Love, Family

Why Joking About Having A 'Work Spouse' Is Just A Bad, BAD Idea

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Your Work Wife (Or Husband) Isn't Ever Lasting!

I, {co-worker A}, take you {co-worker of the opposite sex} as my "work spouse," through thick and thin, office colds and in health, 'till one of us is promoted, demoted or quits. 

It's natural to want a deep connection with colleagues at work. Work is where we spend a great deal of our time. When we face the stresses of the day, it's comforting to feel that we're not in it alone, that someone has our back. Plus, how wonderful, thinking true caring and camaraderie are involved!

But considering this person your ... "work spouse?"

When we work closely with someone, we can form such a closeness. We feel like this friend is our true partner, sometimes they even seem better than our real wife or husband. It's that "special" colleague at work who really understands us.

They see exactly what we go through each day and they still like and support us. Isn't that proof that they love us? Besides, they always tell us we look great and they always have time when we need to talk. We can tell them the most intimate details of our lives and involve them in our mundane tasks because they truly understand what our life is like. Right?
But wait? Isn't marriage about intimacy and connection? How can a work spouse offer true intimacy?

And what about commitment? Is there ever true loyalty or commitment at work? Every one of us works for financial gain, and often, to meet personal needs of self-worth and satisfaction. To expect your office "husband" or "wife" to put your goals above theirs isn't fair.

Truth is, there comes a time when it's in everyone's best interest to look out for themselves. And that sure doesn't feel like "in love" spousal commitment when you two end up competing for the job promotion, or hoping the other gets laid of during office down-sizing.  

When those harsh realities and normal stressors hit and times get tough for work marriage  what or who gives? Yep, you.

Intimacy is more than having another person make you feel accepted and liked — telling you that your outfit looks good, agreeing with your point of view, or helping you with a presentation that's important to you.

True intimacy is knowing someone inside and out, and accepting them in their full truth — warts, beauty and all.

That level of intimacy begins with self-acceptance and grows from there, and is an ongoing path of acceptance as life changes.

To even expect that type of intimacy from a colleague at a job is simply unrealistic.

That level of intimacy is difficult to sustain within work confines and competing objectives. The danger is in confusing real world wedded harmony with an office friendship (which is what it truly is). 

Friendship, which is possible at work, has its own wonderful gifts, but by definition, isn't permanent. It allows us the freedom and flexibility to completely appreciate, support and enjoy our colleagues — for any length of time. Sometimes that road is long. Other times, it isn't. When we need to go separate ways because being a happy, harmonious team is no longer in our individual best interests, we can still enjoy the friendships we had.

By clarifying the levels of intimacy and connection, we allow ourselves the freedom to truly be ourselves and to grow in the ways life invites us.

I get it though. We created the term "work spouse" to elevate the people we care most about.

In our culture, we've diluted the term "friendship" by extending it to acquaintances we like, people we connect with on social media, friends of friends ... so we now create new terms for deep friendships to distinguish them.

But the harm in doing that is we risk negatively altering the bonds we have with our ACTUAL spouses or partners. Or, we limit our potential of ever finding one.

By authentically honoring each relationship in its own way, we can do justice to each — and appreciate each friend, acquaintance, and our life partners — for who they are in our lives.     

Jan L. Bowen is a passionately authentic thought leader who helps clients align their lives so they find more joy and greater connection through articulating and living their purpose. To get Jan’s latest book, "Why Do You Get Up In the Morning? How to Demystify Your Life Purpose," download it now. You will also receive her newsletter, with articles only available by subscription.