Workplace Spouses

by Susan Murphy, Ph.D.

Have you ever "clicked" with a member of the opposite sex while working on a project? Maria and Brandon found that whenever they worked on the same project team, they felt renewed energy and creativity. Work was more fun and the days seemed to fly by.

After a few months of working side by side on several projects, they now spend much of their time at work together. Maria and Brandon have lunch together, brainstorm and problem-solve with each other, and speak several times a day. Maria and Brandon are "workplace spouses" who are happily married - but to other people. It's only within the past 25 years that men and women have become peers and teammates at work, so the workplace spouse is a relatively new concept that is becoming more prevalent. The office provides many opportunities for close interactions as men and women share common interests, accomplishments, challenges, and frustrations. There are benefits and risks to having a "workplace spouse". Some benefits include: It's great to have an ally in the workplace whom you can trust and to whom you feel a mutual commitment. Workplace spouses can take on a supportive role vs. competitive role that same-sex relationships often have. You can mentor / advise each other - bounce ideas off each other. Getting honest feedback & ideas from someone of the other gender - especially about how to deal with a client or boss of that gender - can be a plus Some experts call it a "moodregulating" dynamic because you feel less "alone" in the work world, may laugh more, and may even elevate your self-esteem By having a close ally of the other gender, you may realize that some traits that your real spouse has that drive you crazy, may be specific to the gender. This may help you be less critical / judgmental and more loving toward your real spouse. For example, when men won't ask directions, and when women multitask. Risks are real and must be heeded. Successful workplace spouses manage boundaries and realize that even one kiss can shift the dynamic and hurt four people. Be sensitive to how this workplace marriage may be perceived at home. Introduce all parties concerned to show there's no "threat" to the marriages. Also, be careful not to be too exclusive. In some cases, the workplace spouses are so close / tight that this can hurt relationships with others on the work team.

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