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Work Spouse or not?

Work Spouses
Over the years I’ve known several folks who met at work and actually married, in real life.  They are the literal definition of a work spouse.

However, I’ve know many, many more work spouses that don’t fit the above definition, yet have a work relationship that is commonly referred to as a work spouse | work wife | work husband. 

Here is an attempt to define the categories.  If there is a continuum of relationship intensity, I’d imagine it looks something like this: 

Work Relationship Continuum

Work Spouse Continuum

Going Left to right, I’ve seen it all and bet you have too.


This category is very transactional.  You exchange pleasantries and collaborate when necessary.  Some people will never move out of this category.  They are part of your work routine, but emotional investment is minimum.  But, don’t let this lack of emotional investment fool you.  You need many of these people to get your work done…and they need you.


Some of the co-workers earn their way into this next category.  They may earn it through an immediate ‘connection’ or mutual understanding.  Or, it may evolve over time based on level of interaction.  These relationships often are hierarchal and tend to assist in the ability to get things done faster, better, stronger, etc. 

Work Spouse

The relationship develops beyond the project or the advice, and it is a ‘degree’ alternative definition to friend.  It is an everyday touch-base.  It is open, trusting and comfortable.  It might include an occasional coffee or lunch.  It’s very often the 1st call made when news breaks of an announcement or you need to discuss a work situation.  Sometimes the relationship is so subtle that others don’t even know it exists, other times it is open and acknowledged.  But seldom is it a topic of other conversations.  And most importantly, the relationship is left at work.


This is where the continuum takes on more of a slope and boy, can it be slippery.  It can include the activities of the above categories, but goes beyond to include coffee every morning, lunch every day and breaks in between.  If you are spotted at 10:00a or 2:00p in the cafeteria at ‘your table’ on a regular basis…people will start talking.  Very often many outings occur outside of the work environment.  While the activities might be purely platonic, professional and include your families, career progression can be limited.  Why?  Because objectivity and judgment could be called into question in settings where the ‘friend’ is concerned.


Workmates end up here to the surprise of everyone around them.  Some just ended up at the same company with the target of their affections.  Others, well they take their work spouse responsibilities seriously.  I understand the heart want what the heart wants, however, I’ve seen this go wrong more than I’ve seen it go right.

To tell the truth, I’ve had work spouses at every company.  Kind of like vacations, the most recent is my favorite and all have a special place in my memories.  Without them, work would have been, well just that, work.  Interestingly enough, I know they know they were a work spouse, but I don’t know if others did.  Based on my quick survey of previous co-workers many did not know.

So, I was planted firmly in the work spouse portion of the continuum.  In many ways, the relationship helped me.  It provided the input of someone I trusted, the point of view of someone who understood the business complexities or issues I was facing and could contribute feedback or guidance.  They also provided unconditional support, even when I was wrong.  They also created a space for a deep breath or heartfelt laughter.  But most importantly, my work spouse, allowed me to leave lots of ‘stuff’ at work.


The author, Diahann Boock, is the founder of Women's Ally. For information about working with Diahann, check out our Programs.

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