We often joke about having a “work spouse”—that someone who knows us just about as well as the guy at home who can’t keep his dirty tennis shoes off of the coffee table. While you share every major milestone, sentimental moment, and vulnerability with your real significant other, your work other-half goes through all of those things with you, too, just as they relate to your career. He was there for you when you got your first promotion, he listens when you needed to vent about your lazy, last-minute-requesting boss, and he has possibly even seen you cry. Sound familiar?
I know, because my work husband and I actually shared the same last name, age, likeness, and height, and we were assigned to work on all of the same projects. Go ahead, don’t believe me. But, seriously, co-workers and clients genuinely believed we were married and working together.
You can imagine all of the awkward situations that invited—but in addition, I have a boyfriend. And so, I had to learn a thing or two about balance. Especially when, on many occasions, the two most important men in my life were each tugging at my sleeves, wanting to meet for lunch, calling with urgent questions, and needing advice, a pat on the back, or a listening ear. Whew, what’s a girl to do?
Well, listen in: These tips I offer from experience will keep you and your office husband working in harmony—without disrupting each of your own happy homes.
Work Husband, Meet Real Husband
The easiest way to make it seem like you’re crossing the line with your work spouse is to keep your relationship a secret from your real significant other. So don’t. Bring him up naturally in conversation so that your boyfriend or husband gets to know him gradually through you, as a nice, non-threatening work figure. (Really, he should be happy that you have someone to hash out your daily aggravations with, instead of asking him to help you analyze situations he has no clue about.)
You should also introduce the two of them when the first opportunity presents itself, which will send a clear message to both. The simple words, “This is my boyfriend, that awesome guy I’m always telling you about,” will reiterate to your work husband that you’re taken, and let your real boyfriend or husband know you’re comfortably yelling it from the office rooftop.
Don’t Be the Other Woman
On that note, we must remember this situation isn’t all about us. Let’s say your work husband has a wife. I would guess that this girl is much more in tune with her husband’s work relationships than your significant other is with yours (because, you know, I am a girl and I do these things). I would also guess that she may not be totally thrilled that he’s spending more of his time with you than with her.
So, make her feel comfortable. Every time you’re around her, present the silent peace offering by acknowledging her first (or at least looking at them both when jumping into the conversation). On the other hand, making a beeline for him at the office Christmas party and boxing her out of the convo with shop talk will definitely make her feel like you see him as your territory.
Also, remember that flattery is a simple way to warm a girl’s heart. Don’t we love hearing that our significant other’s co-workers have heard so much about us? Tell her that, too, and you’re in.
Leave Home at Home
We all have an occasional lover’s quarrel with that real-life husband of ours—he hasn’t requested time off for the vacation you’re planning, he can’t stand to see your wet towel on the floor, whatever.
If there’s trouble at home, talk through it with him, vent to your girlfriends, or call your mom and tell her how much of a hero you think she is for being married for so long. But, whatever you do—do not turn to your work husband for couple’s therapy. Wouldn’t you be hurt if you found out that your boyfriend was turning to his female co-worker to talk about your problems? (I’m feeling the claws coming out of you as I type.) And trust me, your work husband probably doesn’t want the intimate details of your love life, anyway. Show your significant other the respect he deserves by keeping these things private.
Leave Work at Work
When you’re off the clock, limit communication with your work husband as much as possible. It’s a fact of work-life that things will pop up and duty will call for late-night projects and fire drills, but texting outside of the office is building a bridge for him to cross over into your personal life. Sure, in moderation, it’s totally fine—but, too much, and you’re likely sending him the wrong message.
What’s more, if you find yourself enjoying your after-hours chatting so much that you’re looking forward to it and hoping it turns into more hang-out time during the weekend—well, Houston, you may have a problem the size of Texas. And my advice is: Cool it. Whether you’re just bored with your current relationship and enjoying the attention, or you’re actually starting to have Jim-and-Pam style feelings for your cubemate, you’re treading into treacherous territory and you need to step back and evaluate the situation with a clear head.
The bottom line is: Set and respect appropriate boundaries for your relationships, in and out of your cubicle. A happy home and office starts with sending clear messages (often multiple times, sometimes to the point you think your face will turn blue and implode into oblivion). But if you stick to that, the two most important and supportive men in your life can stay that way.
Photo of work couple courtesy of Shutterstock.