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Phoenix Forward magazine

How to determine if you have a work spouse

Work spouse

People all over the country have multiple husbands and wives. Not in the polygamy sense, but in the Regis and Kathy Lee sense: you know, work spouses.

Chances are you’ve developed personal relationships at work with a few co-workers, but you may have one who stands out as closer than the rest. In fact, about 65 percent of office professionals claim to have a work spouse.

“You may have one and not even recognize it,” says Annie Fongheiser, a psychology program instructor at University of Phoenix and a clinical director for a mental health treatment facility.

This type of relationship, whether it’s with someone of the same or opposite sex, can actually be beneficial. Fongheiser says, “People who have a close friend at work are more motivated and happier at their jobs.” She adds that productivity increases, and people are less likely to leave their jobs. A work spouse also provides a support system at the office and acts as a confidant during times of stress.

But work spouses can become problematic: There’s the possibility of other co-workers forming negative opinions or starting rumors. Sometimes work-spouse relationships deteriorate, and the results can be as bad as a breakup. There’s also the risk that such a relationship may turn into an affair.

In addition, “feelings can get hurt if either one has fantasies of developing the relationship further,” Fongheiser explains. And for people in relationships, it could make for problems at home due to jealousy.

To keep your work-spouse relationship a positive thing in the workplace, Fongheiser offers some advice:


Be sure to set boundaries.

“Make sure you set boundaries with your work spouse,” she says. That may mean having a conversation to agree on the limits. Fongheiser recommends “keeping work at work” by avoiding after-hours contact, including texts, email and calls.


Choose a work spouse who is at your level.

A work spouse should always be a peer and not a supervisor or a subordinate, Fongheiser explains.


Keep your significant other in the loop.

“If you’re in a committed relationship with someone, you should let your work spouse know and vice versa,” she says.


Don’t overshare.

Although it may be difficult, especially with someone you feel connected to, try to limit sharing really personal information, and leaving those details for the relationships you have with friends and family members, Fongheiser encourages.

Signs you may have a work spouse:

•   Spending more time with one co-worker
      than with others
•   Going to lunch just the two of you
•   Sharing inside jokes
•   Laughing too long at each other’s jokes

•   Being brutally honest about appearance
•   Removing lint from each other’s clothes
•   Disclosing information about health
     matters or other personal issues