6 Reasons Having A 'Work Spouse' Could Be Bad For Your Career

The mistake too many women (and some men) make at work that sabotages their advancement.

Last updated on Nov 17, 2023

Two people working at coffee shop pixelfit | Canva 

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 stress, it's comforting to feel that we're not in it alone and that someone has our back. Plus, how wonderful, thinking genuine caring, and camaraderie are involved!

Sometimes we find a workmate who feels like a partner, who is on the same page and who helps us enjoy our day.  


But is considering this person your work wife or work husband going too far? If so, who does it hurt? 

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Here's why having a 'work spouse' is bad for your career — and sometimes your heart.

1. Proximity is the first problem

When we work closely with someone, we can form an emotional closeness. We feel like this friend is our life partner. They even seem better than our spouses. It's that "special" colleague at work who understands us.


They see exactly what we go through each day, and they still like and support us. Isn't that proof they love us? Besides, they always tell us we look great, and they always have time when we need to talk. We tell them our most intimate details. We involve them in our mundane lives because they understand what we are like, right?

2. Marriage is about intimacy and connection, so 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.

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 off during office downsizing.

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3. Harsh realities and normal stressors hit and times get tough for work marriage

When hard times hit, what or who gives? Yep, you.


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

True intimacy is knowing someone inside and out and accepting them.

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

4. Expecting that type of intimacy from a colleague at a job is 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 gifts, but by definition, isn't permanent. It allows us the freedom and flexibility to appreciate, support, and enjoy our colleagues — for any length of time. Sometimes, the 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.

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5. Clarifying intimacy and connection allows us the freedom to be ourselves and grow in the ways life invites us.

I get it. 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.


6. We risk negatively altering the bonds we share with our actual spouses.

Or, we limit our potential of ever finding one.

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

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Jan L. Bowen is an author, keynote speaker, thought leader, and facilitator with over 25 years of successful corporate leadership who specializes in helping leaders find their balance.