Dear NwaVic: Am I having an Emotional Affair with my Work-Husband?

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Dear NwaVic,

I work in an office of about 10 people. One of my colleagues and I have gotten close over the past year I have worked here. I am engaged and he is married. I see it as a friendship- we gist and joke around. Sometimes, we have lunch together. Nothing sexual has ever happened. Recently, my fiancé O and I got into a big argument about something related to our upcoming wedding and I told my co-worker about it. He advised me on how to handle it and even sided a bit with O. When I told my best friend about it, she accused me of having a work husband. She even said I was probably having an emotional affair on O. I was shocked. How can I be having an affair when I don’t have romantic feelings for this person? I mean, I like him as a friend and love spending time with him. But I would choose O any day. Please help. This thing is driving me crazy.

Sincerely,

“Work-Wife?”

Dear “Work-Wife?”,

It’s okay; you are not alone. I didn’t know what a “work-spouse” was until a few years ago. It’s basically an American term described as having a special relationship with a member of the opposite sex in your work place. The special relationship has similarities to that of a marriage because while you are at work, this “person” serves the purposes your husband or wife would, without of course the sexual part. For example, companionship, advice, friendship, inside jokes, support and loyalty. It starts out based on proximity. Think about it, most of us spend more time at work than we spend with our significant others. When kept simple and “boundaried”, having a work spouse can be healthy and fun.  In fact, research has shown that workers are more productive at work when they have bonded relationships at work.

But like with every “special” relationship outside marriage, it can get tricky because that kind of special relationship without boundaries is recipe for disaster. Even if no sexual relationship ever spurns out of it, one or both parties may start getting emotionally attached and this may negatively impact your relationship with your spouse/partner.

 Let me play doctor for a minute. To help you diagnose the nature of your relationship with this colleague of yours, here are a few measuring signs to help you decipher the true nature of your relationship with your “co-worker”.

1. You start looking forward to spending more time with your “co-worker” than with your significant other:

This is when you find yourself thinking about this “co-worker” even when you are with your significant other. For example, if someone offers you a fun opportunity and you’d rather share the experience with your “co-worker” than with your significant other or if when you have a new story or experience to share and you want to share it first with the “co-worker”. You haven’t given any indication of this so you are still safe in this regard.

2. You start “seriously” complaining about your significant other to your co-worker:

I think you may guilty of this. I have never been a fan of sharing details of a serious fight with your spouse because I’ve learned that long after I have forgiven and forgotten, the person I shared with will hold it against my spouse. In the same way, it’s not advisable to bring a co-worker (no matter how friendly you are with them) into a dispute between you and your significant other. It does more damage than good because not only will it make your spouse feel insecure, it could paint a picture of your relationship to the co-worker than you never intended and create a confidential relationship that pushes the boundaries wide open.

3. You start to hide details of your relationship with “co-worker” from your significant other:

Just like with cheating, if you are having conversations or doing things with the co-worker in private that you cannot do if your significant other was watching, you are pushing the boundaries. Introduce your real-life spouse to your work-spouse. That way, the “work-marriage” doesn’t seem exclusive. The only exclusive relationship you should have is with your significant other.

4. You get jealous of the “co-worker”‘s significant other: It us one thing to get territorial if another co-worker is stealing your “co-worker” from you. Even friends gets antsy about sharing their friends. However, it’s an entirely different story if you start to look at this “co-worker”‘s significant other with side-eye and wishing you were them.

5.  You look forward to work more than anything else because of them:

This point is simple. If your “feelings” for your co-worker starts to over take other “non-work” related activities or even spending time with your significant other, it’s beyond a simple “work-marriage”. Again, if you’ve ever found yourself consistently thinking about this co-worker outside of work and/while with your significant other, then it is becoming an emotional relationship.

From what you’ve written, the only red flag I see and I’d advise you watch out for is sharing details about your fight with your fiancé. You say you’d choose O any day over your co-worker so make sure you protect your relationship by setting boundaries with your coworker. Make sure you are never alone with this co-worker. Make sure you don’t drink alone with him. It’s always advisable to mention this co-worker to your fiancé but thread lightly- you don’t want to talk too much about this co-worker to your fiancé- men could easily misread such relationships. Either way, keep the communication lines at all ends open. If you ever find this overwhelming, then it’s time to make a decision for one or the other. Remember that emotional relationships at work is very risky because if there’s a disagreement of any kind, it could jeopardize your professionalism at work.

 Some people, including some of my friends, believe that all outside relationships with the opposite sex need to be severed in order for long-term relationships and marriages to work. I am of a different school of thought because I am a master (or mistress -no pun intended) of creating boundaries. The debate on “whether or not men and women can  be friends” is one for another day and post. Ultimately, I’d say, draw the lines and in all things, never forget what and who is “real-life” and what and who is “9-5”.

Best of luck!

Oh and thank you for writing Dear Nwavic at dearnwavic@gmail.com.  Hope this helped 🙂

Stay Inspired!

NwaVic

1 COMMENT

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