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  • Writer's pictureDr. Tarra Bates-Duford

Work Husbands/Work Wives

In the last few years we have seen a huge surge in the work husband/work wife relationship. The term work husband/work wife is a term used to describe a relationship between two people at work that closely resembles the relationship of an actual marital relationship. The types of relationships often begin innocently enough, i.e., grabbing lunch together, supporting your co-worker through a difficult day at work, bringing in coffee, giving or soliciting advice, etc. Initially these relationships are strictly professional, abstaining from personal or suggestive topics, however, if barriers are not established they can subtly evolve into emotional affairs by becoming entrenched as the coworkers attempts to meet each other’s 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. With all things in life, work can be extremely challenging, stressful, and sometimes thankless so there is need to connect with someone that “understands” and relate to these stressors. Relationships become questionable or issues when coworkers begin to share personal information about themselves, are selective with the information they share with their spouses, freely disclosing the information to a coworker, avoids and or hides his or her relationship with the co-worker to their spouse, or discusses issues/problems within their marriage to the coworker. Men and women often view “affairs” very differently, hence men often view affairs as a physical act, women typically include both physical and emotional sharing with another person as an affair.

Work spouse relationships can become increasingly dangerous if coworkers are attracted to each other or develop and attraction to each other. “Work spouses” can accidentally fall into infatuation. It happens quite often at work. People underestimate the power of infatuation and think they can handle temptation much better than they actually can.” Simply “knowing” that having a romantic relationship with your coworker is wrong is not enough. Married must keep their home, personal, and marital life separate in an effort not to avoid blurring boundaries

Yvonne & Eddie

Yvonne and Eddie have two children and have been married for 8 years. Eddie was recently promoted to Program Director at a local homeless shelter and Yvonne is an administrative assistant at a dental office. Recently Eddie began confiding in one of his subordinates, Nicole, a supervisor at the shelter. Eddie began sharing with Nicole additional stressors he was experiencing in his new role, i.e., the level of accountability, demands, obligations, staffing issues, etc. Nicole quickly became a source of support for Eddie, she began to have lunch with Eddie, discussing desired outcome goals for the program, challenging clients, upcoming meetings, etc., however, their conversations began to become more personal and playful. The coworkers began to refer to themselves as work husband & work wife. This “playfulness” quickly led to more personal conversations, including but not limited to Eddie’s relationship with his wife Yvonne, issues with their kids, declining intimacy with Yvonne, and his attraction to Nicole. Nicole for her part began siding with Eddie in his complaints about Yvonne. Although, Nicole had never met Yvonne she felt obligated to believe and support Eddie. She began to negatively speak about Yvonne to other coworkers, viewing Eddie as a victim and hostage in his marriage. This inappropriate relationship not only continued but escalated as time progressed. The tension continued to mount as Yvonne and Nicole met for the first time at a company held Christmas party. Yvonne made the rounds introducing herself to new staff and greeting familiar faces when she stumbled upon Nicole. Nicole eyed Yvonne hostility and attempted to consume all of Eddie’s attention for the evening. Yvonne sensing that Nicole and Eddie were more than coworkers tried to speak with her husband when Nicole intervened. Yvonne and Nicole began to argue loudly, while Eddie stood quiet and motionless throughout the exchange. Nicole began to reiterate the information that had been disclosed to her by Eddie, she began to tell Yvonne personal information she knew about their marriage, children, and intimacy challenges. to the surprise of Yvonne. Yvonne was not aware her marriage was "in trouble", nor was she aware there were intimacy issues. Yvonne attributed the couples intimacy issues as a temporary adjustment to Eddie's additional demands at work. How did this “work relationship” get so out of hand?

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