Historically, "work spouse" is a phrase, mostly in American English, referring to a co-worker, with whom one shares a special relationship, having bonds similar to those of a marriage. Early references suggest that a work spouse may not just be a co-worker, but can also be someone in a similar field who the individual works closely with from a partnering company.
A work spouse has been defined as “a special, platonic friendship with a work colleague characterized by a close emotional bond, high levels of disclosure and support, and mutual trust, honesty, loyalty, and respect”.
A "work spouse" is also referred to as "workplace spouse", "work wife", or "office husband", "work husband", or "wusband".
In one 2006 survey, 32% of workers said they had an "office husband" or "office wife".
A CNN Money article characterizes the relationship as having the "immediate intimacy [of marriage] without commitment."
Sociological and psychological implications
With so many of the quality hours of a day spent at work, having someone there who has an intuitive understanding of the pressures, personalities, interactions, and underlying narratives of the workplace society can add safety and comfort to what can otherwise be an alienating environment.
"Work marriage" appears to be a genuinely caring relationship fostered by the propinquity effect and associated with love-like feelings and possibly limerence. Some "work spouses" admit that sexual attraction between them is present, is rarely acted upon, and "channeled" into a productive collaboration.
This new social relationship is unique to the social milieu of the late 20th and early 21st century; and as a result the sociological and psychological implications this new social relationship poses to Western society's traditional notions of love, marriage, and friendship have not yet been fully explored.
The phrase "office wife" was common during the 1930s, popularized by Faith Baldwin's 1930 novel The Office Wife and its 1930 movie adaptation. But the concept, if not the exact phrase, is much older: a 1933 New York Times article says:
It is curious that the phrase "office wife" originated with Gladstone. He used to say that a Minister and his secretary should understand each other as perfectly as a husband and wife, which principle he reduced to a system.
"Office wife" carried the connotation of subordinance or subservience. As feminism began to take hold in the 1980s, it became common to hear that "Many secretaries resent the 'office wife' syndrome," referring to being asked to do such things as paying personal bills for a boss, picking up everything from dry cleaning, or dusting the office. "I'm getting paid as a secretary," said one secretary. "I'm not a personal servant."
According to Timothy Noah, writing in Slate, "The terms 'work wife,' 'work husband,' and 'work marriage' entered the national lexicon in 1987, when the writer David Owen wrote an Atlantic essay describing a particular platonic intimacy that frequently arises between male and female employees working in close proximity."
An executive coach and workplace adviser noted that as of 2005, "The workplace spouse is a relatively new concept ... Many people don't know what to make of it yet. It is only within the last 25 years that men and women have become peers in the workplace ... This new camaraderie, coupled with long hours spent at work, has caused a fundamental shift in the way people conduct business and interact with one another."
Male–female television news co-anchors are sometimes referred to as "TV spouses" for the way they work together and present themselves side by side. "I've known Don for 14 years," said Minneapolis anchor Amelia Santaniello of her co-anchor. "We like to joke he was my first TV husband." Miami anchor Pam Giganti called her co-anchor "my partner and my TV husband for the past eight years." Anchor Mark Bradshaw writes, "I've gone through many 'TV wives'. I can't even remember all their names. Bad husband."
Actress Ana Gasteyer refers to actor Chris Parnell as her "wusband," or work husband, whom she has played the wife of in The Groundlings, in Saturday Night Live sketches, and on Suburgatory: "I have my husband, Charlie, and then Chris Parnell ... He's my work husband, my 'wusband.'"
- Cambridge dictionary article
- Dawn Sagario (13 March 2006). "It's OK to have an office spouse". Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved 31 August 2020.: "They are platonic, close, opposite-sex couplings, with no romantic strings attached"; "A recent workplace survey found that 32 percent of workers say they have an 'office husband' or 'office wife.' '(It's) really hitting its stride this year,' said Mark Oldman, co-founder of Vault Inc. The career information company published the survey results in January"
- McBride, M. Chad; Bergen, Karla Mason (2015-10-20). "Work Spouses: Defining and Understanding a "New" Relationship". Communication Studies. 66 (5): 502. doi:10.1080/10510974.2015.1029640. ISSN 1051-0974.
- "Will an office 'romance' make you more successful?". CNNMoney.com. 2006-01-27. Retrieved 2006-07-12.
- Allen Powell II (2006-06-20). "Commander Gonzalez given a hero's funeral". New Orleans Times-Picayune. Retrieved 2006-07-13.: "But, [Capt. Octavio Gonzalez] was also a cop's cop, a man so dedicated to his job that his wife often referred to fellow SORT member Capt.
- Eyler, D.R.; Baridon, A.P. (1992-05-01). "More Than Just Friends". Psychology today. Retrieved 2011-05-07.
- Baldwin, Faith (1930). The Office Wife. New York: Dodd, Mead.
- "The Office Wife". Retrieved 2006-07-12.
- Wilson, P.W. (1933), "The Career Secretary: In America There Is No Counterpart of the Englishman Who Serves Great Men and Often Succeeds Them" The New York Times, January 8, 1933, p. SM12.
- Karagianis, Mary (1980): "Clerical Power: Behind Every Boss There's a Secretary," Boston Globe Magazine, October 19, 1980.
- Timothy Noah (2004-11-17). "Prexy Sks Wrk Wf: Condoleezza Rice's promotion creates a void". Slate. Retrieved 2006-07-12.
- Jackson, Kate M. (2005), "It's a Marriage of Sorts: 'Workplace spouses' Share Office Goals, Long Hours, and a Need for Boundaries. Often times this office marriage can lead to a sense of comfort that is not received from the home life. Frequently, the two can engage in such activities that may only be approved of in actual marriages. This has led to many divorces that support the increasing divorce rates in America." The Boston Globe, October 23, 2005, p. G1; quotes "executive coach and workplace advisor" Dory Hollander; online at Kate L. Jackson (2005-10-23). "It's a Marriage of Sorts". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2006-07-13.
- "Don Shelby Retiring From WCCO-TV In December". WCCO-TV.
- "Longtime WTVJ anchor Bob Mayer to retire July 1". South Florida Sun Sentinel.
- "My Many "Wives"". TVNOOZ.
- "Ana Gasteyer on Jimmy Kimmel Live PART 1". Jimmy Kimmel Live. YouTube. 25 October 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2013.