The Work Spouse

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Dear Dr. Darcy:

I work in post-production (editing) and our company has had a huge project that’s caused me to work insanely long hours for almost 6 months now.  It’s put a strain on my relationship with my girlfriend and at the same time a co-worker of mine has become a little too close.  We’re partners on this project so we’re together about 11 hours a day.  We’re totally platonic, but it’s like she’s become my ‘other’ girlfriend.  I feel like I have two intimate relationships! It’s weird, I feel guilty that this other woman shares so much of my time and knows so much about my life.  I honestly have no concerns that it will ever get inappropriate – I just don’t know if it’s ok for this type of relationship to exist given that I have a girlfriend.

ANSWER

You have a ‘work spouse,’ a term that’s on the rise as we (particularly Americans) work longer hours and are forced into close proximity with coworkers. These coworkers become confidants, people with whom we share the details of our life and predictably the relationships take on a certain level of emotional intimacy over time.   Nothing you’ve said is giving rise to concerns in me.  Nonetheless, you’re right to recognize that you’re walking a fine line that when crossed, can lead you right into trouble. Here are some tips to keep you safe:

Boundaries: They can’t be overstated.  Know the danger zones.  Avoid situations where it’s just the two of you and there’s the potential for alcohol to be involved. You know your job better than I do.  Come up with 2 or 3 other scenarios that could also lead to trouble and make sure you avoid them.

Shhhhhh: Consider putting a lid on some of the details of your life.  She already knows your life story…sharing the day-to-day drama just ups the emotional intimacy.  Try and dial down the intimacy with your work spouse.  And whatever you do, do not share negative details about your relationship with your work spouse.

Raise The Volume: Dial up the discussions of how close you are with your real girlfriend.  It will underscore the difference between the two relationships and help maintain that boundary.

Be More Inclusive: Find ways to include other coworkers in your daily routine so that it’s not just the two of you.  Adding other people to the mix dilutes the intimacy.

Writer’s Stats: Female, Lesbian