Spending time with co-workers 9-5 can cause strong bonds to form- even work “marriages.” Is it all innocent fun, or could it spell problems for one’s real marriage?
Working outside the home connects us to a whole other set of people outside of our typical social circle. For many, the people we work with become an extension of our family. We may not click with everyone we work with; but, spending as much (sometimes more) time in the company of work colleagues, sharing challenging experiences and getting to know one another can result in some deep connections.
Some of those connections become real friendships that extend outside of work, while others are very close between the hours of 9 and 5. We could become lunch buddies, part of a fantasy football league, happy hour friends, or occasionally part of what some call a work “marriage.”
In the company I work for, our IT department consists of a male and female duo who spend 40 hours per week rubbing elbows. Their desks face each other, they solve problems together, share about their families, joke, offer comfort, and refer to one another as work “husband and wife.” In this particular case, both of these “spouses” are devoted partners to real life mates. Their friendship is innocent, and their relationship is no threat to their actual marriages.
Close-knit work relationships aren’t always innocent, however.
Long hours working together can create tempting circumstances and invitations to cross the line in ways that can be damaging to marriages or promote divorce!
A work marriage may start with joking around, playful teasing, traveling together for work, sharing meals and social time together, and becoming personal confidants. So long as the friendship stays within appropriate boundaries, there is nothing inherently wrong with a male-female office friendship.
A friend of mine laughed when sharing how angry his work wife got with him when he went out to lunch with another co-worker. Their relationship had grown beyond their mundane work tasks to the point that they began to rely on each other for social support to get through the day. I know this man well enough to know that he has no sexual interest in his workplace spouse, and he loves his real wife dearly; but, not everyone is as conscious of the possible threat or appropriate limits.
This begs the question posed in the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally: can a man and woman every really be just friends? The title characters in this movie both argued and tested this query. Harry believed that every man would always grab the opportunity to sleep with any woman, while Sally contended that a strictly platonic relationship was possible.
Given enough time at the water cooler, putting in extra hours, surviving challenges together, and interacting day-after-day, is any opposite-sex friendship on an inevitable path to an affair?
I recall my ex-husband and his string of friendships with co-workers. Clearly his on-the-clock engagements traveled to more suspect territory when I became aware that he and his wife of the moment would tease about sex and more risqué’ topics. He was very boastful about the fact that one of his co-workers propositioned him and gave him an open invitation to get it on with her whenever he wanted. I’m not sure how I was supposed to feel when he shared this with me. I was threatened, disgusted, and angry; but, I think he expected me to feel proud that he was tryst material!
I have no doubt there’s a difference in the way any of us conducts ourselves at work. I talk and joke with many colleagues, but I do not send out signals of availability, flirt, or accept advances from anyone. I suppose that if I flew my “open for business” flag, I may have a work husband or a full extra-marital schedule. I’m just not interested in either.
I don’t condemn anyone who forms friendships with opposite sex pals from where we spend our day. In fact, I think it can be fun and even healthy to explore the perspectives of others. I do, however, think we need to be careful about how we extend ourselves to others when we are in a committed relationship. Every intimate piece we pass around to others who are not our partner can lessen the bond we have with our chosen one or open the possibilities of crossing a line.
Intimacy doesn’t have to be physical. We can cross the line by forming emotional attachments, confiding personal information, and other acts that we should be saving for our real spouse.
Some people we know are like sharks sniffing for weakness in others’ relationships. They prey on those of us who are struggling in our home life and take advantage of loneliness, sexual starvation, and other maladies of floundering marriages for their own personal gain. We need to be cautious of how manipulative people may seize such opportunities, just as we need to be careful about what messages we’re broadcasting about our willingness and availability!
If our partner is the one getting “hitched” to a co-worker, it doesn’t hurt to make our presence felt to both our spouse and their work buddy. Remember my friend whose work wife was put off by him going to lunch with someone else? Well, his real wife has made a point to get to know all the females he works with and has even gone out to lunch with the two of them. Let it never be forgotten that he is attached and if a relationship beyond one’s job description is sought, they can move along to someone else!
What about my ex and his penchant for office flirtations? Let’s just say that I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he didn’t get a refill on more than just his coffee at work! To this day he is the office Romeo, dating one of his co-workers after another. No harm now because he’s not married; but, it’s a pretty good indication of where he invests his time and attention. He is evidence that many people we work with view the workplace as their own personal dating game!
So, continue to punch your time clock, earn a paycheck, and bond with co-workers. We should just always be conscious of the problems that can be caused by getting involved with the wrong people and the fact that extended time with others is likely to form attachments. Some of those relationships may remain innocent and platonic; but, others could easily evolve into something damaging to a marriage!
Consider how respectful it is to your spouse or your work friend’s to even compare your office relationship to a marriage.
Can you trust yourself or your spouse to always be able to maintain appropriate boundaries even when spending more time with them than they may with you?
How close is too close of a relationship with a co-worker?
Can men and women ever be “just friends?“
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