Hi Wanjiru. I read your post on the blurred lines regarding married people in the office and I immediately felt guilty. I am married but there’s this guy in the office called *John who is a dear friend. We talk about everything from work to relationships. I tell him about my family issues and he occasionally gives me advice. We have lunch together almost every day, he helps me with work and we even chat beyond office hours. The problem is I have realized that I have begun liking him a little too much. I love my husband and would not want to hurt my family with an affair. How do I salvage this situation? – *Betty
Hi Betty. Thank you for being honest and candid about this. It is extremely brave of you. Now, what you have described is known as the office spouse phenomenon. Let me explain. He knows your birthday, your favorite food, worst fear, and even some of your dark secrets. And no, he is not your husband. That is an office spouse. You share your thoughts, hopes, and ambitious dreams. There’s an intimacy between you; the only thing you are not doing is having sex. Willard Harley Jr -the guy who has written the book “His Needs, Her Needs: Building an affair proof marriage” describes an office spouse as a coworker of the opposite sex who meets your emotional needs, going beyond the requirements of the job. They are someone you can depend on and who you can confide in. And you are not alone; a survey conducted by Vault.com, a media company for career information, found that 32% of 693 respondents from a variety of industries reported having an office husband or wife.
This is the same case as those people who have friends of the opposite sex that they love deeply and have probably known each for a very long time. Like you admitted the professional lines get blurry and insisting that your relationship is purely platonic is being in denial. Here are some practical things you can do to prevent an office affair, turn this situation around and change the course of your relationship.
Talk to your husband about your job and let him tell you about his: The reason why you are so close with this guy is because you share many work experiences; conversations you don’t have with your husband. Spend time every now and then speaking about your job and give him a chance to tell you about his and really listen. Know a lot about each other’s careers, challenges you are facing and projects you are working on.
Tell your husband about him: Something (sin) only has power over you when it is a secret. Talk to your husband about this guy. You may not have to go into all the details that you like this guy but you need to say something. You can say “My colleague John is usually so helpful” Talk about other people in the office as well. As long as something is a secret, it usually feels mysterious and exciting. The moment you talk about John, he will stop being your secret. This kind of sharing of course requires that you and your husband have an environment where your lives are open and you can talk freely. If for some reason you can’t talk to your hubby, tell a sober close friend who will not be afraid to set you straight and you can be accountable to.
You can go a little further and introduce your real spouse to your office spouse. You can invite John for dinner with your family and have him bring his significant other. This makes your real spouse included in the relationship so it doesn’t feel exclusive. I know majority of the people my husband works with in their department. I also try and attend the events where spouses are invited. Why? Because I’m interested in my husband’s job –it doesn’t hurt that his colleagues are amazing people. Plus it is those colleagues that will come through for your family in the case of an emergency of even death in the family. Share your work life with your spouse so you’re not creating your own world at work that your spouse isn’t aware of. However, don’t overdo it – make sure you are not always talking about John did this John did that. Wisdom is key.
Stop seeing him so often: The reason you have grown so close has to do with proximity. You spend too much time together. Stop always calling him to fix your printer, reduce the lunches you have together and do away with the after work chatting. It is of course prudent to talk to him first – don’t just cut communication leaving him wondering what happened. Sit him down and tell him politely but firmly “You are a great coworker and I enjoy working with you. However, I feel we are crossing from professional to personal and I am not comfortable with that. I would us to reduce the amount of time we spend together”
Stop sharing personal information especially about your marriage: This is going to be hard but you have to do it – not only with John but with other colleagues. Don’t divulge your personal issues and don’t contribute when people share their marriage issues with you unless a fellow lady wants your advice. Don’t participate in women gossip where people bad mouth their men. It is completely petty, unwise and unhelpful – the only thing it does is reduce the respect people in the office have for you.
If you do get personal, be careful how you describe your marriage. If you and your man are fighting and you tell a close male friend about it you open the door for an affair. That person sees it as a welcome to become more involved with you. Speak highly of your spouse whenever you talk about him. Let me people know you love him. That way, the other person is less likely to invest time or emotion into the relationship. Also, in the event they meet your husband, they already have high regard or him.
Don’t be alone with him separate from your job: Stop being alone with him. For example, don’t carpool one-on-one, don’t engage in recreational activities after work or hook up on weekends. Going drinking with him is a big no-no. Alcohol is a catalyst to bad decisions.
Well, I hope this is helpful advice. I know it is hard to tear yourself away from someone you are fond of but in this case it must be done. You need to be intentional and deliberate about this. I wish you well.
Author: Wanjiru Kihusa
I am Wanjiru Kihusa and I’m a writer and founder of Still A Mum – an organization that seeks to reduce maternal and newborn deaths in Africa. I am especially passionate about women and children.
I blog to share my thoughts and experiences hoping that in the process someone will learn from my life.