Advice on Whether or Not it's OK to Make Your Co-Worker an Office Spouse
Dear April Masini,
I am friendly at work, but that friendliness has turned into a flirtation with an opposite sex co-worker, and now it's a full on sexually charged atmosphere whenever we're at the same Xerox machine or meeting. We're both happily married and joke about being "office spouses," but my husband isn't thrilled about it, and neither is his wife. Do you have any advice on how I can get my husband to understand we're just office spouses and it's not a big deal?"
Signed, Office Spouse
April Masini's Advice :
Dear Office Spouse:
Monogamy is so easy to understand. It means you get one spouse and everyone else who's of the opposite sex, is a co-worker or a friend. If you need me to spell out the definition of a co-worker or a friend, you need more help than I can give you.
If that sounded harsh it's because you need someone to draw the lines in black and white for you. It's so easy when we like someone, to blur the lines and make them gray so that we can convince ourselves we're not doing anything wrong. That's why you need to step back and take a good look from a healthy perspective at what you're doing.
Draw the line:
A spouse is a spouse is a spouse, and unless you acknowledge that you have a mistress, you don’t get to have an office spouse, a gym spouse, a local coffee shop spouse, etc. Relationships need boundaries if you want to live in a world that is peaceful and devoid of chaos. If you're having any doubts, think back to your marriage and remember how clear those vows were to say and to understand.
Okay, so it's been a few years since you wed (or months - everybody is different), and you're not exactly in a marital rut ring, and so might your friends that your spouse doesn't know. You share laughs and gossip about things as innocuous as the weather, politics, work dynamics, a spinning teacher - and the next thing you know, you're buying each other coffee. Then lunch. They you stop and grab , but you're both working at your respective jobs - or one of you is working and the other is home with the house and the kids, and you're in a pattern. You've both got your own friends, your own work out gyms and your own places you like to lunch or shop. And yes, you're a regular at some of these places and you're bound to make friends that your spouse doesn't know about - not because you're hiding the friend, but because you have your own life as well as your marital life. Sure, you wear your wedding dinner. Your arm brushes hers.
See how the lines can get blurred?
Honor your discomfort:
Boundaries get blurred because we let them. We may think that suddenly someone is coming on to us or suddenly there are sparks, but the truth is that they've been there all along, and have been building, because the boundaries in your relationships have not been maintained.
One way to not be surprised by a sudden onslaught of feelings is to recognize any and all discomfort you have - either around the office buddy or when you hear your spouse talk about his or her office buddy. These feelings are worth acknowledging as a yellow light in the relationship. Too many times we talk ourselves out of these instincts because we don't want to believe them.
Why don't we want to believe them?
Because we want our cake and we want to eat it, too. But, if you continue to ignore discomfort, you'll pay the price somewhere down the line - and it will be a bigger price than if you deal with the discomfort now.
Do the work in the relationship when you have the feeling that something is ”off," - and you'll save yourself discomfort - and maybe your marriage. Consider this work a discipline like any other sport work out do. You have to build your muscles in order to exercise the lifestyle easily and with grace. Go on easy on yourself - but keep at it!
Here are a few tips to keep boundaries healthy between opposite sex work partners and marital spouses:
- Your work buddies are not your social buddies. Keep boundaries between family events and work events. Don’t go out on a Saturday night with a work buddy, if you are married, unless it is a work event.
- Mind your manners. Do not assume intimacy of any kind with a work buddy -- especially when a spouse is around. Know the food chain in these social situations. The husband and wife trump any work partner you have.
- Keep gifts business like. Better to give another fruit basket, than to gift a co-worker with jewelry, clothing or a gift certificate to a spa. Play it safe -- and keep those interesting parts of your personality for your family and friends -- not your work buddies.
Okay. So does this philosophy and practice keep women out of the - good Old Boys network - where the locker room is equivalent to the boardroom, and deals are made on the golf course? You bet. Is it fair? Nope. Is it reality? Yes.
Ironically, this is probably how the Good Old Boys network started. Men knew that they tend to fall prey to women's wiles in business if they work with them and fall for them. So they band together and they do business in the gym, at the ball games, and during other predominantly all male events like the company retreat and paintball adventure weekend. It's a fact of life.
Women and men have to work hard to keep sexuality out of the work place, if that is their goal. It’s too easy to fall for someone you work with. HOWEVER....If you’re both single, there’s no reason not to date someone you work with, as long as you keep your dating life outside of the office and the office hours, and don’t let it affect your work, adversely.