/motel. The term “work spouse” is a term used to describe a relationship between two people who work closely together, often resembling a marital relationship.
Working relationships typically begin hesitantly, cautiously, avoiding or discouraging personal topics and disclosure. However, if boundaries are too flexible or nonexistent they can subtly evolve into emotional affairs by becoming entrenched as the coworkers attempt to meet each others basic needs.
It is quite natural to want to develop relationships with others at work, as this is typically where one spends most of his or her time. Having a best friend at the office to confide in can be a positive, often necessary part of work. Like most things in life, work can be extremely challenging, demanding, stressful, and sometimes thankless. Often stressors associated with work can be a significant motivating factor for coworkers to meet and connect with others who can understand the unique stressors of the job and company environment.
Relationships become questionable or issues begin to arise when coworkers begin to share personal information, are selective with the information they share with their spouses, while freely disclosing the information to a coworker, avoid or hide their relationship with a coworker, or discusses issues/problems within their marriage to the coworker. Unfortunately, some men and women may view “affairs” differently, hence some people may view affairs as a physical act, while others will view an affair as both physical or emotional sharing with another person outside of the marriage or committed relationship.
Work spouse relationships can become increasingly dangerous if coworkers are attracted to each other or develop an attraction to each other. “Work spouses” can accidentally fall into infatuation. Surprisingly, falling into infatuation or lust happens quite often at work. People underestimate the power of infatuation and think they can handle temptation much better than they can. Simply “knowing” that having a romantic relationship with your coworker is wrong is not enough. Committed partners must keep their home, personal, and marital life separate in an effort not to avoid blurring boundaries.
Relationships that begin at work often subtly evolve into emotional affairs by workers meeting the basic human needs of their coworker. While most work relationships usually occur in the following cycle; introduction, respect, rapport, working partnership, and sometimes friendship. Relationships that have crossed boundaries will go beyond friendship to affection, admiration, attraction, inappropriate disclosure, inappropriate closeness, lust or infatuation, and sometimes sex. Once boundaries have become too loose or non-existent, you have crossed the line into very dangerous territory that can have negative consequences for your spouse, marriage, family, and emotional well-being.
Signs Your Work Relationship Has Crossed the Line Include:
· You meet after work for social rather than vocational reasons
· Conversations have moved beyond the topics of work to more personal discussions
· You talk to your co-worker about things you would not or have not discussed with your spouse or partner
· You have disclosed personal information about your spouse
· You make disparaging or insulting remarks about your spouse
· You begin to have lustful thoughts about your coworker
· You start making comparisons between your spouse or partner and your coworker
· You find reasons to constantly be in the company of – or find reasons to touch – your coworker
· You refuse or try to prevent your coworker and spouse from meeting
· You confide in your coworker more than anyone else at your office about work issues
· You delay going home or feign a work emergency just so you can spend more time with your coworker
· You make personal statements or compliments about your coworker’s physicality
· You seek emotional support from your coworker rather than your spouse or partner
· You refer to your coworker as your work husband or work wife
Helpful Tips to Keep Your Working Relationship Professional:
· Stay on topics that focus on work or are otherwise non-personal
· Be transparent with your spouse or partner about your relationship with your coworker
· Provide and insist on clear and defined boundaries in your working relationship
· Don’t say anything to your coworker you wouldn’t say to your spouse or wouldn’t want your spouse or significant other to know
· Keep all physical contact professional, i.e., handshake or pat on the back instead of hugs or shoulder massages
· Avoid disclosing embarrassing or personal information about your spouse, children, and your life in general
· Do not hide or prevent your coworker and spouse from meeting
Although, no one enters a committed relationship or marriage with the intention of cheating on his or her partner, we often spend most of our time at work, away from our partner or spouse, with our coworkers. In most cases, we spend between 40 and 80 hours a week at work, making it easier to gain a lot of information about our coworkers, and develop relationships.
People who work closely together often develop their own “language,” have “inside jokes,” understand the specific stressors of that job, know the internal bureaucracy, etc. Therefore, maintaining both appropriate and healthy boundaries can present as challenges once we start to inappropriately disclose more and more of ourselves to people other than our partners.
Relationships work best when there is openness, honesty, and transparency. Therefore, it is important to avoid inviting others into your romantic relationships. It should be noted that worker relationships can often suffer once boundaries have been blurred. It is very difficult to regain a healthy work relationship once coworkers have crossed the line. Blurring the boundaries at work can lead to additional stress, discomfort, and disdain from having to go to work.