The benefits and potential pitfalls of a ‘work spouse’

He, or she, enlivens your workdays, becomes the person with whom you share casual but important stories about your personal life. It begins as a typical workplace friendship. One day when you both head out the door at the same time for lunch and discover you love the same lunch wagon, you decide to drive together and eat on a bench shivering in the not-yet-spring weather. Soon, it becomes your practice to eat lunch together, introducing each other to favorite low-cost restaurants. You occasionally discuss your manager, your more eccentric co-workers, and each other’s workplace beefs.

You’ve developed a work spouse. When Creighton University researchers surveyed 439 employees, they discovered 63% either currently have or previously had a work spouse. In March, The Wall Street Journal cited the Creighton research, noting that employees with work spouses reported higher levels of organization commitment, a key ingredient to reducing turnover and improving employee performance.

The benefits to you? Your work spouse knows the characters who inhabit your office sitcom and understands better than anyone else why it upset you when a woman you consider a “snake” lands a coveted promotion. Your work friendship provides you with emotional support; a sounding board you can trust to provide honest, constructive feedback; and someone who encourages you when the going gets rough.

How do you know you have an office spouse? You share inside jokes. You can finish each other’s sentences. You can be honest with them, and they with you, about your hygiene whoopsies. They are your snack or “forgot my lunch money” cash go-to. You debrief workplace events with them. They know the key events happening in your personal life and provide moral support. You trust them to keep confidential what you disclose about your manager.

Work spouse relationships carry pitfalls. Your co-workers, managers, even your actual spouses or romantic partners may misinterpret your relationship, creating jealousy or making you a gossip target. Your relationship might slide from platonic into romantic territory as an escape from home-life struggles. According to a 2023 survey, 50% of employees with a workplace spouse harbor romantic feelings toward them.

You and your work spouse might encourage each other to gossip or vent unproductively. Close workplace relationships can lead you to remain in a job despite obvious career benefits to moving on. If you and your work spouse have an acrimonious falling out, you may regret sharing personal information you considered forever confidential. You may find it awkward if you or your spouse gets promoted to a higher level within your organization.

You need to manage these downsides. Make sure you and your work spouse don’t shut out other co-worker connections. You may need to be intentional about reaching out to co-workers who consider camaraderie with you off limits or unwanted. Avoid oversharing information you’d never want repeated. Set boundaries that protect your primary relationship; for example, don’t text each other late into the evening and don’t invite your work spouse to critique your actual spouse. Let your romantic partner know you have a platonic work friendship, so they don’t wonder why you’ve kept it from them when they eventually learn of it.


Finally, if you don’t have a work spouse, consider the real benefits; they often outweigh the risks.

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Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Navigating Conflict,” “Managing for Accountability,” “Beating the Workplace Bully" and “Solutions,” and Submit questions at or follow her on, or @lynnecurry10 on X/Twitter.