What is "The Office Wife" Anyway?

by Nancy Travers,LCSW

You’ve probably heard the term before. It’s bantered about on television, tossed into articles of Cosmopolitan and GQ. Sometimes it even works its way into conversations at the gym or the grocery. “The Office Wife,” or “Office Husband” is the scariest thing in your spouse’s workplace. But does it need to be? What is the Office Wife anyway?.

The Office Spouse is a strange staple in many American workers’ daily lives. Between ten and thirty percent of individuals in a variety of industries admit to having an office wife or an office husband! This phrase describes the relationship that develops as more and more Americas work longer and harder at their jobs, and in closer proximity with colleagues of the opposite sex. This is a non-sexual companionship in which both partners are emotionally invested in each other, their work performance, their well being, and their emotional health. Willard F. Harley Jr., PhD. explains, “An office spouse meets emotional needs, going beyond the requirements of the job. If you are in a bind, here is a co-worker?someone of the opposite sex?who will care for you, who you can depend on, and who you can confide in.”

The good news is that most people wouldn’t dream of cheating on their loved ones with their Office Spouse. The Office Spouse has a very specific role for most office dwellers. You do lunch, you talk about your life and vice versa, they celebrate the good times at work and complain about the bad ones. You share your thoughts about the office pool and politics, you share your hopes and your ambitions?and then you go home separately. The Office Spouse gets the inside jokes, understands your frustrations with the boss, and picks up on your work vibes.

But this can be a scary thing for your real spouse. In a way, the office spouse is more in tune with your life than the real husband or wife at home! You spend 8 hours or more at work?arguably your best 8 hours, when you are most aware and least exhausted. You are away from your spouse. Even though you may come home and talk about the office and your spouse may commiserate, your spouse will never truly understand your office life. Those inside jokes just never come home.

It’s not surprising that the real spouse can get jealous of your work-time support. Because of the emotional investment required, many people feel that the office wife is an emotional affair that is quickly on its way to a physical one! Of course breaking up with your Office Spouse can have negative effects. Do you really want a spurned co-worker in the office with tons of inside information about you?

So for those of you with an Office Wife or Hubby, here are a few tips to keep everything flowing smoothly and everyone happy:

Don’t share too much personal information at work: It’s ok for your office buddies to know your birthday, your anniversary, and your kids’ names, but keep the dirty secrets at home. Your Office Spouse doesn’t need to know about your wife’s latest diet craze or your husband’s terrible habit of leaving dirty laundry right beside the hamper. You should especially avoid telling your Office Spouse about fights with your real spouse! You should also avoid accepting personal information from your Office Spouse; and if you can’t stop their details from spilling forth, share them with your partner. Inviting your spouse into your office world helps it become less exclusive.

Be very careful when discussing your relationship: It’s easy to vent frustrations about your marriage, especially to someone who offers you so much emotional support. However, telling someone who cares about every other aspect of your well-being that you aren’t satisfied with your home-life is asking for trouble! However, re-affirming to your Office Spouse that “I love my wife” or “I’m crazy about my husband” should be enough for them to recognize your good marriage for what it is.

Don’t be alone with your Office Wife away from the office: Harley suggests, “Romantic relationships develop out of recreational activities and intimate conversations.” With an office spouse, you already have a sense of intimacy; there is no need to invite other complications into the relationship. You should definitely avoid drinking with your office spouse! Some situations, such as business trips, may seem unavoidable. Don’t forget, you can always invite your real spouse along to any occasion outside of the office.

Let both of your real spouse meet your office spouse: You can even make an event of it, especially if your office spouse has someone at home as well. Meeting your wife or husband will help to reinforce the boundaries of the Office Spouse relationship, and help your real spouse accept your office friendship. And on the same hand, you’ll be doing the same for your office bud!

Stop talking about your Office Spouse!: Your real spouse should know about your office spouse, but shouldn’t be subjected to hearing about them constantly. Talk about your work day, but don’t over-emphasize. One office worker admits, “If I talk about my ‘work husband’ too much and in a somewhat too positive light, my real husband starts to get suspicious and a little jealous.” Remember that the Office Spouse cuts an imposing figure to the person that kisses you goodbye in the morning and goodnight when the day is done.


Nancy Travers is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She specializes in all types of relationships; We all want them, We all need them; How to get em and Keep them. Nancy’s office is located at 2212 Dupont Dr., Suite I, Irvine, Ca. 92612.

For more information or to make an appointment, call 949-510- 9423 or contact us.
copyright a division of Counseling Corner, Inc.
As seen in The Blade magazine June 2005.

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