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Work Relationships; The Substitute/Work Spouse

Updated on June 9, 2012

Emotionally Sexy

"Work Spouse"- a co-worker, of the opposite sex, with whom one shares a special relationship, having bonds similar to those of a marriage- intimacy without the sex or commitment. The work spouse is a potentially key relationship when one's actual spouse or boy/girlfriend is not able to be there. As people work more and spend less time at home, these hybrid relationships have begun to catch on. In one 2006 survey, 69% of workers said they had an "office husband" or "office wife."

There are variations to the definition above, such as a platonic male/female friendship, in any area of one's life. For example, a married woman has a close friendship with a man she knew in her childhood. She does not have sex with him, but has an emotional connection, or many similarities and interests shared, therefore becoming an important relationship as significant as her and her spouse's relationship, like a substitute spouse...but perhaps borderline emotional affair?


OK, here's my story on this subject because you know everything I write about has a personal meaning (and a point). Well, here it is. A year before I met my husband, I met a man off an online dating site, we met in person twice, and talked on the phone for hours. He lived two states away so I was not interested in a long distance romantic relationship. When I met the man who would become my husband, this other man was still my friend. We continued to talk on the phone and communicate through email. When I got married, my husband voiced his concern and was uncomfortable with this "other" relationship so I ended the friendship.

Upon ending that friendship, I realized a big chunk of my relationship with my husband was missing. In other words I had been getting my "other" needs fulfilled by the "other" man. My friend and I had talked and shared things, we had an emotional connection, and it led me to feel like I was getting everything I needed. Once I ended the friendship, I had to work hard to get that same level of emotional conenction to my husband. I had no idea how mixed up things had gotten.

My scenario could have lead to something as complicated and destructive as an emotional affair had I not ended the friendship. So my question is how "safe" is the new phenomena of work and/or substitute spouses? People seem to act like it's typical and harmless. How different is it from having an emotional affair? If you're getting emotionally fulfilled at work, there is no incentive to connect to your actual spouse at home.

Fine Lines

These relationships seem innocent enough, but even the generic definition of a "work spouse" could have serious consequences. When the Internet phenomena entered everyone's homes, so did the "other" man or woman, which led to the emotional affairs in which married folks were getting fulfilled by someone else in non-physical ways, but nevertheless cheating. Now, with Facebook, people are connecting with long lost past boyfriends and girlfriends, which also lead to some trouble in marriages.

Is intimacy only to be shared between spouses? What guidelines are in place between men and women who are friends? I can understand the concern of substitute spouses because there should be a level of intimacy exclusively between husband and wife, a sacred bond. Work relationships of the opposite sex are complicated because people spend more time at work than at home, enabling a bond to easily develop between a spouse and a co-worker...without established boundaries...and possibly not knowing where it leads to.

Right or wrong?


  • physical feelings or attraction to your friend (substitute spouse)
  • lying to your spouse about anything concerning your friend
  • talking about intimate details of your marriage to your friend- this one is hazy because we share intimate details of our marriage to friends of the same sex, like a woman with her girlfriends, but there is a fine line to be aware of with a friend of the opposite sex.
  • having an impact on the emotional aspect of your marriage or a distancing from your spouse
  • you are avoiding resolutions of issues in your marriage
  • your spouse is concerned, uncomfortable, or disapproves of the relationship with your friend
  • Search within yourself for why you "need" this other person in your life or in such a significant role in your life.
  • misleading and insinuating anything more than friendship: i.e. being too touchy feely.
  • only discussing marital probems with that person or consistently speaking negatively about your spouse.
  • Friendship with them should not interrupt your home life: i.e. texting or facebooking your work spouse while at dinner with your real spouse.


  • having a variety of close friendships and not depending on one in particular of the opposite sex.
  • sharing interests with someone of the opposite sex
  • setting boundaries from the start
  • Talk to your spouse. Involve your spouse in this friendship
  • keep special events and things between you and your spouse: if your spouse can't make it to an evening out, don't take your work spouse instead.
  • Your real spouse is your priority
  • some intimacy with your friend is possible if you have good self-control

As I'm writing this, I have two great friends, both men, in my life; one is my high school buddy whose known me longer than anyone else and we talk about significant things in our lives. The other is a man I dated for years, but I've always felt for him like a brother- he was an awful boyfriend, but a terrific and dependable friend. They're are both married and so am I.

My view on this is it's perfectly acceptable to have friends of the opposite sex, but the key aspect in the friendships I mentioned is distance. I haven't seen one of those friends in 3 years and the other I see twice a year, maybe. We talk on the phone periodically, but not for hours. It's safe to say we remain at a safe distance.

I'm alarmed about people with work spouses. How can a safe distance between two people of the opposite sex be established when they are around each other more often than their spouses? They probably have more quality time together than the average husband and wife who have kids at home. I think this phenomena is filling a gap where there should NOT be a gap- people should miss their spouses when away anywhere, even if it's at work. Spouses should not be replaced or substituted because it only masks issues in a marriage and can open up the door to cheating.

Psychology studies have shown one immensely important ingredient necessary for someone to fall in love and this is distance and proximity. People who come in contact with each other more often are more likely to hook up. There is good reason to feel a bit cautionary about certain relationships of the opposite sex who spend a lot of time together.

Remember the statistic I quoted in the beginning? 69% of people have a work spouse. Guess what? Another statistic I found stated 70% of people have thought about cheating on their spouse and the number one place cheaters begin their affairs is at work. Wow! Interesting data correlation there. Since the work spouse idea has only been around for as long as women have been in the workforce equally alongside men, it is yet to be determined how this will affect marriages overall.


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    • izettl profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from The Great Northwest

      Hi Tiffany.

      That's good you have a close relationship with your boss enough to be comfortable like a significant other without replacing your significant others. But also you could see if you mixed sexual chemistry and a close relationship then that could be trouble. And it's not hard to imagine how people at work can be as close to you as loved ones at home. Sounds you and your boss have healthy boundaries.

    • TMillerCO profile image


      7 years ago from Aurora, Colorado

      What's funny for me is my boss is what I often refer to as my "work husband" because people say we bicker like husband and wife! We have worked together at three different companies now, and though we have a good working relationship, there is no attraction there what-so-ever, for either of us. He is very happily married and I am in a long-term, committed relationship as well. I know his wife and he knows my boyfriend. We do share details about our home lives and relationships with each other from time to time, but more because of the similarities of our situations rather than a feeling of intimacy. I value his knowledge and experience, as he is 13 years older than me. We do bicker quite a bit, but I feel it is simply because we have worked together for so long and we know each other well enough that we can speak freely to each other without fear. When we bicker it's always work situations we're going head-to-head over, never anything personal. I can definitely see how this type of relationship can get out of hand. My boss is my friend though, and referring to him as my "work husband" is more of an inside joke than anything and I am very certain that neither of us would be suitable replacements or substitutes for each other's spouses/significant others. I feel that this type of situation can be dangerous depending on the people involved and whether or not there is sexual attraction for one or both people. But for us, our situation is one that works.

    • izettl profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from The Great Northwest

      lyndapringle~ I totally agree with you. I thought it was ludacris when I saw the term, and acceptance of, work spouse. If you are working then how can you form meaningful relationships unless you are meeting outside of work? People shouldn't be getting that close at work. It never turns out well.

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Forming any attachments at the work place is a big mistake. There really is no such thing as a "substitute spouse." One's husband is family and there for the long haul whose loyalty should be taken for granted. He's the person with whom the other spouse will grow old. A work relationship cannot compare. Employees are ultimately only loyal to their jobs and real families and if an attachment at the work place threatens either of those things there can be a fall out and jobs can be lost, especially if the substitute spouse/attachment is a boss or has power over one's job. I'd even avoid close friendships made at work unless you want your business broadcasted everywhere when the inevitable fall out occurs as it does in any friendship. A fall out with a close friend that you make in the work place can ruin your reputation and affect your job. Best to treat all co-workers and managers as casual work acquaintances at best.

    • izettl profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from The Great Northwest

      ElSeductor~ I totally agree with you that as long as men believe they have the slightest chance, then they'll play "friend". I've tried to remain friends with some, but they always add in little inuendos about sexual stuff. It's just too awkward.

    • ElSeductor profile image


      9 years ago


      Thanks for adding to my hub on "Divorce and Women in the Workplace" with this great hub of yours.

      Friends to lovers forever, lovers to friends never:

      I would never put up with my woman remaining friends with a man whom she had sex with. The reason is that we men believe that once we've had access, then we will always have access. Sure, women say that they can see a man as only a friend. For men, however, this isn't the case. Once we've enjoyed your tail, that's all we want from you. As long as we think there is .001% of a chance that we will enjoy your tail again, then we'll play the "friend" role.

      The same goes for "platonic" relationships. For men there is no such thing. If you are completely unattractive, and I mean horrendous, then the man friend in your life is truly just a friend. Or he is gay. Otherwise, he is hoping to turn that .001% into 100%. There are no exceptions.


    • izettl profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from The Great Northwest

      Lapse~ I totally agree with you. I don't think many people realize how easy it is to invest in a relationship at work as friends and how easily it can turn into something else. I think it's interesting that these "friendships" are sprouting up between man and woman and not as much of the traditional same sex friendships.

    • Lapse profile image


      10 years ago from East Coast Rules

      This kind of thing should be on a required reading list for ALL people getting married, or really just entering into an exclusive relationship. Good hub.

      To me the bottom line is when people emotionally invest too much in each other like most "Work Spouses" do then too often one - or both - wants more and more and secrets get kept from the real spouse. Never a good thing.

    • izettl profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from The Great Northwest

      THank you daviddwarren22.

    • daviddwarren22 profile image


      10 years ago

      I like those ideas. Very helpful.Thanks.

    • izettl profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from The Great Northwest

      Anaya~ When I was researching about this I was shocked that people have become so complacent about knowing their spouse has a work spouse or they have one too. I personally think it's way to easy to get carried away.

      I can't completely caution people against it because stories like yours worked out for the best. And best of luck to you and your fiancé! Thanks for the comment.

    • Anaya M. Baker profile image

      Anaya M. Baker 

      10 years ago from North Carolina

      I would really caution people against the work spouse. It's easy to brush off as an "innocent, harmless" friendship, but I think its way too easy to toe the line. Sure, we can make a conscious decision not to become sexually involved with someone, but its harder to draw a line against an emotional connection. It can be really hard to recognize until its too late.

      I had a work spouse once. Because I was getting so much support from him, I think it took me a lot longer to leave the destructive relationship I was in at home. Things were easier to bear with my work husband there to prop me up over coffee breaks. Also, I was afraid that if I left it might be for the wrong reasons, that I was allowing the work spouse to lead me away from my real relationship.

      Eventually, I found the motivation to leave the toxic relationship I was in. I continued a friendship with my work spouse for a while, but we couldn't ignore what everyone else in the office had already noticed. Now, we're engaged, for real this time.

    • izettl profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from The Great Northwest

      ramakant~ very true. couldn't have said it better myself. I've witnessed these disasters in the workplace and it effects other people at work as well.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I think that a work spouse is a terrible idea. One's work life goes to hell, the moment one's personal and work life gets mixed up.

    • izettl profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from The Great Northwest

      Great points-thanks rastamermaid!

    • Rastamermaid profile image


      10 years ago from Universe

      Interesting hub,yes alot of friendships are brought on from the workplace.You're often spending more time with co-workers than family and that brings a closeness that can develop into something more.

      You must know your place,I don't think it ever works out if he cheats with you,he'll cheat on you.

      Voted up!

    • izettl profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from The Great Northwest

      trusouldj~ thanks for the comment- yep, bad combo there. You're so right!

      Jeanine~ Thanks for your comment here. I always enjoy your input and your words.

      You bring up a good point about some people love to flirt, myself included. I think it was a trait I pcked up waitressing. But it is more of a trait than a bait or lure. I don't flirt with a purpose, it's just how I can come off sometimes- I know this and my husband does too. He's the same way- we have awesome trust between each other because of something else you pointed out, we are both honest about this. It was always unnerving dating someone, and he would say he never flirted or never found other women attractive- those are all lies. I'm just glad to be with someone who is open about everything and has strong boundaries.

      You sound like you've struck a great balance in your marriage and yes, I do realize that not many other people, besides spouses, can put up with many of us 24/7.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Very Nice take is love is so powerful... one just needs to spend time together to fall into it... no matter who the two people are... sparks can fly... so I must be very careful... mostly it's the excitement of the chase... the flirt is so much fun... and the idea of someones thoughts about you when they don't really know your short comings can be intoxicating... wonder woman comes to I am married to a very wise person... who takes all my goings on about anyone I want to talk about... listens to my infatuations, my crushes, my musings but in the end... will always sit down with me and speak to me in polite and loving ways... asking,I wonder if they would feel that way about you... if they lived with you twenty four seven... I have someone who loves me and taught me how to openly talk about my desires.. honest open communication has kept me close and truly in love for 41 years now...

    • trusouldj profile image

      LaZeric Freeman 

      10 years ago from Hammond

      if you're not happy and your work wife isn't happy ... whoa, watch out.

    • izettl profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from The Great Northwest

      Koffee Gals~ I absolutely agree that boundaires must be there and men and women can have a very decent friendship. When we decide to date someone, we always just let things take a natural course, and sometimes that leads to romance. So when people at work don't have boundaries set early on, things can also take a natural course toward romance, hence becoming an issue. Thanks so much for stopping by.

      Mr. Rogers~ seems to me the work spouse should eligible for some benefits like taxes and such. Sounds logical to me! Great comment- funny!

      Truckstop Sally~ Whoa, I never heard of house husband. That is a phenomenal idea. Acutally I would just love a friend with babysitting benefits on the side. Thanks for the comment.

    • izettl profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from The Great Northwest

      Ingenira~ Good points and thanks for the comment.

      drbj~ these relationships require careful boundaries. I can understand how emotion can get the better of some people. Many marriages lack emotional connection so it's easy to get carried away when you find someone who you can connect with, but it enables someone to avoid fixing their marriage. Thanks for the comment.

      A.A Zavala~ That is so true! good point about wanting and not having, only to be eventually let down. We all want what we can't have- I think it's what drives us to these relationships.

      graceomalley~ I think your husband would not only not have to worry about your "work" wife, but might find it rather intriguing. yes, a work wife would be nice- someone to do all my chores, etc.

      crystolite~ yes, work is a bad place to have an emotional connection to somebody- things can easily be taken too far. THanks for stopping by!

    • izettl profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from The Great Northwest

      Themanwithnopants~ Yep, you fall into that category for me too. We sort of had an instant friendship. I respect you so much, probably, no definitely more than any of my friends. My husband knows I have an online male friend in Arizona, but would rather me get my intellectual jollies discussing my interests online than bother him with it. My brain works about 100 times more, and overtime too, which is too much for him, or perhaps any one person- lol.

      I had to think about this topic when I first heard about it. I knew it was a fine line to be walked. I've witnessed people too close for comfort at work and I don't think that's very good.

      I have three guy friends from high school that I keep some contact with. It's important to me to have some friends that I go way back with- remind me where my roots are and where I came from. It's all good.

      What my husband used to hate was me waitressing or bartending where the "groupies", the guys who would come in just to talk to me- and I can totally understand that.

      i think it all boils down to respect and that was there from the start for us. Glad you're my friend.

    • TheManWithNoPants profile image


      10 years ago from Tucson, Az.


      eee gad. Whoo! This was good, very good. This is kind of complicated actually. I'm kind of torn between what things should be and how things are. There are probably things I share with you that my wife might not be happy about if she were privy. She probably would prefer it if I didn't have any friends that are girls on line, most of all you, if the truth be known. Yet our relationship (you and I) is as pure as the driven snow. I don't try and do anything sneaky, and I have no shame about my friendship with you. Maybe it has something to do with insecuritys but I'll tell her something about you, or something we talked about, and she seems at best bored to tears. If she read some of our correspondences, there'd be some jealousy I'm sure. "You never talk about those things with me?" "Well, she's my friend, you're my wife." (Then she pulls our one of those giant hammers and gives me one of those long skinny throbbing cartoon bumps on the top of my head.)

      I dunno. How I'm told I should feel is in conflict with how I actually feel. I told you this was very good sis!


    • Ingenira profile image


      10 years ago

      Interesting read. I think the man/woman need to pull him/herself back and think wisely. Let not the emotion ruins a happy marriage. If he/she decides to go forward, a second marriage may not be ruined again for the same reason.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      10 years ago from south Florida

      This is a very thoughtful exploration, izettl, of male/female work relationships that can easily become more than simply work friendships.

      Your points about what is right or wrong in such cases are well taken - particularly the one about setting boundaries. Unfortunately, though our emotions are not always logical!

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 

      10 years ago from Texas

      These relationships exist because they're potentially exciting. However, in the end it leaves both wanting and not having. Thanks for sharing.

    • graceomalley profile image


      10 years ago

      I'm a wife, and sometimes I think I'd like my own wife - you know, someone to clean up after you and listen to you moan and whine. My vote, if I got an extra "spouse" it would be a "work wife" not a "work husband." There you go. And my real husband wouldn't even need to be jealous.

    • crystolite profile image


      10 years ago from Houston TX

      Quite agree with willstarr on the view that most affairs originates from the office.interesting hub it.

    • Truckstop Sally profile image

      Truckstop Sally 

      10 years ago

      Good things to think about, and the comments from hubbers are interesting. I have also heard women use the term house husband -- referring to men that help them around the house -- because their husbands are at work so much. Same cautions are needed.

    • Mr. Rogers profile image

      Mr. Rogers 

      10 years ago

      As one who has always seemed to have been "the other guy" or "my friend..." I agree that there is room in a relationship for the work spouse. Question Can you open a "Work Spousal IRA" for an extra tax deduction? You might as well get that out of it!

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      10 years ago from Sunny Florida

      I think you need to know how to set boundries. I have a wonderful husband at home and a wonderful partner at work that I work very closely to. We are friends and nothing more. We work well together, get along together and respect each other. We do not talk about things that our spouces would be upset about or share anything private about home. I think men and women can be friends and nothing more. Great article. Voted up.

    • izettl profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from The Great Northwest

      Robwrite~ interesting situation you were in. I can't see why the woman went for the jerk, but that figures. It's too bad it ended that way and you never got a chance to tell her how you felt- the one that got away.

      Willstarr~ Since I've been born men and women have worked together so I didn't realize it definitely has had an impact on the institution of marriage. I've also head sonce women are more independent making their own money, they are more likely to get a divorce because they are financially able to. THanks for the comment.

      dahoglund~ Now that's a complicated scenario. Glad I didn't work there. I worked with a husband and wife and that was awkward at times because I knew things I probably shouldn't have. What a mess!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      It might explain the high divorce rate where I used to work. When you bosses spouse and ex spouse work in the same area, it gets confusing.

    • WillStarr profile image


      10 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Most affairs originate at the workplace.

      If people wonder why the divorce rate is so much higher now than it used to be, they need look no further. Women worked at home in those days and the workplace was predominately male. Today, with both men and women spending more time with each other in the workplace than they do at home with spouses, the inevitable happens.

      That's not a condemnation of women working. It's just an observation.

    • Robwrite profile image


      10 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      This is a very interesting subject to me. I was the "other man" in a situation like this once. I had a female friend who spent more time with me than with her boyfriend and she told me everything. She always came to me for advice or a sympathetic ear. Most people thought she and I were a couple.

      Ultimately, it didn't work out too well. I fell in love with her (Although I never told her that) and I couldn't deal with it when she became engaged to get married (I thought the guy was a jerk), so I broke off the friendship. I haven't seen her in 20 years. I still miss her. I wish we could have stayed "just friends' but I couldn't do it.

      Thanks for a thought-provoking Hub.



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