It’s one of those dark and dreary mornings, and the world is still moving in slow motion, because you haven’t yet made it to the coffee maker. As you try to fight your yawning, you find yourself humming in your head, “Waking up is hard to do” to the tune of Neil Sedaka. You glance at the clock and groan, because it’s as if the hands are frozen in time.
But then you hear the familiar pitter-patter of footsteps behind you, and suddenly your heartbeat quickens to match them; your stomach erupts into butterflies. The dopamine rush jolts you awake, and you turn around and greet the person who ignited such a fire in your heart.
Except that person isn’t your partner or your spouse – it’s actually your work spouse.
We’ve all had one at some point in our life, right? The modern-day idea of a “work spouse” is so prevalent that ABC recently aired a pilot for the comedy-show “Work Wife,” inspired by Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest’s real-life rapport on the morning show “Live.” In fact, multiple stars of showbiz have admitted to having work spouses on set, even if they’re married to someone else. The ever-ebullient Ana Gasteyer, who has played the wife of Chris Parnell on comedy shows from “Saturday Night Live” to “Suburgatory,” endearingly refers to him as her “wusband” (a portmanteau of “work” and “husband”).
It seems innocuous enough. After all, you’re totally not sleeping with your work spouse. You’re not even physically intimate (although, apparently, the protagonists of “Work Wife” do share deodorant on the show). But, if you’re in a monogamous, committed relationship at home, how do you know when your emotional intimacy with someone else is crossing the line? When does that harmless “work marriage” become an emotional affair?
If you find yourself dancing on that razor’s edge of infidelity and are unsure whether you’ve slipped into the danger zone, consider these seven warning signs that you may be having an emotional affair.
You Can’t Stop Thinking About The Person
If your work spouse is the first person you think of when you wake up — or while you’re singing Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” in the shower — you may be developing romantic feelings for that person. Even healthy crushes can become problematic if they turn into obsession, because you’re so consumed with the object of your affection that you can’t concentrate on anything else. And if these obsessive thoughts turn into fantasies about someone outside of your committed relationship, you definitely don’t have the headspace to prioritize your partner. Start to note who takes up more real estate in your thoughts and daydreams.
You Have Constant Contact With The Person
Of course, you and your work spouse spend hours and hours together at the office — that’s unavoidable. But if you find yourself texting, calling, video-chatting, or even Snapchatting the person at all hours of the day, you might want to pump the brakes on some of these interactions. This can become especially insidious if you start communicating at questionable hours, like the middle of the night, or if you’re juggling text conversations with the person while you’re spending quality time with your partner.
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You Hide Your Communications With The Person
Harboring secrets from your partner can be damaging to your relationship, no matter what it is that you’re trying to hide. If your connection with your work spouse is truly friend-zone only, you shouldn’t have to use deception in the first place. But if you find yourself withholding information from your partner, lying about your interactions, or deleting evidence of your communications (e.g., texts and emails) with the person, you’ve definitely broken out of the friend zone and into the danger zone.
You Share Intimately With The Person
Sure, you and your work spouse are always putting out fires together at the office. You probably have a few not-so-charming nicknames for your curmudgeonly co-workers. That kind of gossip is just part of office politics. But if you find that you’re sharing your deepest problems with this person, even before you’d consider confiding in your partner, you may have crossed the line into inappropriate emotional intimacy. Even more troubling is if you share private information and frustrations about your relationship at home — and maybe a few not-so-charming nicknames for your partner — with your work spouse.
You Put More Effort Into Your Appearance For The Person
Just because you and your work spouse aren’t touchy-feely with each other, doesn’t mean that physical attraction is off the table. If you notice that you’re spending extra time gussying up, applying makeup, or maybe donning a new hairdo before you see this person, there’s a part of you that wants to look attractive for your work beau. Ask yourself: when was the last time you debuted an exciting new look for your partner?
You Become Jealous When The Person Is With Someone Else
If you and your work spouse are just platonic pals, then why does “Hey, Jealousy” ring in your brain when the person laughs with someone else? And what was that quick pat on the shoulder you just witnessed? There go those obsessive thoughts again. If you’re that protective of your work spouse, your relationship may not be as innocent as you tell yourself.
You Compare Your Partner To This Person
It’s easy to idealize your work spouse when you only see one side of the person — i.e., the best-behavior image the person portrays in the office. You and your work spouse don’t live together, so no wonder you don’t experience conflict from nagging, forgetting to pay the bills, or letting the dirty dishes pile up. The problem arises when you use this idealized, incomplete picture as a reference point for your relationship with your partner. You may find yourself becoming overly critical of your partner for what you perceive as flaws, or you might express frustration that your partner doesn’t mirror all the positive behaviors you see in your work spouse. Just remember that, in any context, comparison can be unhealthy — it is, after all, the “thief of joy.”
What To Do If You’re Having An Emotional Affair
How many of the warning signs apply to you? If you only nodded your head a couple of times and breathed a sigh of relief for the rest, relax: you’ve probably mastered the boundaries. But if you found yourself gasping, “Yes… yes… DEFINITELY yes,” chances are that your playful platonic partnership is actually an emotional affair. And, as studies show, the consequences of infidelity can be devastating, including negative outcomes like rage, loss of trust, depression, low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, decreased confidence, and ultimately justification to leave the unfaithful partner.
The good news of all this? Knowing is half the battle. Autumn is approaching, a season of new beginnings, a golden opportunity for self-reflection and growth. It’s the time of the harvest, when we reap the bountiful crops we’ve nurtured since spring. Sometimes, the seed we planted sprouts into something unexpected, presenting a challenge for what to do next. But you don’t have to confront this challenge on your own; consulting with a licensed therapist can help you navigate this journey of self-exploration.
— GoodTherapy (@Good_Therapy) August 27, 2018
Maybe you’ll realize that your relationship won’t survive another season, and perhaps that’s for the best. But if you cherish your relationship and want to preserve it, it’s important to be honest with yourself — and each other — so that you can strengthen your roots and blossom together.
Has a platonic relationship in your life morphed into an emotional affair? Share your experience in the comments!
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