We’ve all been there. We’ve found ourselves bonding with a person of the opposite sex at work, whether it be complaining about the boss to each other, or sharing a secret laugh over your cubicle mate’s unfortunate music choices. But if you’re already in a relationship, can having a “work husband” threaten your at-home relationship? Where should the line be drawn? Should the relationship stay at work or is it okay to get après work drinks together?
Here are five things to consider while maintaining both a “work marriage” and an actual relationship at home:
1. Is having a “work husband” okay?
When it comes to sharing day-to-day highs and lows, should you be going to your partner, or is it healthy to share it with your male counterpart at work, who can relate to your experience?
Dr. Jenn Berman, relationship expert and host of VH1’s Couples Therapy, says it’s very normal for adults to build alliances in a work environment. But be aware that you’re forming this close relationship for a reason. “The problem isn’t with the relationship, it’s that your personal relationship with your partner can have holes within it that can leave you vulnerable to other connections,” says Dr. Berman, adding “If there are holes in your relationship, having a work [husband] can lead you to having an emotional affair.”
Dr. Wendy Walsh, relationship expert and human behavior expert, agrees. “The dangers are that emotional intimacy will lead to a boundary violation. If you talk to your work [husband] about intimate topics that you wouldn’t share if your spouse was in the room, you are treading into dangerous territory where you are switching allegiances,” she says.
2. Should you tell your partner about your work husband?
Many people are of the mindset that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. The problem with this theory is it becomes even more hurtful when your partner finds out. You may want to protect their feelings or keep them from getting jealous, since you think it’s unwarranted, but keeping things from your partner is a sign of a larger problem.
“The secrecy creates a further bond between you and your work [husband],” says Dr. Jenn. “It creates more excitement. I definitely think you should tell your partner about this other person. I wouldn’t present it in a threatening way, but they should know of the people in your life.”
Dr. Walsh shares a similar sentiment. “If you don’t tell your spouse about your work husband, you have to ask yourself why. Are you protecting your spouse from unnecessary feelings of jealousy or are you keeping a secret back-up plan?”
Secrecy can be destructive for a relationship, so if you feel like you have to hide a relationship you have at work, you should pinpoint what’s behind that decision, and how you as a couple can work on being more honest and authentic.
3. What should you do if you tell your partner, and he/she is jealous?
“It’s normal for your partner to feel jealous if they are sensing a tight bond,” says Dr. Jenn. “Ask what you can do to make them more comfortable… If your partner says, ‘Hey look, I’m not comfortable with you having drinks with this person,’ then perhaps lunch is a reasonable solution. Or they may prefer if you keep conversations to daytime, not late at night.” Dr. Jenn says that these are reasonable requests. “I think it’s about respecting boundaries,” she says. Adds Dr. Walsh: “You have to have clear boundaries and be sure your work wife or husband knows not to cross any lines.”
4. What if the tables are reversed?
If your significant other has a lady in his office who acts as his “work wife,” and he has failed to tell you about her and gets defensive if and when you find out, it’s important not to sensationalize it, but to talk to him in a calm, rational way. Dr. Jenn suggests saying something like, “Hey, let’s talk about what I may have said or done that left you feeling like you couldn’t tell me the truth about the situation.” She reminds us, “It’s not about pointing fingers. Instead, it’s about ‘what can we do to make the relationship stronger?’”
To ensure he’s open with you in the future, Dr. Jenn says to tell your partner: “I don’t want you to protect me, and instead I want you to be honest with me. Your honesty is the greatest protection you can offer me.” This will allow your partner to feel more comfortable being open with you. For a relationship to grow and develop, there shouldn’t be any secrets.
5. Are there any benefits to maintaining a work relationship?
“Having an opposite-gender confidant at work can make you smarter,” suggests Dr. Walsh, adding: “Studies show that group intelligence increases when female brains are added to a male problem-solving group. And having an ally to help you negotiate office politics can be protective.” A work relationship can “work” as long as you stay within your boundaries and are respectful of your partner. Leave the chatter about your partner’s downfalls and your latest relationship drama for your next night out with your girlfriends.