I take you to be my work spouse

Su­per-close pla­tonic re­la­tion­ships on rise, study finds

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - REAL ESTATE - By Danielle Braff

She’s the first per­son you look for when you step into the of­fice, and the last per­son you see be­fore you leave. You of­ten eat lunch with each other, and you take cof­fee breaks to­gether ev­ery chance you get.

He knows ev­ery­thing about your kids and your spouse, and when you’re out for post-work drinks, many as­sume that you’re dat­ing.

This is your work spouse: a co-worker with whom you have a su­per­close pla­tonic re­la­tion­ship, mod­eled on a mar­riage. You sup­port and bicker with each other at work about of­fice and non-of­fice is­sues.

Pic­ture Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush and Con­doleezza Rice, Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa, or NBC’s coan­chors Sa­van­nah Guthrie and Matt Lauer. Guthrie even slipped up and re­ferred to her hus­band, Mike Feld­man, as Matt re­cently on the “To­day” show.

To­day, 70 per­cent of peo­ple in of­fice jobs have or have had work spouses, ac­cord­ing to a 2017 study by Of­fice Pulse, which an­a­lyzes of­fice pro­fes­sion­als. This is up from 65 per­cent in 2010 and 32 per­cent in 2006.

They’re be­com­ing more preva­lent be­cause men and women are putting in more hours at the of­fice. Amer­i­cans work an av­er­age of 47 hours per week, which is 11⁄2 hours more than they did a decade ago, ac­cord­ing to Gallup. As a re­sult, cowork­ers are de­pend­ing on their work part­ners more than their real part­ners, said Chad McBride, pro­fes­sor and chair of the De­part­ment of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Stud­ies at Creighton Univer­sity and co-au­thor of a 2015 study on work spouses.

Those with them are happy they have them. Sixty eight per­cent say this pseudo-mar­i­tal re­la­tion­ship con­trib­utes to their hap­pi­ness in the of­fice.

Chris Chat­man, co­man­ager at Foun­tain­head bar/restau­rant in Chicago, said he’s thrilled about the work spouse he’s had for nearly two years. He and Su­san Rosen­treter see each other about 50 to 60 hours a week.

“Su­san is a whiskey broad, tough as nails, tat­tooed, and my real wife is very nur­tur­ing,” Chat­man said. “Most weeks, I see Su­san more than I see my wife in terms of ded­i­cated, con­scious time.”

Work spouses have be­come so preva­lent in the of­fice space that psy­chol­o­gists have cited them as be­ing es­sen­tial to a pos­i­tive work ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ac­cord­ing to the Of­fice Pulse study, 29 per­cent of the work spouses said they’d done some­thing to make their work spouse look bet­ter at work, and 16 per­cent had done their co-worker’s job.

But for the most part, a work spouse — like a real spouse — has served as an­other sup­port sys­tem.

“A work spouse can be the sup­port sys­tem some­one needs to han­dle the stress that comes from heavy work­loads, work­place pol­i­tics and job in­sta­bil­ity,” said Dion Met­zger, psy­chi­a­trist and coau­thor of “The Modern Tro­phy Wife.”

Rosen­treter and Chat­man said they see eye-to­eye on the pol­icy is­sues at work, and they jell even when it gets stress­ful at the bar.

“We un­der­stand each other,” Rosen­treter said.

And work spouses may un­der­stand as­pects of of­fice life that ac­tual spouses don’t fully com­pre­hend, Met­zger said. They fre­quently end up turn­ing to each other rather than the spouse at home when they want to vent about their day.

When this hap­pens, it’s nor­mal for the real spouse to feel jeal­ous, even if there’s noth­ing sus­pi­cious go­ing on with the work spouse.

“Any time we feel that our part­ner is spend­ing all this time with some­one, we don’t feel great about it — it’s a nor­mal re­sponse,” said Nikki Martinez, an Illi­nois­based psy­chol­o­gist. “They re­al­ize the role that this per­son plays.”

Some­times, they envy the qual­i­ties that the other per­son has — which the real spouse may be lack­ing.

Lau­ren Chat­man said she loves her hus­band’s work wife and ap­pre­ci­ates that she helped him be­come a bet­ter hus­band. Chat­man tended to let is­sues slide, while the work wife doesn’t let any­thing go.

“She wags her fin­ger at him and gives him the death stare look that she gives her own hus­band,” Chat­man said. “He lit­er­ally jokes that he gets it from two wives 24/7,” Chat­man said.

At the same time, she some­times gets jeal­ous.

“We got into a re­cent tiff about how he is fun­nier with her than with me,” Chat­man said of her hus­band, who spends all day with his work wife and then comes home and con­tin­ues tex­ting her.

He told Chat­man, “She fixes my hair — you never do that — you just let me walk around look­ing like a dork.”

McBride found that 20 per­cent of the real spouses were jeal­ous of the work spouse, and the Of­fice Pulse study found that 7 per­cent of work spouses have crossed the line into sex­ual re­la­tion­ships.

Even with­out a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship, there can be emo­tional in­fi­delity if the re­la­tion­ship gets too per­sonal or in­ti­mate.

You may be able to tell if you’re cross­ing that line if you’re do­ing some­thing you know you wouldn’t be happy with your spouse say­ing or do­ing if he or she were in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion, Martinez said.

“If you feel like you’re get­ting out of line, you should pull back lit­tle by lit­tle, not to where it’s highly no­tice­able, but you need to get back in the zone where it’s ap­pro­pri­ate,” Martinez said.

But over­all, work spouses tend to stay in that ap­pro­pri­ate zone, McBride said.

“Based on our data, work spouse re­la­tion­ships are strictly pla­tonic,” he said. “When work spouses are open and hon­est about their re­la­tion­ship with their ac­tual spouses, it seems to go well for the most part.”

Of­ten, work spouses be­come friends with the ac­tual spouse, and McBride said he’s seen cou­ples so­cial­ize out­side of work and even go­ing on va­ca­tions to­gether.

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