When to Divorce Your Work Spouse

Divorce is never easy. When it is someone you work with, it can be downright traumatic. Occasionally there are even "custody" arrangements of direct reports or a polarization of colleagues to work through. A work spouse can be a man or a woman, same or differing gender. It is the person you work closely with and typically someone similar enough in personality to create chemistry (the unromantic variety) yet different in ways that allow you to complete each other. For example, one may be great with numbers while the other is great with presentations. Perhaps one is more big picture while the other craves a life of details. In short, this relationship is a partnership of sorts.

A work spouse is a blessing and a curse. There is true value in actually enjoying the time spent with work colleagues - often this time is much greater than we spend with our own spouses and family. There is a camaraderie in sharing work stories and lunches with someone who you can also share your personal life with. Someone who remembers your birthday, anniversary, your birth stories and how you like your coffee. Who knows your mood by the way you say "Good Morning" - or not. Who you can borrow a lint brush from or check for salad between teeth before a meeting. Someone that picks up the slack on bad days and who challenges you to do your best every day.

I've had two such "marriages" in my career, and what I know is that they tend to run their course, eventually evolving into friendships from afar. Ideally this will be caused by one person's promotion or transfer - or perhaps even a new job that effectively severs that every day connection. Less ideal is when the relationship begins to sour - leading to the type of resentful bitterness seen in the movie War of the Roses. Just as in a real marriage, this can begin with one person changing course and leaving the other person struggling with the change.

Emotional maturity and professionalism is the antidote to this type of negative energy. But what to do when a work marriage begins to truly sour? Although I have never had to deal with this, I know plenty of people who have. What I have observed is that it is usually best to simply sever all personal aspects of the relationship. Maintain a friendly manner yet keep all conversation topics to work related matters.

Unfortunately, such a transition can be awkward in the short term. Consistency is key and time will eventually lead to new connections and habits. Although the rewards of a healthy work relationship can be tremendous, severing ties with a once close partnership is uniquely challenging. Any conflicts play out in the place that pays your bills and puts food on your table. The good news is that, unlike a real marriage, your house, child custody and alimony is never on that table. Keeping a work spouse divorce in perspective is essential to successfully navigating the dissolution.

1 comment:

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