Thursday, February 29, 2024

The work spouse phenomenon – are they purely platonic?

The bane of most happy marriages and romantic relationships in Botswana is that “work colleague” who is always on the other end of your spouse’s phone call.

This potential “marriage wrecker” who is also your biggest competition has become such a global phenomenon that it is being referred to as the work spouse. They know your partners birthday, favorite food, worst fears and deep darkest secret.

Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana explained to the Sunday Standard that, “a work-spouse is a co-worker of the opposite sex who is a particularly close friend. Through banter in the office or in the lunchroom, he/she has managed to learn a lot about you. She knows your birthday, your favorite foods, the kind of car you dream of owning. It all seems harmless, since the relationship is platonic.

But it’s not. It’s a minefield. an undue affection, an inappropriate intimacy. While it may have consequences for a person’s personal relationship, perhaps the greatest danger for the employer is that work-spouse relationships sometimes (perhaps often) end badly. And when they end, they produce the sort of lingering hostility that’s often found between former friends, or between ex-spouses causing productivity to plummet in the office.”

The concept of an office spouse is new but not necessarily uncommon.  The term usually refers to a colleague of the opposite sex, who’s someone you can trust, who’s got your back, and whom with you have a close relationship. More often than not, a work husband or wife is someone you can and do confide in about everything from how you feel about your colleagues to elements of your life outside of work. This person is your number one ally and advisor at work—the person you can laugh with or be stressed out with, have politically incorrect conversations with, and give honest opinions to. Office spouses speak the same language: they get “inside jokes,” understand each other’s frustration with the boss and can pick up on work vibes, both good and bad.

Whenever you work closely with someone, you communicate with them often and having a work relationship/work spouse is meant to be a stress reliever for many. A work spouse understands those aspects of the workplace, because that person is engaged in the same work, often for the same reasons. As a result, this person is someone that you don’t need to explain yourself to. It is valuable for people to have others who understand them and can validate their life choices. It’s the emotional closeness that’s threatening – and that can swiftly morph into romantic liaisons. Most work spouse relationships start out innocently that is why most people never expect it to turn into an affair or romantic relationship. Although one might not feel physically attracted at the start, the more time spent with someone, the more the attraction grows.

Dr Sophie Moagi, clinical psychologist in Gaborone says, “Work spouse relationships subtly evolve into emotional affairs by meeting basic human needs. It starts out with affection, which basically means you care about the person and want to see him or her succeed and you’ll be there when they need you, Admiration is another emotional need, where you tell the person they’re great at what they do. Once someone does enough of this for you, you start looking forward to being with him the next day, can’t stop thinking of him — one thing leads to another, and next thing you know you’re having sex. If you begin hiding any aspect of your relationship from your spouse, meeting after work for social rather than work situations, start moving your conversations from business to personal topics, and specifically, if you start complaining about your real spouse. That tells the person there’s an open door. If this relationship supersedes your relationship with your spouse, where you’re spending more time or sharing more information with this person, that’s a danger sign.”

Maintaining a healthy and nonsexual relationship with an office spouse can be tricky and detrimental to a person’s real marriage. From walking a thin line between friendship and adultery, to avoiding a workplace husband or wife altogether, to keeping it strictly platonic. Confusion about what it means to be a “work couple” can very easily lead to one (or both) parties crossing the boundary between friendship and romantic relationship. This can send someone toward breakup or divorce. The implication in a relationship like this is that you are gravitating toward this person you work with instead of toward your actual spouse or romantic partner. When you devote time, attention and energy to your work spouse, the results are disconnection and distance in your love relationship or marriage. The confidences you share with your work husband or the way you’ve come to depend on your work wife will inevitably trigger jealousy and rage in your partner. Trust gets damaged in the process and that can take a very long time to heal.


Read this week's paper