Do You Have a Workplace Spouse?

Do you have a work colleague whose sentences you finish because you've grown so close professionally? Does your job require so much travel that some weeks you're with this co-worker more than you're with your family? On weekends do you ever find yourself missing him or her and wanting to send an e-mail or make a call just to touch base?

If you've answered yes to any of these questions, chances are you've got a "workplace spouse." As Americans of both sexes spend more time than ever at work, these platonic office marriages evolve naturally through shared responsibilities, experiences and goals.

You watch each other's back. You root for each other's success. You plan, plot and scheme together to get the job done.

While workplace bonds have always existed, the ascent of women in the workplace has put more peers of the opposite sex on par with one another. These relationships start innocently enough and some actually blossom and flourish -- in fact, my husband and I met this way -- but take caution: Office relationships can become oh-so-dangerous, ruining marriages and professional connections, and damaging careers in the process.

Your significant other may very well have reason to worry: In a poll released last week by the Society for Human Resource Management, some 40 percent of employees admit to having been involved in a workplace romance at some point in their careers.

Last season on "Desperate Housewives" we saw Lynette sabotage her husband Tom's career because she grew jealous of his relationship with a female co-worker. Even though nothing improper happened to violate their marriage, Lynette grew increasingly uncomfortable with the close proximity and late nights at the office her spouse shared with his sexy, single counterpart. And while Lynette took drastic action (she got him fired), which is impossible to condone, Tom certainly didn't do much to reassure his wife of the innocence of his workplace bonds.

That storyline is hardly isolated to fictional characters. It plays out in boardrooms and bedrooms every day throughout the country in all lines of business. Fortunately, there are some smart steps you can take to avoid having your professional relationships wreck havoc on your personal ones.

Establish appropriate boundaries -- literally and figuratively -- in the workplace. Avoid excessive touching and physical contact among colleagues so as to not give off any signs of impropriety. Leave office doors open when meeting. Dress and communicate professionally, not seductively, both alone and in front of others.

Keep your spouse in the loop about your workplace relationships. When you're open and honest about whom you work with and the nature of those contacts, it helps to lessen any tension at home. Be understanding and patient if your spouse is jealous or anxious about such relationships, and work hard to demystify them while showing respect for those feelings.

If you're hiding something or you're afraid to share it at home, that's a sign that what you're up to may be inappropriate. As such, it's advisable to reconsider what's going on at work so you're not inadvertently jeopardizing any of your meaningful relationships.

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