Why his ‘work wife’ is a bigger threat to your marriage than him having a physical affair
Does your husband swap one wife for another when he leaves you for work in the morning?
Nearly half of all professionals in the UK have or wish they had a ‘work spouse’, according to a 2016 survey.
A work spouse is a co-worker, usually of the opposite sex (or same sex if you’re gay), that you have a special relationship with.
It’s platonic so there’s no sexual intimacy but it’s so close, it mimics marriage.
Whether you’re threatened or merely amused by this relationship, chances are your partner’s having one – even if he isn’t aware of it.
A staggering 71.5 per cent of those surveyed said they thought a lot of people already had a ‘work wife’ or ‘work husband’ without realising it.
The number of work wives and husbands are on the rise
And it’s having a big impact on our real marriages.
We work differently now: offices are more team orientated and it’s unusual for those teams to be divided into ‘men’ and ‘women’ so both sexes work closely together.
Seventy per cent of employees say having friends at work is the most crucial part of a happy working life.
Having a work spouse means you’ve got a cheerleader when work is tough, a sounding block, someone to go to if you get awful news and someone to talk to if you have problems at home.
We spend more time at work than anywhere else and often stay connected even when we aren’t there through email, text and social media.
Consequently, we sometimes know our work colleagues better than our partners.
When you’re with someone for eight hours every day, five days a week, you know the ‘real’ person.
You’ve seen how they perform under stress, how they respond when bawled out by the boss, how generous they are to others (not just how much they put in the kitty for birthdays but whether they give credit to others for work projects).
This is what makes work ‘marriages’ so special: this person has seen you at your best and at your worst. They accept you, flaws and all.
And that’s why they are so dangerous.
Men are often more honest with their work wives
Studies show couples who say they are loved ‘warts and all’ by their partner are much happier and committed to those who think their partner puts them on a pedestal.
Being adored is wonderful but being accepted as you are is the truest compliment of all.
“I’m much more likely to admit to doing something stupid to Lucy, my work wife, because I want my real wife to see me at my best,” says James, who has worked with Lucy for six years and spends nearly every lunch hour with her.
“I don’t like showing vulnerabilities to my real wife in case it makes her respect me less.”
Lots of men think they’re doing the right thing saving the ‘best’ of themselves for their romantic partner but it destroys relationships rather than nurtures them.
We are closest to the people who know the most about us.
If your partner is chatting intimately about his life more to his work wife than you, your relationship is in danger.
I’ve witnessed more than one relationship break up because of confidences shared that shouldn’t have been.
One particular couple were going through a tortuous IVF experience. The husband refused to talk about how he felt about the numerous miscarriages to his wife – but had no problems talking to his work wife.
His real wife found out through another friend that he’d been crying on the shoulder of a friend at work who’d “got him through it all”.
“Those were his actual words,” she said.
“I was furious and confronted him about it and he was genuinely perplexed as to why I was upset.
“He said he thought I was going through enough without him off loading his emotions on me.”
She found it such an emotional betrayal, the relationship didn’t recover and they split a few months later.
Sharing with a third person has an impact
Even if he’s talking about intimate things with both of you, sharing with a third person outside your relationship still has impact.
Having a work wife who is on your side can have a hugely positive effect on your relationship.
I counselled a couple where the woman had big jealousy issues that – ironically – disappeared when she dated a man who had a work wife.
She met her work equivalent and saw there wasn’t sexual chemistry but there was respect.
“I feel like she’ll keep Dan on the straight and narrow if ever he is tempted by anyone else,” she told me.
“If we can’t solve an argument, I tell him to talk to her to see what she thinks. She’s great at making him see the female perspective and that I’m not being outrageous in what I want from him.”
But if his work wife sides with him when you’re fighting about something, winding him up rather than calming him down, it hardly helps you work things out when he arrives home.
It’s the emotional closeness that’s threatening – and that can swiftly morph into romantic dependence.
Familiarity breeds lust and love
Most work spouse relationships start out innocently: most people never expect it to turn into an affair or romantic relationship and are devastated if that does happen.
But it’s easy to see how it does.
You initially make friends because you have a similar sense of humour, outlook on life and personality.
You watch each other’s back at work and trust grows, you become reliant on each other’s opinion, realise just how much you miss them if they’re off work.
Even if you don’t feel physically attracted at the start, research consistently shows the more time we spend with someone, the more we are attracted to them.
This doesn’t mean all work spouse relationships are dangerous but it does mean it’s more probable there will be some sort of ‘moment’ when one or both will be tempted to cross the line.
If your partner ends up snogging some random girl while drunk in a nightclub on a stag do, it’s a horrible betrayal but one that’s unlikely to go anywhere.
A kiss with his work wife is a life changing moment.
They already have a solid relationship base. Add a kiss or ‘moment’ when it’s clear they’re viewing each other sexually rather than platonically (and like what they see) and the work marriage suddenly turns into a real one.
Just like real marriage, work marriage doesn’t always run smoothly
Even if the relationship doesn’t become romantic, there are still problems.
The real spouse often feels shut out and jealous of the relationship.
The private jokes, the intimacy between them…hearing your husband laughing and chatting away to someone far more easily than they chat to you, is not a nice feeling.
Work colleagues may also feel sidelined by the two of you being so chummy.
If you fall out with a partner, you dump them and they’re out of your life (or at least mostly out of it, if you have kids).
Fall out with your work spouse and it’s not so easy to get rid of them. You’re forced to continue to work, awkwardly, together which makes the whole office tense.
People often develop romantic feelings for platonic friends over time.
If one of you falls for the other and it’s not reciprocated, every day of work is agony.
You’re forced to pretend all you feel is friendship when every part of you longs to be with them; if you’re on the other side and it’s obvious they’ve fallen for you, it’s horrible watching them hurting and knowing you’ve caused it.
If you both fall for each other and are already involved or married, professionally and personally you’re headed for a highly stressful time with bosses, other work mates and family and friends judging you.
I’m all for friendships between men and women and have several close male friends myself.
But you do need to set boundaries and getting so close that you call a work colleague a ‘wife’ or ‘husband’ can be asking for trouble.
THREE WAYS TO TELL THERE’S SOMETHING DODGY GOING ON
He doesn’t want you to meet his work wife.
The first and most obvious reason is he doesn’t want you to see how attractive she is or that they have chemistry.
Another is that he’s ashamed of you.
A third is that he’s different with his work wife and knows you’ll notice (if he fancies her, he’ll be on best behaviour).
Another reason is that he’s hoping it will lead to love or sex and knows her seeing you will make her feel guilty taking it further.
A wife at home is a concept, a wife in the flesh makes his marriage real.
If he happily agrees for you to meet up, that’s a solid sign there’s usually nothing to worry about.
On his part anyway…
How warm is she to you when you meet?
If it’s a genuine, platonic friendship, she’ll be dying to meet you for one good reason alone: she’ll know it will reassure you it is just friendship.
Trust your instincts. If she’s friendly and nice and you instantly feel part of their work twosome, put another big tick in the ‘just friends’ box.
If she’s offhand and cool, pay attention.
Does he lie about how much time they spend together?
If you find out your partner is seeing his work wife socially, outside of work hours, and hasn’t been telling you, it’s a definite red flag.
If there’s nothing going on, why would he hide seeing her? If it’s because you’re getting jealous of how close they are and how much time he spends with her, seeing her behind your back means he’d rather keep himself (and her) happy than you.
If you’re worried about your own relationship with a work spouse and you don’t want to put your relationship at risk, answer this question honestly.
If you were single, would you go out with your work spouse? If the answer is a genuine no for both of you, you’re fine.
Some names have been changed.
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