is it a bad idea to work with my boyfriend?

A reader writes:

I am starting a new job in a month’s time … in the same advertising agency as my boyfriend. Everyone in my new office (including the bosses) is aware of our relationship status so there’s nothing to hide, but I feel like mixing my personal and professional life together is not an ideal situation and may potentially cause problems in the future.

I took on the job because it’s a great opportunity that outweighs whatever concerns I had with working together with a romantic partner. We will not be handling the same accounts, so we will not be working on the same projects 90% of the time. But I’m still concerned about navigating it well.

Do you have any advice on how to manage this situation so that we both have smooth-sailing personal and professional relationships? Or am I overthinking things?

You’re not overthinking things — it can be legitimately tricky to work in the same office as your significant other. But there are things you can both do that will maximize your chances that it will go reasonably smoothly.

First and foremost, keep your relationship out of the office. You don’t need to hide the fact that you’re dating, but while you’re at work you should act like co-workers, not romantic partners. That means no pet names and no physical displays of affection like kissing or even hand-holding, since they’re likely to make colleagues uncomfortable (if not downright queasy). Really, you should avoid any kind of couple behavior, like always sitting together at meetings or circulating as a unit at office social events. That stuff might seem like it’s not a big deal, but making a point of having professional boundaries at work will help assuage people’s fears that things might get weird at some point.

And people will have those fears! When they learn you’re dating, some of your co-workers will probably wonder if it will affect things at work: Will you be able to work on projects together professionally? Will you favor each other in work decisions, especially if one of you has influence over areas like project assignments or expense approval? Will there be drama or tension at work if you have a fight or, worse, break up? Those are all legitimate concerns, and the more you’re scrupulously professional with each other at work, the more you’ll put those worries to rest.

That’s especially true if there’s ever a period where the two of you aren’t getting along. Part of the deal with working with a significant other is that you have to commit to keeping any issues in the relationship out of the office. If you have a fight the night before, you still need to be professional with each other at work — even if you’re seething mad. And it’s not enough to be icily professional, where anyone watching can tell something is up; you have to be pleasant enough that you’re not making things awkward or uncomfortable for bystanders. (And hopefully there’s no breakup in your future, but in the event that that happens, you’ll still have to continue being pleasant and professional with each other, even though seeing each other every day might not be ideal at that point.)

Leaving aside your co-workers, working together can also affect your relationship, sometimes in weird ways. When you both inhabit the same work world all day, it can be harder to disconnect from your job after you leave the office. You might be done thinking about work for the day while your boyfriend wants to unpack the aggravating conversation he had with a client or strategize about how to pitch a project to your manager. And even when you both want to leave work behind, you’ll probably still sometimes find yourselves talking about work and co-workers, just because you’re both spending a huge chunk of your day in the same place and around the same cast of characters.

There are also more complicated ways that things going on at work for one of you can end up affecting the other. For example, if your boyfriend doesn’t get along with his boss and complains to you regularly about the ways he feels wronged by her, you might not be able to prevent that from affecting the way you see and interact with her, even if you otherwise would have gotten along. Loyalty to each other can mean you end up taking on each other’s work beefs or grievances as your own, which can complicate your relationships with colleagues and even lead you to make professional decisions that aren’t necessarily in your own interests. Or, sometimes not doing that can be a problem too: If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly by a co-worker, will it bother you to see your boyfriend cracking jokes with her at a staff meeting or supporting her for a promotion? There are a bunch of potential land mines here, so it could be helpful to talk about how you’ll handle personal and professional boundaries at the outset of working together.

There’s also the possibility that your relationship could limit your advancement. You can’t manage someone you’re involved with, which means neither of you can be promoted into the other’s chain of command. That might not be relevant now, but it could become an issue as one or both of you think about moving up. (You can solve that by one of you going elsewhere, of course — but it’s good to have on your radar as something you might run into.)

All this said, many, many people work with significant others and it goes just fine. And of course, there can be upsides — like having a partner who gets your work world in a way that someone not employed there never could, and who doesn’t need a ton of backstory every time you want to tell a funny work problem or vent about a co-worker. Yes, there are pitfalls, but as long as you’re both reasonably mature, communicate well, and don’t gross out your colleagues with PDA, you’ll probably be fine.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 108 comments… read them below }

  1. 1234*

    I’ve worked for married couples who own a small business together. One couple mentioned that they set aside rules like “When we are doing X activity (watching tv, eating dinner), any talk about work is off limits” and they felt that this worked for them.

    Maybe this advice will help OP as well?

    1. KathyW*

      Yeah, my husband and I both work for the same university in IT and his group was contracted by my department for a bit. More so than professional issues with us working together were the personal issues – we could get into a real “work spiral”. When you are venting about “that idiot” at work and your spouse also knows that person you can really go deep into work discussion which is not very fun.

    2. JokeyJules*

      this works for my parents! They both work for the same small organization and literally do not EVER talk about work outside of the office unless it’s something urgent like my dad gets an on-call call and needs to go. in the office, they only really interact when they need to which isn’t often, and have offices on opposite sides of the building. also, because of their positions, they both have pretty distinctly different answers to “so, how was work today?”, so it’s almost like they don’t work together.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        My in-laws worked at the same large institution for decades, and rarely encountered each other except in the car park at each end of the day. It worked well for them. But I think having totally separate functions (e.g. marketing and IT support) is the way it works best.

        LW doesn’t say how established/permanent the relationship is. I think I would be wary of joining a partner’s employer unless I was very certain the relationship would outlive the employment, or the employer was very large.

        1. Federal Middle Manager*

          Hmm, I don’t know about that. Why should OP disadvantage her career opportunities for a flimsy relationship? If OP isn’t sure about the relationship, but is sure the job is a “great opportunity” then OP should go for it.

          1. Diahann Carroll (formerly Fortitude Jones)*

            Where did the General say OP should disadvantage her career opportunities for a man? The General said that if the General was the one in this predicament, they would be wary of joining the company – that’s a perfectly reasonable thing for the OP, or anyone really, to consider.

          2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Diahann has it right – this is how I would feel, and not necessarily how I would advise someone else. It’s another factor to bear in mind, like how you shouldn’t base your job search on your current commute if you expect to move house soon and the new commute would be a PITA.

    3. Applesauced*

      This sounds like Ben & Leslie who could only talk work on city property, so Leslie dragged him into a fountain (public water supply!)

    4. Constance Lloyd*

      I successfully dated a coworker. 5 years later we are still dating, but no longer coworkers. Our rules: We had half an hour to talk about work after we got home, and we didn’t take our lunch breaks together. We managed to keep the relationship a secret (not against the rules, just not anything we wanted to share) and maintained a nice balance between work life and home life.

  2. sunny-dee*

    I haven’t worked with an SO, but I did work closely with my brother (who I also lived with at the same time, because we were both broke and in entry level jobs) and on the same project. It really is doable. Set boundaries on what and how you interact at work, and on how you bring work home. Thomas and I kept at-home work talk restricted to specific details (“I need to go in early tomorrow to do XYZ” or “I forgot to mention, I need MNO by tomorrow afternoon”), but never people. And we did the same at work. It worked really well for us.

  3. OneWorkingMama*

    My husband worked part-time for years at the place I am a director of (he’s in a different department and I have no managerial responsibility over him). We are friendly, of course, but never demonstrative at all. The business I’m in is a very casual one in which doors are almost always open, part-time staff come and go from leadership offices all the time, so it was not a big deal for him to pop in my office for a minute to say hello; we just made sure to respect the company norms and keep conversations just as brief and open as I would with any other staff member. (Other places are probably much more formal about drop ins and such, yet another reason to make sure you know your office norms). Just keep it professional and make sure neither of you ends up in a role to critique or supervise the other and I highly doubt you’ll have any conflict. Just being mindful of it, as you obviously are, is a big step in making sure you are acting appropriately!

    1. pope suburban*

      I am the part-time staff member at the agency where my husband has been full-time for about five years (versus my two-ish), and we handle it the same way. We work out of different sites and there is zero overlap between our roles. If he’s at my site to meet with someone or pick something up, he might stop in for a couple of minutes, but not much more and we keep the conversation casual. Something we have going for us is that there are several other married couples working here, and my department in particular often hires relatives/spouses for specific projects on a contract basis. We have, consequently, a good set of norms and baselines for spouses/relatives at work. Basically, do what the people whose partners *don’t* work there do when they have a visit, and you’re probably in the clear.

  4. Christmas Carol*

    If you spend all day together with you boyfriend, neither one of you will have any entertaining new stories to tell the other when you get home. This turns out to actually be a bigger problem than you would expect.

    1. Finkfink*

      Yes! My SO and I work for the same organization, although in different departments. We commute together and also are on the same Slack all day. We’ve become the couple you see in a restaurant that you pity because we’re staring at our phones instead of interacting with each other. (We’re actually poring over various social media and news sites to find a topic to talk about that isn’t work.)

      Audiobooks on the commute have become our saving grace.

    2. JimmyJab*

      This is only a problem if they work in close proximity, depending on the workplace they could go all day without interacting.

    3. khewa*

      I don’t really understand this when I hear it; I work with my husband (different department but we see each other off and on all day and work with a lot of the same people, have lunch together, etc) and when we get home we never have issues finding anything to talk about, and we rarely talk about work outside of work. I feel like if you have an issue not having work stories or something to share, when you’re retired it’s not going to be good.

      1. Fran*

        I work with a couple that live together and it’s so obvious they are together. The arrive at work together, take holidays together, take RDOs together – you get the picture. I envy those couples though I’d love to work with my husband just so we could both talk about work sometimes and have that same understanding. It would also be nice to have lunch together and just have that support on my side all the time. We spend our workdays completely apart. We don’t talk about work at all at home but I see work couples that do have a closeness I wish I had during the workday.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah I don’t work with my husband but we really don’t talk about work that much at all. Sometimes I feel like we should and I try a general “how was work today” and rarely get more than a “fine” in response.

        Most conversations in our house are about how cute our cat is :D

    4. House Tyrell*

      My ex and I worked in the same division, but different departments, but our offices actually still shared a wall due to space available and it really was a struggle to come up with things to talk about that were new and interesting.

    5. Penny*

      My spouse and I had more options for topics of conversation when we worked at the same organization! We didn’t usually work directly together, but there are some pretty strict privacy policies regarding the work we did there. When we both worked there we could openly talk about anything. Now that I don’t work there anymore there is a lot about his job he can’t discuss with me, or can only discuss in generalities.

      I mean, we are not at a loss for things to discuss these days. But his position is very stressful, and it’s a lot harder for him to seek the level of guidance and support he used to be able to do when venting at the end of a difficult day. There are a lot of good reasons for me not to work there anymore (none of them to do with us being married — that was never an issue in the slightest), but this is a definite downside.

      1. Goldfinch*

        This was what I was coming to say–I work with IP and I can’t talk about a lot of what I do with my spouse. All my colleagues who are married in-house can discuss work freely, because they’re all under the same NDA umbrella.

        (And I say “all” because the sum of spouses, children, and siblings in this company is a staggering number. Our family tree is a wreath.)

  5. Sloan Kittering*

    The only other note that I would add: consider how the relationship could affect you in the case of changes to your roles for the future. It’s okay now, but could become a problem if one of you transferred, was demoted, had to take a lateral position, or got promoted. You would likely not be eligible for a promotion if it would end up would making one of you report to the other.

    Not a reason not to do it, just a potential factor to consider.

  6. Third or Nothing!*

    One thing to consider: if your company has any problems, you both will be affected. That’s one big reason why I won’t put in an application at my husband’s fabulous company. If they have to lay off people, we’d BOTH be out of a job, instead of just him.

    I know you might not be at the stage yet where your finances are connected, but it is something to think about long-term.

    1. Solar Moose*

      This is absolutely worth considering. Didn’t end up being a dealbreaker for my partner and me. But it’s all the more good reason to be careful of your finances, and save up a few months’ worth of expenses in case of a rainy day.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That’s something worth thinking about for sure.

      However in a lot of situations, layoffs are by department so if you’re not directly within the same one, the chances of you both being cut in a layoff are lower.

      When I read this though, before getting to your point about layoffs [and realizing you meant financial problems], I did start to think about how if it’s a toxic or otherwise high stress company as well, then there’s no “free zone” for one of you to escape to as well. If someone decides to leave, it’s hard as well! If one of you hates the place and the other one has a solid team, that can lead to resentment as well, I imagine.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Oooh, hadn’t even thought about the toxic environment issue. Another good reason to diversify workplaces.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I only thought about it because when my partner and I worked together, it turned toxic AF randomly [seriously they were crazypants over there, we never saw it coming until it hit us like a tiny farm house falling out of the sky and landing on the owner’s sister]. It could have torn us apart if we weren’t a couple stubborn goats.

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            It could have torn us apart if we weren’t a couple stubborn *daschunds.*

            Fixed it for ya. ;)

            Random side note: I’m a little too excited about being here long enough to have holdover conversations from other posts.

    3. NW Mossy*

      This is definitely true, and lends some support to what I would call “intra-relationship diversification.” In some lines of work, the risk of even being in the same industry as your partner can be hard to bear. A dear friend of mine left her journalism career after she married another journalist – neither felt good about tying their joint financial fate to that of an industry that’s been contracting as rapidly as that one.

      I don’t know much about how that might play out in advertising specifically, but something to think about. Personally, I get a lot of comfort from knowing that I’m in a completely different line of work from my spouse, and that we work for companies of totally different size.

      1. Midwest writer*

        I’m a reporter and my husband spent a few years as part-time copy editor at the paper where I worked. Our schedules were off set (8-4:30 and 3-11), so while we had less overlap during the day, we both faced the prospect of being laid off when the newspaper was sold a few years ago. We were actually looking to move at the time, so I found a job at another paper and he went back to teaching (eventually). The idea of both being at the same place again makes me nervous because of that experience.

    4. Food Sherpa*

      Very Valid Point! This exact thing happened to Hubby and me in the Great Recession of 2009. We were both out of a job with no notice. Make sure your basket is very strong if you are going to put all of your eggs into it.

    5. A Simple Narwhal*

      This is an issue that may never come up or apply to you, but some benefits get split between partners if they both work for the same company. Things like long-term leave for example. I was actually just reading my company’s policy and it mentioned that if both spouses work at [Company], the amount of allotted family leave is shared. That means that if you adopted/gave birth to a child, or needed to take care of a sick parent, you would only get 12 weeks between the two of you, not each, which kind of sucks.

      (I will add that I don’t know how this works in combination with the FMLA time, this may be that the paid portion is split between spouses, but you can still take the 12 weeks off unpaid, etc. But either way you’re missing out on income you might have if you were at separate companies.)

      1. WellRed*

        “I was actually just reading my company’s policy and it mentioned that if both spouses work at [Company], the amount of allotted family leave is shared.”

        I realize this is common, but this non-parent thinks this is BS. Either you qualify for the benefit, or you don’t. If it were vacation time, would you have to split that too? (I know the answer is no).

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*


          How is that remotely legal?

          In my country parental leave is around a year, some of which is ringfenced for the person who was pregnant, but can be shared as chosen by the couple. But that’s regardless of employer, not dependent on it! I can’t get my head around the policy the Narwhal describes. Ridiculous!

        2. Mama Bear*

          Agreed. If they would give x leave to a single person, they should give x leave to each individual. If that is how they are interpreting FMLA, I think they are wrong.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah this is literally how it’s written into the FMLA law, so it’s not a company policy in reality.

      3. Essess*

        Definitely THIS! Normally married people can each get health insurance from their employer and each one can have a family plan that will cover each other. That means each person can be covered by 2 insurances. This way the secondary insurance kicks in to help cover whatever cost the first insurance didn’t (especially for copays, deductibles, and such). However, I worked for a company that wouldn’t allow married employees each get family insurance if both spouses worked for the company. That meant that by working at the same company, they were only allowed half of the insurance coverage they would have been able to get if the spouse worked anywhere else.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Every company I’ve worked at has specified that you can’t use their insurance if you are already covered by a spouse’s insurance.

          1. TardyTardis*

            True. I was glad we were working for different employers, and watch the insurance companies play jump ball.

    6. Mama Bear*

      This. My husband has been furloughed and sometimes my income was keeping us afloat. If you live together (now or in the future) be sure to have a good contingency plan if you both get laid off.

      We have several family members (spouses, children, parents) working in the same company, in different capacities. As long as they aren’t supervising each other, it’s fine. One of our married couples is so distant at work that it took a while to even figure out that they are married. Probably best for them that way, though.

      1. Diahann Carroll (formerly Fortitude Jones)*

        One of our married couples is so distant at work that it took a while to even figure out that they are married.

        I worked with a couple like this once. I thought they were brother and sister when I first started in the division because they both had the same uncommon surname, but the only time I really saw them interacting is when I’d pass them coming back from lunch and they were on their way out of the building together. They worked in separate departments within our division and had two totally different job functions, so they had no real reason to do much socializing during work hours.

        I also had a coworker on my team in that same division whose husband was a manager of a separate department in the division – she worked remotely, though, so like the first couple, no one would have known about it if my manager wasn’t always calling them out about it.

    7. Iris Eyes*

      This is a prime reason why while my SO is looking to leave a sinking trash barge of a company we avoid him applying to my company (although he does pass along what he can to his fellow trash barge inmates.)

      The lack of income and benefit diversification is a significant concern.

  7. Solar Moose*

    My partner and I have worked in the same workplace for 5+ years. It’s a big enough place that we’re not on the same projects, and neither of us are interested in managing. It works fine.

    1. TechWorker*

      My partner and I have also worked at the same place for 5 years (tho only dating ~3.5 of them). We’re both managers and that also works fine ;)

  8. Whatever*

    The one thing I would add to this is to have a series of talks with your boyfriend before you start to make sure you’re both on the same page with these rules. You can do all you can to make this a smooth transition, but if he’s going to be trying to give you a peck on the cheek or act mad at work when you’re in an argument then everything you try to do will be fruitless. This really, really needs to be a two way street or you’ll forever be known as Boyfriend’s girlfriend.

    1. Ella Vader*

      Definitely. And the stakes and consequences may not be equally significant for both partners – whoever is newer to join, whoever is less senior in other ways, or a woman who has a male partner, is more likely to be seen as the adjunct to the other. The male or work-senior partner can be vigilant about things like not talking about the OP much at work even in social conversations, always referring to her by name in work conversations, and not spelling out that you have extra reason to remember what she’s working on. (By full name, if that would be appropriate for other acquaintances doing the same kind of job. “I believe Anne Shirley’s on that one” sounds less cozy, less insider-name-droppy than “Oh, that’s Anne’s account, she’s meeting with them next week.” ) That models how other bosses and co-workers should speak about each of you to the other.

  9. Akcipitrokulo*

    I used to work with a long term couple. They’d drive in together, split at the door to go to their own teams, and act as if they were polite colleagues until they left for the day. That worked really well.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, I currently have, and have had in the past, couple colleagues like that. You see them coming in and leaving together, but that’s basically it. I don’t know how it works for their relationship, but it works great for the office!

    2. Jamie*

      I have worked with long time married couples who were the same – no issues at work at all.

      IME there are more issues when couples are dating. Anecdata – just the ones I’ve known have brought more drama to the office. I assume the couples I’ve known where it worked so well worked the kinks out decades before.

      1. TechWorker*

        My office has 3 couples who met at work (none of us are married, but all the couples live together and have been together for a while). There’s ways for it to be totally drama free :p

    3. Brihanne LeMarre*

      This is my fiancé and I.

      We’ve been together 3.5 years and working together for just over 1 (I’ve been here 21 years). Other than a quick check-in at the end of the day before he leaves (before me), we don’t go out of the way to see each other if it’s not work related. We’re apparently so circumspect that people who’ve known him since day one are shocked to find out we’re not only a couple, we’re engaged.

  10. Massive Dynamic*

    I work with my spouse, and it’s actually pretty cool. We do work together on certain projects/clients, but most of our work is separate. I think the main trick is to know that our working relationship is separate from our co-parenting relationship which is separate from our marriage. And yes, these things do intertwine a lot, but we’re on the same team for the whole of it, even though we are different people with different approaches to situations in all three realms. And yes, friendly professionalism in the office with each other and with all coworkers is absolutely a must, no matter what’s going on in one of our other spheres.

    1. Mirekat*

      This is pretty much exactly my situation too. I work in the same department as my spouse and even sometimes on the same projects. We’re very very careful maintain professionalism at all times at work. I find the only drawback is that we sometimes end up talking about work at home a little too much for my taste. But otherwise it’s totally fine.

      1. Brihanne LeMarre*

        I had to institute a “no work talk in the bedroom” rule after he initiated a conversation that got me so worked up I couldn’t fall asleep one night.

    2. BethDH*

      This makes me think of a piece of Co-parenting advice that might be useful for coworkers too. If you do see each other a lot at work, it can be easy to feel like you’ve spent time with your partner and skimp on meaningful relationship time. Advice given to parents talks about making sure to set aside date nights and time to be a couple and feed that part of your identity. I could see that being a good idea here as well.

  11. The Starsong Princess*

    My company is well known as the best place to work in the area so lots of people have an SO or family member working here. It’s a large company with good policies about not reporting to a family member/SO and family members of top execs can’t work here except in certain jobs.

    Probably 30% of the people I know have their spouse also working here including my boss. Everyone seems to have the policy of “don’t cross the streams”. In other words, do your job in your area with your colleagues and interact with your SO minimally. My boss doesn’t even drive in with her husband. Everyone does roughly the same so there’s no cost couples. It all works fine.

  12. LadyByTheLake*

    It can be done, but it can be hard. I worked with a boyfriend who was a conflict avoider who broke up by ghosting me. It was very difficult to be not speaking to each other in our personal lives but have to go to work and be friendly and professional and pretend like I hadn’t been stood up and like he wasn’t avoiding me. We succeeded because when many years later I casually mentioned to a co-worker that boyfriend and I had been dating the whole time we worked together (we had long since moved on to other jobs), the co-worker couldn’t believe it. That’s the goal!

    1. Jamie*

      I doubt most people could be so professional at work under those circumstances. Kudos, that’s an excellent quality.

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      What the actual hell. He ghosted you personally but still interacted with you professionally?????

      My head hurts on that one.

  13. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I loved working with my partner, it worked out well. I agree, it’s all about not acting like a couple at work. We acted like coworkers, all our other coworkers were well aware of our relationship status but knew that we kept it professional. After we left, all our coworkers even commented on how well we worked together and how they were impressed by the fact we could keep it cool.

    I’ve worked around a lot of family and relationship kind of offices. It’s always been easy to deal with because everyone keeps it about business and if someone ef’s up, we still call them out and they go through the same channels as if we didn’t know them in a personal way. I’d correct my partner the same way I’d correct any other coworker, he’d do the same for me.

    We didn’t have to separate work from home though, it didn’t bother us but we weren’t taking toxicity home either. It’s all about keeping things comfortable for all parties involved, including those not within your couple.

  14. TurquoiseCow*

    LW doesn’t mention how long they’ve been together as a couple, and I think that’s a valid question. If you’ve only been dating for a few months and you’re job hunting or this looks like a good opportunity, then really consider whether this will affect your relationship, or whether the relationship will affect your job, or your ability to do your job and be seen as a competent employee (rather than Boyfriend’s SO).

    As is often the case, how will either of you handle it if you break up? The longer you’re in the relationship, the greater the chances you’ll stay together, so I think a couple who’s stable and has been together for years would do better working at the same company than a couple who’s been dating a couple months or who often has arguments and wonders if they should take a break.

  15. Bunny*

    No way, I like that we both get the prosumption of being right when we are bitching about a work issue while still entertaining the idea ourselves that we were TOTALLY in the wrong.

  16. NerdyKris*

    I worked in a call center where people hooked up or even married constantly. And every time without fail they’d find out they couldn’t move up because of the way the department was organized, which was eight “managers” overseeing all 90+ employees, essentially. (It was awful and broken, yes. I have so many stories about people insisting I wasn’t “their” manager)

    Among the other problems I had to deal with were:
    Couples giving eachother backrubs while corporate clients were in the room
    Hanging around their partner’s desk when they were on break or off the clock, which doesn’t work in a busy call center
    Partners getting involved in disciplinary processes
    Threats to beat up managers they felt were disrespecting their partner
    Breakup drama where they would sabotage their partner’s work
    A situation where an ex boyfriend and ex employee kept being let in the building in violation of a restraining order because he was friends with a manager who was taking his side in the breakup. This manager was eventually fired because of this.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This sounds like the awful stories I’ve heard from my friends who have worked at call centers for longer than like five days. =(

      I can’t blame people for finding comfort in one another when you know…you’re locked in a total hellpit together. But yeah, no thank you.

      1. Rainy*

        When we met, my husband was working in a call centre and I still remember him telling me sadly about the quiet room being made off-limits because the people hooking up in it kept leaving used condoms on the furniture. D: D: D:

        (He was going to university during the day and working second at the call centre so *he* used the quiet room to catch a nap over his dinner break.)

  17. LLG612*

    My parents were both elementary educators at different schools in the same district. The district actually prohibited married couples from working in the same school, which became frustrating at several junctures for them. They drove to work together (dad dropped mom off) for 30+ years. They loved that they knew the cast of characters at each workplace and spoke often about work at home, but have other shared interests. When they were at work events together they made sure to be polite but not overtly in a relationship. I know that’s slightly different from working in the same building, but this district is super close-knit so it’s similar.

    I met my partner while he was volunteering for my organization. We were both going through divorces but didn’t know it, and at one event disclosed it and we clicked. Literally the first thing I did when I realized we may have romantic feelings for one another was disclose to the president of the board, who said as long as things were professional they didn’t care. Ultimately, we felt our lives were too untwined work-wise with him doing the level of volunteering (think key volunteer) even though he was supervised by someone else. We mutually agreed he’d step down from his more prominent volunteer role and just help out occasionally. At events only those we are close with know he is my partner and we make sure to keep that boundary. It is really great, though, for him to know the people at my work so I can discuss work woes with him (as ED, I have no peers with whom to discuss my workday).

  18. animaniactoo*

    You want to be scrupulously ruthless about not taking sides. Even if you think he’s definitely in the right or the wrong. The only time you want to take sides is when you can back it up with definitive facts “according to company policy for acceptable standard deviations, it looks like this is more than 2x out of the norm”. And even then, you’re still not taking his side or theirs, you’re taking the side of the facts and company policy in that scenario.

    After you have built a solid reputation for being objective about situations that he is involved in, you can on occasion weigh in your opinion of whether he’s right with a particular argument based on your *own* perceptions about it. Not about him, but about it.

    You also want to make sure that neither of you is the person others go to in order to complain about the other person “Does s/he always do this kind of stuff? How do you handle it?” or that it’s okay to ask you to intervene with each other on someone else’s behalf. Politely recuse yourself and go on about your day. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I’m the right person to do that. It sounds like something you should take up with him/your project lead/your manager/etc.”

  19. kali*

    I work with my boyfriend, and it’s wonderful. We’re very much not in each others’ chain of command, but there is room for us to work on the same projects sometimes, which is great- I really enjoy working closely with him when it comes up. We have lunch together several times a week, and if I’m having a rough day, his office is just down the hall.

    I completely second all of Allison’s advice, though- my boyfriend and I never kiss or hug where others can see us at the office (we’ll occasionally shut the office door for a brief hug if no one’s around). We don’t arrive separately to office parties, but we mostly don’t attend them as a unit- we split off and chat with different people. It’s very much not a secret that we’re dating- I will often say “Boyfriend and I were visiting his parents this weekend” when it’s relevant to the “how was your trip/weekend/vacation” chatter with coworkers. But we don’t act couple-y at all in the office.

    We have talked about “what if” we broke up- it might be rough (and he’s more senior than me) but I think we could both be professional. No way to know, though.

  20. Hepzibah Pflurge*

    I’ve worked with both my current partner and my ex-husband at different times/small companies. It can be fraught with peril, as my partner and I discovered when we got laid off two weeks apart from the same small agency, or as my ex-husband and I discovered when we decided to get divorced (not related to working together).

    There are pros and cons, dependent on your situation and relationship. As others have said, keep it mega-professional and most people won’t bat an eye.

  21. lilsheba*

    This reminds me of the show Melrose Place….where two characters lived together and worked in the same advertising agency.

  22. Come On Eileen*

    I just split up with my boyfriend a month ago. We work together. (We actually met on Match before I realized we worked for the same company). It may seem obvious, but keep in mind that if you do break up, you’ll still see his face in the office quite a bit and that can be painful. Our company is quite large — 5 buildings spread out over a city block, but he works one flight up from me, so we run into each other in the elevator, cafeteria, water fountain, etc. It’s an amicable breakup but dear god, I’d still prefer not to see him as much as I do.

  23. CorwinCat*

    My SO and I worked together for a few months in college, at the same small tech company. It was actually fine as far as both of us being able to focus on work and maintain professionalism while in the office. We didn’t work on the same projects, so while there was interaction, it never got weird or awkward at all.

    I wouldn’t do it again, though, given the choice, only because the company folded right when we were about to graduate, so we ended up laid off at the same time rather than (as had been the plan before the company’s financial crisis) being hired on full time with benefits. That seriously sucked, to lose 2 incomes right as we were about to finish school and have nothing lined up. So in short, I think working with one’s SO can be okay (more than some might think!) from a social standpoint, but financially speaking, you’re putting all your eggs in one basket, and that’s a tad risky.

  24. Booksnbooks*

    My department has two people whose spouses also work for the company in different departments. It’s made it really hard for our department to have non-work socializing during the day during lunches. Company-wide social events that my department used to take as a time for everyone to sit together and chat have become our department plus the two spouses. And it is *AWKWARD* when your colleague is trying to tell a story and their spouse is shooting down what they say, or interrupting, or telling embarrassing non-work appropriate stories, or monopolizing the conversation. And groups of us within the department used to grab lunch together — two or three or four people in various configurations. That has died a death because both of these colleagues now have to get permission from their spouses first, or the spouses join the lunch (see above), so it all just kind of petered out. I guess what I’m trying to say is make sure you stay an individual. Make your own work friends, and hang out with your department or group as an individual — don’t lose that part of your identity. It’s hard on you, and it’s hard on your colleagues who feel badly for you.

    1. Former call centre worker*

      That sucks that your team is having that problem, but I mean, that sounds more like an issue with certain individuals than a working with your spouse problem! On my team, nearly half of us have a spouse working for the same company in a different department/business unit and I’m pleased to say that this does not happen.

      1. Booksnbooks*

        That is excellent to hear. I thought it was just an individual problem with the first couple. But then when the second couple was the same it seemed like a broader problem. (But, I expect a more likely reason is probably that the couple-dom was normalized by the first set, and so it was easier for the second set to fall into the we’re-a-couple-at-a-cocktail-party-and-we-do-everything-together role without, perhaps, thinking of it.) The final straw for me was when it became weird because a female colleague joined our table at a work lunch and someone said something I didn’t hear and then she asked–in a really surprised way–for permission from the colleague’s wife to take the open chair next to him.

        1. Former call centre worker*

          That’s weird and I think I’d be quite offended if someone asked me for permission to sit next to my partner! It’s kind of saying “I think your partner is so inclined to cheat that he’d start an affair in the canteen right in front of you”

    2. 'Tis Me*

      Those relationships sound somewhat toxic to me – having to ask permission to go to lunch? Seeing a whole department sitting together and crashing their grouping to put down their spouse and embarrass them with inappropriate stories?

      I feel sorry for the two members of your department no longer being able to socialise at lunch with people who might help them retain an understanding of normal interpersonal relationships…

  25. Former call centre worker*

    I worked with my boyfriend for about 5 years (we met at work and started dating while I was a temp with 2 weeks left on my contract, and we had no idea we’d both still be there nearly 5 years later). There were other couples in the office so it wasn’t unusual – as someone says above, I think this is a bit of a ‘feature’ of call centres.

    It wasn’t a disaster and I don’t think you should be overly concerned so long as you behave like colleagues at work, but I wouldn’t recommend it. My partner and I have very different working styles and tbh I think we drove each other up the wall whenever we had to interact at work. At home, he doesn’t like talking about work too much while I like to vent a bit, so I think that was probably not ideal for him when the work I was talking about was also his work. I also worried about what it would be like if we split up and still had to see each other every day. I was definitely very glad when we no longer had to work together.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s crucial that you have the same work ethic/habits, that’s for sure!

      The reason it worked well for me was that my partner and I are both hard asses when it comes to work. If he was slacker or if I were a slacker even slightly, we would have exploded our relationship into pieces.

      Thankfully we already knew that before we started working together though. Often you don’t have any idea what your significant other is like in a professional world. We both talk a lot about work and all that stuff, so that’s how I knew that I could trust that it wouldn’t hurt our relationship. If I was murky on that, I wouldn’t have allowed it to happen.

      1. Former call centre worker*

        Yes, when we started working together it wasn’t obvious that we had different styles. It became clear as over the time we were both there the department probably halved in size and moved into a much smaller office as a result, and also we started having to work on the same type of thing much more often.

  26. pinguino*

    I’ve worked with my husband for the majority of our relationship. We met at work at our previous job, then there was a brief period of a year or so when I moved on to my current job while he still worked at OldCompany. OldCompany was toxic for a variety of reasons, and there ended up being a position he was qualified for at CurrentCompany, so he moved over here, and we’ve been working together here for 5+ years. I will say, early in our relationship at our previous employer, when we were just dating, there may have been a bit too much relaxing of boundaries (though it wasn’t just us—boundaries were not a strong suit of that workplace in general). No PDA or anything like that, but there are some interactions that I would have handled differently in hindsight. I think it’s harder to set those boundaries when a relationship is new and you’re still figuring things out.
    At our current place, though, I don’t think anyone questions our professionalism. We do work together directly on certain projects, and have a fair amount of day-to-day interaction for work reasons, but we’re in different roles and have different areas of expertise. We both have excellent professional reputations and have been promoted. It’s nice to share that part of our lives; we’re so used to it that it would be a major adjustment not to work together.
    I think part of why it works for us is that we’re generally a low-drama couple. Of course we have our occasional disagreements, but they tend to mostly be about stupid little things, not Serious Issues. So there’s no spillover from home to work in that way.

  27. 'Tis Me*

    Those spouses sound weird and controlling and like they have boundary issues – having to ask their spouses for permission to go to lunch without them? Acting like somewhat toxic partners (shooting their partners down, telling inappropriate stories at a work event) while hijacking a departmental-wide social gathering for a different department?? I feel sorry for their spouses who have to put up with that and are therfore cut off from work friendships and socialisation with sane people who can help realign their expectations of normal interpersonal relationships…

    1. Anon for me*

      Seriously. An ex-coworker’s boyfriend at the time came to one of our outings at a bar. Some harmless guy at the bar wanted to give us some stickers and wanted to put them on our face (like his friends were doing) I accepted, it was all in fun. He was about to put a sticker on my coworker. Before he could, her boyfriend basically came up to the harmless guy and was like “don’t touch her.”

  28. Make Editing Great Again*

    There are certainly ways to work at the same company as a SO, and these suggestions are all great.

    I work at the same company as my husband (in fact, that’s how we met), but we work in different departments and have different titles. Often, we end up being more professional than our co-workers and bosses about our relationship! And the work/personal life balance is a little bit harder … you definitely have to set boundaries and agree not to take the problems of the office home, or when discussing the office perhaps set a time limit.

    The biggest piece of advice I can give is keep it professional, even and especially if no one else is. My husband and I take pride in some people at the office not knowing that we’re married to each other.

  29. tink*

    My mom and I ended up in the same department while I was still living at home and honestly that ended up rough enough that I’ve outright refused to consider jobs where my partner works even though they’d seemingly be a great fit. I need that sort of separation.

    1. Anon for me*

      THIS. While I am single, I was briefly involved with someone in the same industry. I would never even imagine applying for a job where he worked. There are so many companies that I could work for. He even said “I admire people who can work with their significant other. I can’t do that.” I completely understood.

    2. Wrench Turner*

      There was a year where my mom and I were in the same community college and had a couple of classes together.
      Never. Again.

  30. Betsy S*

    One other crossing-the-streams detail: try not to relay messages for each other unless it’s something trivial. You don’t want to be thought of as two parts of a unit at work and you REALLY don’t want to be the relayer of anything nuanced or loaded. Practice saying “I’ll tell Bran you were looking for him” or” Please tell that to Sansa directly so she can get any details from you” or whatever fits.. If you ARE given something to relay, relay it via email, keep it short and cc the originator: “Joffrey asked me to let you know there’s an issue with the Dorne account”.

    That’s if people are telling you more than they would another coworker. You want to convey that at work, your relationship is the same as any other two people on different teams.

    1. Wrench Turner*

      Yeah, this is real important. You could easily end up having their manager try to get YOU to manage your partner.

  31. Wrench Turner*

    Getting involved with anyone I work with, or in this case getting work with someone romantically involved with, is off limits for me. For me, I strictly keep personal and work totally separated. I might go on casual work-sponsored outings (like a fishing trip next weekend) but I don’t hang out with any of my coworkers off the clock. They’re generally great people but I need my space from them.

    Same with my spouse. I am sure my spouse and I could be super professional about it and do our jobs real well. But I work, I need my space from them. They’re welcome to call or text or whatever as they feel inspired, but when I’m wrenching I’d prefer to do so without distraction. Bad night at home? Leave it at home and wrench. Bad wrench at work? Leave it at work, my spouse doesn’t deserve to deal with that crap.

    The only exception I could think of is if I saw the position as a very temporary thing to leverage in to something better, elsewhere. By temporary I mean a year, tops.

    Good luck, I hope it works for you.

  32. What the What*

    I work for my spouse and it isn’t going so well. He is a great person outside of the office and has been a caring spouse. However, any pet peeve or irritant at home is, well, MAGNIFIED at work. He really knows his profession and is gifted in so many areas. But managing people is not his strongest skillset. I’ve been really taken aback how poorly he communicates with others (and I thought this was just at home!), how dismissive he is of others and how he talks to people he’s too busy to deal with….not good. I’m becoming resentful of how poorly he treats me at work, too. My Spidey-sense is highly attuned to his sky high stress levels at work and it’s making me a nervous wreck. Not sure how much longer I’m going to keep this up. I need my space and a little professional respect as well.

  33. Media Monkey*

    from an advertising industry point of view, this is so, so common! agencies tend to be very social and the industry is as a whole, so a lot of people have partners working in the industry. When you combine that with the amount of job hopping that also goes it, it is almost inevitable!

    I would say as long as you don’t hide it but don’t make it an issue it will be fine. most agencies will keep couples apart from a work point of view, so working in different teams or on different accounts should be possible. a lot of people have different surnames so people don’t even realise. I worked with a married couple who were at the same level in the same dept – i worked with them both on different accounts. it wasn’t unheard of if one of them was off sick or had to stay at home with a sick kid that they would brief the other on something you needed so they could come back to you by your deadline!

  34. Kivrin*

    This is super timely for me, because I just started working part-time as in-house patent counsel at my spouse’s company (he is one of the founders and now is CTO. It was very surreal on my first day of work, having a phone call with outside counsel and being able to correct his misapprehensions about how the company was founded ten years before). So far it’s going well, but we are very aware of the potential for drama. The CEO made sure that I don’t report to my spouse directly, and I think it helps that we are both subject matter experts with different area of expertise. So we both are more able to stay in our own lanes and respect the other’s judgment in their own domain. The all-our-eggs-in-one-basket issue is definitely one we have discussed, and it’s part of why I also have a part-time job as a contractor elsewhere.

  35. Res Admin*

    I have worked with married couples several times. The ones that are most successful at it (like my current boss)–you would never know that they are married if you weren’t told. Literally, they refer to each other the same way any other colleague would (often including title), no special greetings/looks/short cut conversations. No sidebar conversations at home/outside work. Usually the staff knows more about their work schedules than they do. They work very closely together on the same projects and there is no question which one is in charge of which project–and they do not make work decisions for each other. It has obviously worked well for them for a couple decades (and children). This doesn’t meant that he doesn’t carry her briefcase, etc. into her office for her on the rare occasions that they are working in the same building… LOL. They are both leaders in their respective fields too.

    The ones that were somewhat less successful (although it did still work well for them) brought a bit more of their personal life to the office and obviously discussed things as a couple both in the office and out (as opposed to treating each other like colleagues regarding work and leaving the personal stuff separate). It still worked for them–they advanced about as high as you can go and are still together after many decades. Ironically, the one firm rule that they had was no driving into work together (a big deal since parking is super expensive here).

  36. Elizabeth West*

    It is doable. There was a couple at Exjob who met there and dated (they worked in different departments), and nobody knew. They even got married and their coworkers had no clue!

    I like the suggestion in 1234’s comment (at top) concerning a moratorium on work talk when eating dinner, etc. I know for a fact I could not stand it if I had to work with a partner and then we talked about it all the time at home. When I’m on my own time, I prefer not to even think about my job.

  37. Married a Coworker*

    I think this worked well for my S.O. (then dating, now married) and I because we respected each other so much as people, but also as coworkers. We both knew we would hate ourselves for letting any selfish actions put either of our professional reputations at stake, which always motivated us to behave at work (even though some days it honestly was hard, as we are both very affectionate). Working with an S.O. isn’t something to take lightly, but it can work wonderfully if you go in with a plan for how to handle that dynamic with maturity, including what happens if problems arise at work or at home.

    I also disagree with anyone who says you won’t have anything to talk about with your BF outside of work. If you form good relationships with your other coworkers and don’t work on the same team, that should give you plenty of space during the day. Or you might be the kind of couple that can spend tons of time together without feeling overwhelmed. Either way, there’s so much more to life outside of work that you can use for conversation fodder.

Comments are closed.