The Care & Keeping Of A Work Spouse

Maybe it was love at first sight, maybe it took a few meetings for things to really click. But there’s no mistaking that she’s the one. Pretty soon, you’re stealing sidelong glances, sharing jokes, and shooting each other texts. Then, one day, it happens. There’s no formal proposal or offer of a ring. Instead, over a few happy hour margaritas, one of you says it: “Are we work wives?”

Okay, producers probably aren’t falling over each other to get the movie rights for this story. But whether you’re single or taken, a special someone at work, the so-called “work spouse,” can be a hugely important part of both your personal and professional lives. While not everyone wants or needs close friendships at work, for some of us, a work wife can be both a person who both improves your day and makes you better at your job. At the same time, you’re walking a fine line between the professional and the personal — which can be tricky.

While we won’t see a Hollywood blockbuster on platonic office relationships anytime soon (Bridget Jones’ G-Chats, anyone?), that doesn’t mean it’s not one worth protecting and nurturing. Ahead, our 10 Dos and Don'ts of having an office bestie.

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DO: Use Each Other As A Resource
Maybe you initially bonded over Beyoncè or a shared love of Nutella, but make sure your relationship isn’t just limited to downtime. You have a built-in confidante who understands your job and office dynamics. She can help you with everything from the best way to ask for a raise to editing your emails — and you should be doing the same for her.

Romy Newman, co-founder of Fairygodboss, remembers a former work wife at an old job who worked in the HR department. The relationship was so important to her, she explains, not only because her friend was there to make her better — she was also there to provide critical feedback. A relationship like that can strengthen both of you in your careers.
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DON'T: Be Too Cliquey
“Work is not high school, so you'll want to avoid forming and sticking to cliques,” advises career expert Julie Hochheiser Ilkovich. While it can be good (and even necessary) to have the occasional one-on-one debrief with your work wife, be sure the two of you aren’t so closed off that no one else is ever invited along for a quick coffee run or lunch. You don’t have to start inviting everyone to your weekly Bachelor screenings, but maintaining friendly relationships with other people in your office is essential.
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DO: Watch What You Share
Newman puts it bluntly: “Don’t talk badly about people at work.” Yes, we’ve all done it, but be careful. If you have to vent, do it IRL — know that anything you write over Slack or email may eventually be seen by your manager (or the world if you work on certain political campaigns)

Even positive gossip — so-and-so is getting a promotion, I’m leading a new campaign — can be dicey if you weren’t specifically charged with delivering that intel to your friend. The best case it to keep these convos to your non-work friends. And if you must tell your work wife, tell her away from the office so no one can overhear you both.
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DON'T: Only Talk About Work
If your work wife is becoming fully integrated into your evenings and weekends, keep an eye on how much of your free time you’re spending on shop talk. Sometimes, asking “What are your weekend plans?” or “What did you do last night?” is all you need to say to reroute the conversation away from another dissection of the last staff meeting.
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DO: Keep It Professional
“Major work problems can develop if you're seen as having favorites in the workplace, so it's important that you show that you can be professional with all people equally, even if you're working with your good friends,” Ilkovich emphasizes. That means no inside jokes at meetings, and being careful about what kinds of things you say in front of others. Even in casual offices, blurting out, “How was your Tinder date?” in earshot of other people could reflect poorly on both of you.
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DON’T: Take Advantage Of Your Friendship
That also means extending the same professional courtesy to your friend as you would to your other coworkers. Don’t assume you can cut corners or skip deadlines because you’ve sang karaoke together.

“You have your personal you and your work you,” Newman explains. Make sure your professional self is at least a little present at all times to gauge when it’s okay to goof off — and when it’s time to get to work and take things seriously.
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DO: Be A Friend
That said, your coworker isn’t just a repository for all your thoughts on org charts and promotions. Work goes in ebbs and flows, so she may need a pick-me-up or pep talk every once and awhile. It can be as little as picking up a candy bar or dropping a note to remind her she’s great. Just like you don’t want to get too comfortable in a romantic relationship and let your partner go underappreciated, don’t let your work spouse feel ignored, either. While we don’t yet have a Valentine's Day for platonic romances, at least make a point of remembering her birthday.
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DON’T: Force It
“ I would say the #1 rule of workplace friendships is pay attention to cues and don't force anything,” says Ilkovich. We all approach work differently — some of us would rather be polite but distant, some people prefer to have their offices be the center of their social lives. Ultimately, there’s no wrong answer. If you have a blossoming platonic work relationship, be ready to go with the flow and be willing to see how the relationship develops naturally.

That extends to how much — if at all — your work wife wants to socialize outside of the office. Some work friendships can transition seamlessly into the rest of your social circle. But some people might value their alone time or prefer to keep out-of-office activities strictly to the two of you, and that’s fine too. As long as you’re responsive to your friend, you’ll find a way to make it work.
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DO: Keep A Sense of Self
When you have a best friend, it can feel like it’s the two of you against the world — or maybe just the office. But you can be loyal while still disagreeing. Newman admits that, when she did inevitably vary with her work wife on something, the disagreement felt even worse because they were friends. But she says they also made each other stronger when they disagreed.

It can be easy to absorb your work wife’s opinions, from the best way to tackle a project to why your manager is the worst. But you can provide her with an ear and a shoulder to cry on without having to give the evil eye to every person who has crossed her. There are so many interpersonal dynamics going on in offices big and small that assuming you have the whole story — and allowing it to sour your own relationships — is a misstep.
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DON’T: Forget To Keep In Touch
In all likelihood, at some point the two of you will have to part ways. It can be hard to maintain a relationship when the thing that was keeping you together for 40+ hours a week suddenly disappears, but keeping in contact is important for a number of reasons.

First, you now have a friend to go to for advice who is no longer your coworker but who has seen you in action. Second, who knows what the future holds — one of you might be able to make a vital connection or get the other a job. And finally, this is a person you care about and have enjoyed spending time with.

Even if it’s limited to drinks every few months — or even just a “How are you?” email, keeping in contact is a way to honor your work marriage. If only all divorces could be so amicable.
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