my boss’s wife just called me to yell at me

A reader writes:

I am at a total loss. I have been a paralegal to a highly successful attorney for almost 25 years. I have moved firms with him three times over the past few decades, and have never thought of ending our professional relationship. He is a wonderful boss, a calm and even keeled manager, and highly respected at our firm and within our field as a whole.

He is a partner at our current firm, and has his name on the door — this is where he is going to retire from. Given our deep relationship, I have always been up-front with him about market conditions, alternate roles that come my way, general employee feedback, etc. (for example, I gave him the heads-up that his legal secretary was likely going to leave if the firm didn’t support her through her adoption process, and he jumped right in to make sure she was taken care of). He is a good boss and cares for his employees. He has always been very thankful and appreciates candor and has said so numerous times. I know he values the fact that I am more approachable with the water cooler talk from the rest of the firm, and we have found a wonderful balance.

His wife called me out of nowhere to essentially “dress me down” and say that I am causing way too much undue stress on her husband and he is afraid I am going to quit because I keep telling him about other opportunities, and I should just be thankful to have a job. I was literally speechless. I had no idea what to say to her, except to reiterate that he knows I am not going anywhere and that I would continue to work to ensure he is not stressed. She essentially then hung up on me.

Honestly I am LIVID that this woman called me, but I just do not know what to do. I feel like I cannot tell my boss, as this isn’t a coworker — it’s his wife! I know he would be mortified to know she called me. I also know that I don’t want bring it up to him, but, I will not lie to him if he asks me. What do I do if he asks me if she called?!?!

I’m curious about why you don’t want to tell him.

Can you imagine if your spouse called a coworker to berate on your behalf and that person didn’t tell you, leaving you totally oblivious that your spouse had violated your work boundaries in a really weird way? Wouldn’t you want them to tell you? And wouldn’t it seem odd to you if you found out about it later and they hadn’t told you on their own?

Plus, the wife — a person who presumably knows your boss well — told you that a work behavior that you thought was welcomed (talking to him about other opportunities) in fact is not. She may or may not be right about that, but either way it’s worth a conversation with your boss to find out if it’s landing differently than you thought it was. (My guess is that your boss has made comments like “Jane keeps getting offers from other places and I don’t know what I’d do if she left — I really hope she doesn’t quit” and his wife has wildly miscalculated how much stress is involved, but who knows. Maybe he is really stressed out by it. Either way, it’s not her place to do anything about it, but now that she has, there’s a conversation begging to be had.)

The only reasons I can think of not to mention it to your boss would be is (a) he were a horrible tyrant and would hold it against you in some way (which is clearly not the case) or (b) you knew he was going through a highly stressful time (like seriously-ill-child level of stress) and it seemed obviously kinder not to give him anything else to deal with.

So why not just say to him, “I had a call from Margo last week that I wasn’t sure how to respond to. She said I’m causing you too much stress when I tell you about other opportunities and that I should just be thankful to have a job. I haven’t had the sense you felt that way, but obviously I’m concerned by what she said and wanted to ask if there’s something you want me doing differently.”

That’s the low-key version of that conversation, which I’m offering since you’re hesitant to have it at all. But really, I’d be more inclined to say, “I had a call from Margo last week that I was really taken aback by. She called and chastised me for causing you stress when I tell you about other opportunities and said I should just be thankful to have a job, and then she hung up on me. It was really odd and out of the blue.”

If you really, really don’t want to bring it up with your boss, that’s of course your call. But if you go that route and then he asks you about it, you should be straightforward (“yes, she said I’m causing too much stress on you when I tell you about other opportunities and I should be thankful to have a job”). You just got verbally attacked by his wife, you don’t need to finesse your language about it too!

But really, just tell him. The vast majority of managers would want to know.

{ 302 comments… read them below }

  1. hamsterpants*

    I too am very curious about why you don’t want to tell him. I won’t speculate on why that is, but the fact that you both celebrate how open you can be with your boss and then also want to keep an important secret from him feels like there might be something complicating going on.

    1. meyer lemon*

      It sounds to me like the LW thinks they may be crossing some kind of boundary by bringing up an issue with the boss’s wife–but it was the wife who crossed the boundary! She’s the one who made it weird, not you, LW.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. She was out of line. Since OP describes a wonderful relationship with the boss – someone she has a long history with – I would encourage OP to talk to him using the script provided. If there is something that needs to be addressed, it won’t get any better by avoiding it. I don’t know if the boss knew or sanctioned it, but if my boss’ spouse called me like that, I would be very upset. She crossed a personal and professional boundary. It needs to be discussed. Awkward, yes. But she made it so.

        1. Amaranth*

          Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if it creates a weird vibe if his wife is mentioned or stops by and her boss should be aware of what happened now so LW is in control of how its framed.

    2. Venus*

      “I know he would be mortified to know she called me.”

      I think it is likely because LW wants to avoid having to deal with an embarrassing situation.

      1. Beth*

        I understand why LW might want to spare him that embarrassment, considering he seems like a considerate and respectful boss who almost definitely didn’t invite this overstep from his wife. But that’s actually exactly why she should bring it up! The embarrassment level of that awkward conversation might be high, of course. But it would be eclipsed by her boss finding out about this call later and having to navigate how to bring it up, why OP didn’t say anything, wondering whether his wife has continued these kinds of tactics since he didn’t have the chance to tell her not to, etc, on top of dealing with the mortification his wife caused him.

      2. Weekend Please*

        I agree, but it is kind of like not telling someone that their camera is positioned so that you can see that they aren’t wearing pants. The embarrassing thing still happened. Not telling them about it just deprives them of the ability to do anything about it and increases the chance it happens again.

      3. Joan Rivers*

        But you know what would be even MORE embarrassing? If wife has a problem of some kind and makes a call to a CLIENT! Or even other employees.
        I’m suggesting she may have a mental/emotional issue; it’s odd behavior. More likely w/a long-term employee who feels so familiar to her, but she’s got something twisted here.

        1. c-*

          Nah, she’s probably just entitled. We don’t need to diagnose her with anything to side-eye her behaviour, and she doesn’t need a diagnosis to act like a jerk.

    3. Tuesday*

      She’s very open with him about work issues. A conversation like this about his wife is sure to be very awkward. I can totally understand where she’s coming from.

      1. NotJane*

        I think this is a really important point that’s being overlooked. OP has worked for her boss for 25 years, through multiple moves to new firms, and I have to think that wouldn’t be possible*** without them having well defined, and mutually agreeable and respected, boundaries.

        My sense is that, in this case, the boundary is that their relationship is solely a professional one, and I say that because OP was so caught off guard and “had no idea what to say to” the wife, which makes me think that, even after 25 years, OP has had little interaction with her.

        So, yeah, I can understand how, after 2+ decades of a strictly professional relationship, bringing up a “personal” issue would feel uncomfortable, while bringing up a workplace issue would feel routine.

        *** I suppose it *could* be possible, but it would probably be very toxic and unhealthy, and likely to implode well before the 1/4 century mark.

      2. Sparrow*

        But this IS a work issue. Even though it was instigated by someone in boss’ personal life, it directly relates to OP’s work and relationship with her employer. If I was in this position and didn’t talk to my boss to see if he has a legitimate work concern we need to address, I’d constantly be second-guessing whether or not I should tell him things I would normally share, and I think it’s highly likely that it would introduce some awkwardness into our working relationship.

        Also, if they’ve both been careful to maintain a line between personal and professional, I think the boss would definitely want to know that his wife is stomping all over those boundaries. I think NOT bringing this up with him would be much more detrimental to their working relationship and their long-established professional boundaries than keeping it quiet.

    4. fhqwhgads*

      Sounds to me like maybe, if you believe it about the stress, bringing it up might add to that? Otherwise, donno.

      1. Julia*

        Just want to say I love your username, fhqwhgads. Haven’t thought about Strongbad in a long time.

          1. mcfizzle*

            I saw a license plate the other week that said Trogdor. I sang the song the rest of the day.

            1. Clisby*

              When my son was 8-9, he made Valentine’s Day cards for his classmates – Roses are red, violets are blue / Be nice to Trogdor, or he’ll burninate you.

    5. Persephone Mongoose*

      In the past, Alison has occasionally written back to LWs to get additional context before answering and this is one where I really wish she had done that…or maybe she did and the LW didn’t respond.

    6. No Name Today*

      It’s funny/ironic/notable to me that the OP and the wife are at odds over how best to protect this grown ass man.
      They both want to limit his “undue stress.”
      Wife wants Boss’ life made easier by OP putting her head down, working and not discussing her career options WITH HER BOSS.
      OP wants to make Boss’ life easier by not letting him know that his overprotective wife acted wildly out of line, criticizing OP and infantilizing Boss.
      OP, I understand it’s awkward, but if you really think about it this way, do you think your boss would want his wife speaking up for him like that? Do you think your boss wants you treating him like that, deciding what he can and cannot handle emotionally?
      Tell him.
      Yes, he will tell her to stay in her lane.
      She may call you “apologize.” Let it go to voice mail and move on.

      1. Wanda*

        I love this take on this. All these woman striving to make this man’s life easier. I would like to be this man! No dice, I’m the only one looking out for my mental health.

      2. Purely Allegorical*

        Love this take, No Name Today. Excellent framing and exactly how I saw the situation too. Baffling all around.

      3. Betsy Bobbins*

        This is so spot on. Not only is the boss a grown man, but he also makes the salary commiserate with the stress his job requires, presumably quite a bit more than the OP.

      4. queso is a food group*

        Not just a grown ass man, but an attorney. Attorneys deal with difficult and uncomfortable situations every single day, especially ones who get their name on the door. I completely understand why the OP doesn’t want to bring it up, law firm culture can be that way (I have been in the legal field forever), but a really good paralegal is hard to find and already makes his life a million times easier so he can deal with keeping his wife in her lane.

      5. EmKay*

        **smacks table** thank you!

        Goodness me, this man appears to be coddled by both women in this scenario.

      6. Tuesday*

        See, I don’t think the OP is overly concerned with protecting the boss. This is likely going to be uncomfortable for her, and it’s totally understandable that her first impulse would be to avoid it and not risk making an otherwise good working relationship weird. I see her as wanting to protect herself at least as much as the boss. A lot of people are saying, he needs to know and would want to know, but as Alison says, it’s her call. She’s under no obligation. She’ll very likely conclude that’s it’s better for her (and boss) to talk to him – but I can see why it’s not easy.

        1. Sasha*

          This. No matter how well you get on with somebody, it is not easy to tell them that their spouse is behaving like Princess Nut-Nuts.

          In fact I would say it is harder the closer you are to somebody – I’d find it much harder to bring this up to a friend than to a random work colleague. Because it is essentially saying “hey, you married a person with very poor boundaries”.

          1. Princess Nuts-Nuts*

            We of the Nut-Nuts royal line have a storied heritage and esteemed pedigree. We have conferred, and decided we do not want to be associated with this boss’s clearly unwell spouse. We appreciate your understanding and respecting our privacy in this matter.

            1. No Name Today*

              Dammit. I wanted that name the second I saw it.
              You wear the mantle well. Hurrah to you with wishes for a long and happy reign.

          2. JSPA*

            Or the wife is having some sort of health or other crisis herself that’s blurring her sense of boundaries, or the boss has health issues he’d rather not share…or, or, or.

            “Are things OK?” only if you’re open to hearing more.

            “X called me to let me know that some of my comments are perhaps not landing as intended, so I wanted to clarify that when I mention X, it’s only ever in the spirit of Y.”

      7. Gem*

        This is a very good take. I understand the hesitancy to be caught up in spousal drama (that’s how I would feel in this situation) but the attorney needs to know. LW didn’t make this awkward, the wife did. The boss can handle this situation.

      8. Æthelflædt*

        Eh, I don’t know if it is about gender for the LW. Someone who has worked side-by-side with someone for 25 years probably has a high level of career loyalty for that person, plus probably cares about them (professionally!) more than most people care about a boss they’ve worked for three years.

      9. allathian*

        As awkward as the conversation may be for both, the manager has the right to know what the wife did. I’m not a manager, but if I were, that’s definitely something I’d like to know, because it’s just so boundary-crossing.

  2. The Vulture*

    Tell him, because it’s a kindness to a good boss and tell him, because I want you to send in an update about what on earth this was about! That is a very weird thing that happened and you deserve an explanation, or some level of reassurance that this won’t happen again, or something. And I just want to know.

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          Normally, I’d agree it’s a leap. But if this is the first time in 25 years your boss’s wife has called to yell at you, it’s certainly a red flag that something is going on.

    1. Jen in Oregon*

      I think we all want an update on this one!

      I have to wonder if this is the result of the Boss throwing the OP under the bus with his own wife over a big expenditure or something. “We can’t afford to remodel the kitchen/buy a new car/buy a beach house/do a European grand tour/invest in your bother’s catfish café because I think OP is about to quit on me and I’ll have give her a big bonus/raise to keep her, or I’ll have to hire three people to replace her and either way, we can’t afford it!!” I might just have a wildly active imagination, but, sadly, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts this has more to do with money than *simply* loving spousal concern.

    2. KayDeeAye*

      My guess – and I freely confess I am making this based on no data at all except that I know other people who might do this sort of thing – is that either the wife or the couple are feeling stressed for some other, not-related-to-the-OP reason, and the wife took her frustrations about this Stressful Thing out on the OP.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        That was my first thought, especially since the OP said it was out of nowhere and didn’t mention any other incidents with her.

        1. Blazer205*

          Yes I also wonder if wife has a pattern of inserting herself into his work life. If this is the first, then I’d bet something deeper is going on and he should definitely be made aware.

      2. F as in Frank*

        My question is what has changed in 25 years. Is this a new wife? Is there something health wise going on with the wife? Some other stressor? If the LW doesn’t know about any change, I would recommend Alison first script. Otherwise I would take what you know and use it to inform your response.

    3. Artemesia*

      This. It is unkind to let something like this occur and keep him in the dark == wonder what else the wife has done that is likely to damage his career. He needs to know what happened.

  3. Nyeogmi*

    Gosh! It really does sound like she feels threatened by the letter-writer. On the face of it, her “I’m telling you this because he would never tell you this himself” move makes it sound to me like she does not want the letter writer to check with him. (which would be a sign that she’s lying)

    If she _is_ telling the truth, then she’s repeating something he told her in confidence, so I think the honest thing to do would be to tell him that in any case. (probably with one of these scripts)

    1. MsClaw*

      She should absolutely tell her boss, but I don’t think this is about the wife feeling threatened.

      It’s certainly possible that she’s misinterpreted something her husband said, but ‘I have always been up-front with him about market conditions, alternate roles that come my way’. I mean, if she’s telling her boss every 3 months how she just turned down a job somewhere else?

      We don’t know how frequently this is happening. We don’t know how the boss feels about it. It’s entirely possible that he is frequently telling his wife that he’s worried, wondering how soon OP is going to be gone. Frankly, I cannot imagine telling my boss I didn’t take another job unless I was angling for a higher salary. This is not generally something you tell your boss. It does indeed make it sound like a person has one foot out the door. And that might be incredibly stressful for the boss, and he may be sharing that angst with Wife and not with OP.

      Now, *none* of that makes it okay for the wife to be calling OP. At all.

      1. Colette*

        It’s definitely weird to be telling your boss about other jobs you could take. What is she supposed to do with that information? It doesn’t make the wife calling OK, but it is unnecessary and strange.

        And let’s stop assuming women are threatened by other women talking to their husbands – that hurts women overall and is extremely sexist.

        1. Xavier Desmond*

          And also if the wife was threatened by the OP I assume she would want her to leave not telling her she had to stay.

          1. MsM*

            I mean, I could see some kind of eighth-dimensional “logic” where the wife hopes LW would just take one of the offers to avoid further weirdness and not say anything about why, but that seems like a pretty big gamble.

          2. Zephy*

            If the wife were threatened by the OP, she’s had a quarter-century to come to terms with it – OP says in her first sentence, she’s been working with this guy for 25 years.

            1. JSPA*

              I don’t want to assume drama of a sort that may not exist. But it’s not impossible that the wife has been salty about it for a number of those years, and Boss finally said, “she’s not a charity case following me around, she’s highly sought after, I’m lucky to have her, and I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

              Not saying this because it’s two women and a man–but because it’s three humans over the course of 25 years.

        2. A*

          I don’t think it’s ‘weird’ within the context – OP is speaking to a close working relationship where they’ve (seemingly) hit a good groove. I’ve absolutely been transparent with some of my managers when other opportunities come along, but always presented it as ‘if we want to make this work – what can we do to match this opportunity without me needing to leave?’. Not an approach everyone might feel comfortable with, but it isn’t inherently ‘weird’.

          That being said, I do think OP needs to speak with Boss not only to let him know what happened but also to check in an confirm if that dynamic is still working for both of them.

          1. Colette*

            OK, but what you are describing is leveraging another offer to get what you want there (and runs the risk of them saying “we can’t match that, you should take it), whereas the OP sounds like she is mentioning it just to keep him informed, and I’m not sure why.

            1. Self Employed*

              Agreed. One of my friends (totally different role, mechanical engineer) gets calls from recruiters pretty regularly and occasionally will meet to find out if it sounds better than her current job. She hasn’t heard anything that doesn’t sound like a step down, and she hasn’t said anything to her boss. I don’t think she’d go to her boss unless she had good data showing her compensation was no longer keeping up with the market. I don’t know if she’d try to counteroffer or not; that would probably depend on whether or not she would be willing to take the other job if her boss said no or she got laid off.

              OP, when you report on these other opportunities, how do you do it? Is it just a passing comment about “yet another recruiter offering me a job that isn’t as good as this” or what? I have a friend who gets headhunted all the time (mechanical engineer in a location that is short on people who design stuff that physically exists) but she only talks about those calls to friends and family. (And they can be summarized as “jobs not as good as what I currently have, what are they thinking?” but it never hurts to have a good relationship with a reputable recruiter in case you’re laid off.)

        3. Eye roll*

          The context is missing though. He’s a name partner. Setting salaries/hiring decisions/HR oversight are all going to be at least somewhat under his purview. Is OP telling him so he knows what other firms pay? When discussing troubles finding a new hire? Discussing adjusting salary bands? There are a lot of ways this could be really useful information, other than in relation to OP leaving.

          1. NotJane*

            I agree with this, particularly because OP wrote:

            “…for example, I gave him the heads-up that his legal secretary was likely going to leave if the firm didn’t support her through her adoption process, and he jumped right in to make sure she was taken care of.”

            A lot of the comments read as if people are assuming OP initiated this level of transparency, but it could be just as likely that her boss finds this kinds of info useful, as you said, perhaps because it gives him insight into the “competition”, in terms of attracting and retaining valuable employees (like the aforementioned legal secretary).

            Also, other context that seems to be missing is the fact that OP has worked for her boss for 25 years! That is a really long time. 25 years ago, I was still in high school. And OP and her boss have remained a team through three moves to different firms. So who knows when/why/how this started or for how long it’s been part of their dynamic. Presumably, if either had ever wanted to sever their professional relationship, there were opportunities to do so. But since they’ve made it this far, if the boss was legitimately that stressed out by OP sharing this info, why wouldn’t he just say that? Especially given how OP describes his personality and their dynamic?

            I’m much more curious about what prompted the wife to call OP with this particular grievance in the first place.

          2. Luke G*

            That’s how I read it. For the OP to be repeatedly leveraging outside offers doesn’t fit with a 25 year working relationship, and repeatedly saying “FYI I could have left but didn’t” is just weird.

            Meanwhile it might be extremely helpful for the boss to know that average starting offers at other firms are now 5% higher than at his own, or that the health plan is no longer competitive and should be improved to help overall retention.

          3. NotAnotherManager!*

            This really depends on the firm size and culture. In my 15+ years in AmLaw 200 firms, name partners have zero to do with HR functions. Some firms have committees that advise on this, but it’s generally not a good use of attorney time. Partners are client relationship managers, project managers, and rainmakers, not administrators (in fact, in my experience, getting attorneys involved in administrative management issues nearly always ends poorly, often with pressure to treat *their* personal favorites differently than others). Pay is set by HR and is done using market surveys that are very detailed, and same for benefits.

            I also don’t see the point of constantly sharing other job offers. If there is one that needs to be matched, that’s fine. But I kind of get where the wife is coming from – why constantly share this information if you’re not intending to leave? (FULLY disagree with her phone call, particularly the “lucky to have a job” part, but I get her perspective sharing all these other opportunities.) I’m also not impressed by OP sharing water-cooler gossip with her boss, but I will also be candid that people who do these sorts of things *in my own personal experience* are a pain to manage and end up creating political situations out of of anything they don’t personally like with no context of how what they’re angling for affects everyone else in the organization.

            1. Anonymous Nonprofit Lawyer*

              If it is a much smaller firm, though, it is VERY likely that he is intimately involved with these decisions. When I was a much younger lawyer before I realized law firm life wasn’t for me, I worked for a small law firm as an associate. The partners were great to work with. One of the partners had a long-term paralegal that was absolutely amazing to work with when I was working on things for that partner. They seemed to have a relationship like this one and her ability to be a team player with the other paralegals, legal assistants, AND associate lawyers made her worth her weight in gold. I’m sure she fed crucial information like this to the partner.

        4. higheredrefugee*

          I find it less odd because she is working for a named partner, an owner in the business, with whom she has established a long relationship. She’s slightly akin to his COO, in some ways, who likely understands how he makes his money and how that affects at least some of the overall business, including how to retain other talented staff. At this length of tenure, she’s also likely key in retaining certain clients, due to a combination of factors, such as knowing the past history of transactions, results, and how they like things done or presented, her own relationships with both clients and their adversaries/other parties, the areas of law, etc. If she really works with him that closely, he’d want to know just because of her leaving, but also other staff.

          FWIW, maybe the lawyer and/or his spouse are experiencing extra stress, and this is a manifestation of that. Still super unprofessional for spouse to call LW, and I’d raise it with my boss, but also give some grace space mentally, especially as this sounds like a one off for her.

          1. Koalafied*

            Yes, and it’s not hard to believe that after decades of relying on this person, he might genuinely want to pay her fairly without needing there to be an explicit threat of her leaving – he might even know for certain that she won’t leave, but still wants to pay her what she’s worth because he doesn’t want to use her loyalty to squeeze more work out of her for less pay than it’s worth. Not every boss has to be cajoled and pressured and leveraged into doing the right thing.

        5. Truth*

          >What is she supposed to do with that information?

          Ideally bring salaries in line with market, if they can’t do that then understand they are paying less and not get confused why nobody is around at 5, etc.

        6. Ace in the Hole*

          Not really…. assuming your boss wants to keep you, there’s good reason to let them know about other positions if the salary is significantly higher. It gives them an opportunity to adjust your pay to a competitive level or provide other incentives to keep you on staff (like professional development, interesting projects, etc).

          I’ve also told my manager about positions I intended to apply for when I had a good enough working relationship that I knew they wouldn’t retaliate. Because it’s a lot less stressful to deal with interviews, reference checks, etc when you’re not trying to do it undercover.

        7. Amaranth*

          I assumed LW gives him feedback on the market for new hires, raises, etc. After 25 years I would guess they are comfortable talking about how to keep LW around.

      2. Gan Ainm*

        If this were a one-year working relationship I’d agree, but she’s worked for him for 25 years so the longevity speaks for itself that she wants to stay, and I really doubt they would have survived 25 years of every 3 month salary talks, that would be >100 such conversations by now.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          And the fact that she’s moved firms with him multiple times has probably provided natural opportunities to talk about this – did she get offers to stay versus move with him, did she get a call from an old firm after he left, etc.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            And is it brought up in a way that makes him think she wants to leave/is pushing for something he can’t give or just giving him a heads up because even if she wouldn’t take it, he can be aware of market conditions and also think about whether anybody in his network could be suitable? There’s a huge difference between “Look, they’re offering 20% more than you, maybe think about that!” and “Look, Law Firm reached out to me with a job they wanted me for, but that I think Helen could do really well. They offered me $Y, which is about in line with what other people have approached me with lately, do you think she’d be open to me giving them her name?” (And, of course there is a huge spectrum between the two as well.)

          2. The*

            I’ve had to have this conversation with my boss in the past. It’s a family-owned business and his dad had just retired, so I went to working for his dad to working for him. Several people who I had known through my previous job called to ask if I was available since there was a change up happening in the company.

            It felt like a big omission to NOT tell my boss that people had approached me, mainly because our industry isn’t huge and he knows the other business owners. At some point he’s bound to talk to someone and hear that they’ve recently talked to me. It went something like, “Oh, Bob Loblaw called me the other day. He said he has an open position, but I let him know I’m doing well here. I told him I would let him know if I can think of someone to refer.”

            So I agree with you that the natural opportunities pop up, and LW sounds like they respect their boss enough to be upfront and not leave them in the dark when they happen. Somehow it seems like the wife has interpreted that to mean the LW is going around waving it in his face that they’re sought-after!

            1. Deets*

              Just because LW and boss have been working together for that long doesn’t mean boss didn’t get married recently.

              I didn’t think we were supposed to armchair diagnose on this site tbh, maybe that only refers to a specific diagnosis but regardless it’s kind of crap to jump to mental illness in general as an explanation for this.

        2. MsClaw*

          We just don’t have enough information to tell. For that matter, we don’t know if the relationship with his wife has been 25+ years also, or if the wife and OP know each other well or have barely met (regardless, wife shouldn’t have called).

          Generally, yes, multiple moves may indeed indicate that she’s planning to stay long term. But… again, we don’t know how often this subject has come up. If it’s once every five years? That’s probably not a big stress source. However, even if she’s not using it as leverage but just mentioning in passing, ‘Oh, I got another offer from Johnson, Johnson, and Johnson. Those guys don’t let up!’ or the like on a frequent basis, OP may see that as ‘being candid’. Her boss could very well be thinking ‘how long until she takes one of these offers?!?!’

      3. Expelliarmus*

        I had initially assumed that maybe the boss had been asking the OP about alternate roles as part of his appreciating candor, but both the wife’s outburst and the fact that OP didn’t mention that detail seems to rule that out.

        1. pancakes*

          No. Married people don’t share one mindset, and people seldom include every possibly-relevant detail in letters to an advice column.

          1. Expelliarmus*

            I would think that if OP is discussing how the boss’s wife yelled at her about telling the boss something, then it would be more than “possibly relevant” if the boss asked OP for that information or not.

    2. meyer lemon*

      To me it read more like the wife wanting to manage the boss’s emotions for him. Clearly she doesn’t think he’s capable of handling work stress himself, so she’s trying to make the LW responsible for taking it on.

      It kind of reminds me of a bewildering encounter I had when I was about five and the mother of one of my friends found me by myself and berated me for several minutes for a bunch of infractions that her daughter had made up. Lady, even a five-year-old knows that is seriously weird.

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*


        If an adult cornered one of my young daughters to berate her I would absolutely lose my S. Wow.

    3. No Name Today*

      I think wife is either:
      1) not employed outside the home and has turned Boss’ work small talk into some great drama for him
      2) does work outside the home in a place where people got burned and she she everything through that lens.
      In either case, what he told his wife was between them, not for her to go picking a fight about it.

    4. EmKay*

      Threatened? She’s worked for him for decades at this point. Why would she feel threatened only now?

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        OP has worked for him for 25 years, but we don’t know if he’s been married to the same person for all that time. If this marriage took place fairly and this wife doesn’t know the OP very well yet (and maybe isn’t aware of all the history of her husband’s working relationship with the OP), this would read differently to me, and seem a little less weird (though not one bit less inappropriate, of course). That’s a piece of information we don’t have right now, but I’m not comfortable assuming either way.

  4. AnonInCanada*

    Wow. Just. Wow.

    I’m guessing the one who’s really stressed here is the boss’s wife. I agree with Alison – who else is his wife calling to undermine the paralegal team? Or is it envy that you have such a great rapport with your boss and, in her mind, not her? But this is not your problem to solve. I would gently say to your boss that his wife called you and that you’re concerned that “she mentioned that you’ve been stressed over things I may have said.” (Though why your boss would bring this matter to her attention is a quandary in itself, but this is also not your problem to solve.)

    My only concern is whether this would cause a rift in their relationship. But if the wife’s already firing off these salvos at you, then there’s not much you can do about that. Your only concern is that the wife isn’t giving you any stress, and that’s what matters most.

    1. Jackalope*

      The boss mentioning it to his wife makes sense to me. Her calling the OP doesn’t, but…. From what I’ve seen and heard, many people in a good romantic relationship are going to share work issues with their partner. Maybe it’s a bigger deal to the boss than the OP realizes, or maybe the boss just mentioned this at the end of a long stressful day and the wife thought it was more important than it was.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Heck, my dad used to talk to my brother and I about work issues, sometimes in a little more detail than he probably should have.

        (Which bit him when I repeated a “Fergus is always calling me for things that are on the first page of the report” complaint when Fergus called my dad while my dad was ill. But I was eight, not however old Margo is.)

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      If OP mentioning the call to their boss puts stress on the relationship, it can’t be that good a relationship. And it would be the wife’s behaviour that caused the stress, not OP reporting it.
      OP needs to preserve their relationship with their boss and other colleagues, and the wife inserting herself isn’t helping. OP is in no way responsible for their boss’s marriage.

  5. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I am a manager. I would most definitely want to know. I can’t think of a manager who wouldn’t!

    That said, a college friend of mine (who has A Lot of Issues) did something similar. Her boyfriend’s coworkers were texting him late at night. I don’t know about what. He kept responding; she was furious. So she called up her boyfriend’s coworker and yelled at HIM for the late night texts. Then she got dumped the next day. I’m not sorry she did either.

    This is really, really not okay. I don’t know why you’d tell your boss pretty much everything but this. Are you worried he’d be embarrassed and you want to spare him the shame?

    1. Empress Matilda*

      Yeah, I’m trying to picture my husband calling any of my team out of the blue – it’s incredibly weird. Even if the spouse is calling for a good reason (hey, my wife said you did a great job on the teapot report last week, and it’s an absolute pleasure to work with you!)…it’s still incredibly weird.

      And yes, I would absolutely want to know about it. Partly so I can apologize to you for my spouse’s boundary-crossing behaviour, and partly so I can have the “WTF, dude???” conversation with him.

    2. Chauncy Gardener*

      Please tell him! We had a founder’s wife calling various team members with her input on different company functions, which seriously complicated matters. Once I told the founder, it stopped immediately and he was glad he knew! He said he didn’t stomp around in HER job.

    3. Quinalla*

      Yes, it is VERY weird for her to reach out to you like that – it will be awkward to talk to him about, but you should tell him. If I was in his shoes, I for sure would want to know even though I would also be mortified.

    4. JustaTech*

      Yeah, when my husband’s team was blowing up the chat on a Saturday night (nothing urgent, they just had an idea on Saturday and wanted to work on it) I asked *him* to ask them to not post about it in the group chat until Monday (because I knew he would keep looking at his phone all night when we were about to go to a party, and that’s rude).

      There’s no way *I* would have reached out to any of his coworkers about the weekend/late night messages! He’s an adult, it’s his job to fix it.

    5. Soylent Green*

      My husband used to work with me and so knows some of my team well. It would still be weird if he did that


      Exactly. How does this even get farther than a sentence or two before getting shut down? It’s beyond dysfunction. It’s delusion.

      1. Lost academic*

        Shock, and it doesn’t really take long for someone to say the things the wife said. You have to get over the shock first and then most people try to get a word in edgewise first because we’re socially conditioned to do so. Plus it’s her boss’ wife. Rudeness no matter how warranted has the potential to damage her job.

        1. Tuesday*

          Exactly. OP says she was speechless, and I can see why. It’s so bizarre that I think it would take a lot of people a while to wrap their head around what was happening.

      2. Zillah*

        I think that when someone violates our boundaries or acts in such a bizarre way, we’re often too taken aback to shut it down.

      3. Jaybeetee*

        This comes off a little judgy. A lot of people freeze up when dealing with rudeness or left-field behaviour, and I’d be astonished if anyone has been perfectly assertive for 100% of their lives.

      4. Sylvan*

        Just plain shock! Plus, if you’re in a job where you can’t typically hang up on callers, you might just not even think of it. You might do the next best thing, which is waiting for the caller to run out of breath and relatively politely ending the call.

      5. tamarack and fireweed*

        Inner thought process: “Huh, WHO is that? Rupert’s wife? Did anything happen to him???? No, but she’s really upset – is she mad at ME? For … one sec, what fresh hell is this?!”
        During the same time, outward performance of politeness. Which it is hard to just stop, especially someone you usually socially referring to (important boss’s wife).

      6. JSPA*

        So long as the next sentence could be, “and he’s in the hospital getting checked out for angina and won’t be in tomorrow,” one doesn’t hang up, because one’s rational brain says, “surely there must be a legitimate reason for this call, and once she gets over the jumbled/stressed/blame-y part of the message, we’ll reach the important information that justifies the call.”

    2. Firecat*

      You know … these kinds of comments are BS.

      In X situation I’d…

      Well you’ve never been in X situation have you? So you don’t know what you would do. Could we just stop with victim blaming in general. Please everytime you think “I would just…” keep it to yourself. Its never helpful.

  6. MysteriousMise*

    Your Spidey Senses would be tingling on this one. My money is on – this is nothing to do with you, and everything to do with her, and her insecurities.

    1. Expelliarmus*

      What would she be insecure about though? The fact that she can’t have similar conversations with her own boss?

      1. No Name Today*

        I don’t even think it’s about the relationship. It could be as simple as what OP said, Boss is happy and planning to retire from here. Wife has plans and wants him to stay at this place. He mentions, “OP told me that Dewey, Skrewem and Howe were sniffing around. I’d be lost without her.”
        and instead of asking what he would do, assumes he’d not be able to succeed without OP because ??? so, she jumps into, “not today, Satan” mode and attacks OP for threatening her lifestyle and future.

    2. kt*

      Or other stresses. Maybe she’s dealing with a bad boss situation, or her employee just asked for a retention package, or she feels spouse is talking about work too much and she’s got something tough going on, or or or or. We could fan-fic away and it would probably be less random than what’s going on with boss’s spouse. This is definitely feedback that says more about her than you.

    3. Expelliarmus*

      What would she even be insecure about though? The fact that she doesn’t have a similar relationship with her own boss?

      1. Foof*

        She may be stressed about something else and taking it out on the lw. Or dementia. Who knows? Something is amiss and with 25 years of good history it’s worth givibg boss a heads up.

        1. BlueberryFields*

          I was thinking the same thing–if LW and boss’ wife have always had a good relationship (i.e. polite, professional, appropriate, whatever) and this came out of the blue, it’s possible there’s something else going on. Not the LW’s job or responsibility to figure out what, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

      2. Bernice Clifton*

        It could be that she’s jealous that her husband values the LW so much as an employee, but doesn’t want to sound like a Jealous Wife so she’s telling herself and LW that this is “stress” the LW is causing her husband.

    4. Lacey*

      Meh. My husband works with stressful people that he rants about at home but it perfectly polite to at work.
      I’ve often though I’d like to tell them a thing or two. I wouldn’t. But I don’t think being upset by a spouse’s work stress indicates insecurities – even when it’s handled super poorly.

      1. boop the first*

        Yes, this was my thought. Boss sounds like a kind person who wants to do well by everyone. You can be grateful for information and still be worried about the consequences of that information. It’s pretty common to share grievances at home that you don’t at work!

  7. ahhh*

    I’m flabbergasted at the wife’s actions. I would tell him. Maybe approach this innocently and with the same kindness he has shown you. Ask if he is stressed, reiterate that you are not going anywhere. If the conversation allows definitely let him know about his wife’s phone call.

    Personally I’d err on the side of the boss having a bad day and venting to his wife where he mentioned everything under the sun. The wife may have interpreted it as you gave notice and her husband is now stressed in his last years before retirement.

    I think after 25 years you should be able to approach him in a friendly manner.

    1. Petty Editor*

      Noooo she should NOT manage his emotions on this, it’s entirely inappropriate to do so.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I don’t see how approaching this kindly would be the LW managing the bosses emotions?

        1. Archaeopteryx*

          Asking him if he’s stressed as an oblique way of half-avoiding the subject isn’t a good approach. There’s nothing for OP to tiptoe around- just have a straightforward conversation relaying what happened.

          1. Anononon*

            OP asking if the boss is stressed is a direct response to the wife’s call in which she stated that OP was stressing out the boss. It’s not avoiding the subject – it’s specifically addressing it.

            1. MsM*

              Except that whether the boss is stressed or not isn’t really the problem. The problem is that his wife is overstepping boundaries with his employees.

            2. ahhh*

              Anononon thanks! You were kind of getting to the point I was trying to make. No I don’t think OP should manage boss’ emotions, nor is OP responsible for anything in boss’ personal life. But the wife crossed a boundry and this behavior, implied rumors and work relationship need to be addressed. I agree OP should be direct but I’m sure after 25 years there is a bit of a friendship or friendly aquaintance relationship. I was trying to describe a way where OP could start a conversation that would “naturally” lead to OP mentioning the wife’s phone call. OP and boss still have to work together. My thinking was if this conversation just happened to occur it would avoid any awkwardness that may possibly be a result.

              1. pancakes*

                It’s awkward because the wife made it awkward. However the conversation starts, it’s awkward that she called and yelled at her husband’s paralegal. Being coy about her having done so doesn’t make it less awkward. If anything it adds additional awkwardness.

      2. NotJane*

        But he doesn’t have any emotions to manage yet, since it sounds like he doesn’t even know that his wife called OP. Tailoring your response based on what you know about a person and how they’re likely to take the news isn’t “managing their emotions”.

        1. Anon Dot Com*

          It’s tiptoeing around the issue and telling him about the call “if the conversation allows” that’s the problem. The boss’s stress is not the LW’s to manage; what the LW needs to do is inform the boss that his wife made a very inappropriate phone call to his employee. She should certainly tell him kindly and considerately, but whether or not he’s actually stressed is irrelevant.

  8. PT*

    I do think you need to tell him, for several reasons. One, because it would be weird to hide it from him and would betray the trust in your working relationship. Two, because he needs to know that his wife is doing this. What if she is having mental health issues or cognitive decline? What if they are getting divorced? What if you are not the only person she has called? Three, because you do need to discuss the things she told you and clear the air that your job performance is satisfactory.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        If you don’t tell him, you’re robbing him of the ability to make an informed choice about how he responds. If I found out something had hidden something like this from me, I’d be baffled/miffed.

        1. No Name Today*

          This. He’s a grown man. Two other people are deciding what he should and should not know about his work and workplace. No.

    1. Seal*

      Since it sounds like this call came completely out of the blue, my first thought was that the wife might be having mental health issues. If that is indeed the case, the OP’s boss would definitely need to know.

      1. Not a Shrink*

        Every inappropriate action is likely not due to mental health issues. Just garden variety bad judgement will do.

    2. Manchmal*

      My thoughts exactly. I assume that the wife has been around for a long time too. Why after 25 years of maintaining normal boundaries would she suddenly go off the rails like this? Boss should be informed, absolutely. You could even approach is like, “Is Wife OK?? I got a really strange call from her a couple of days ago, and it was so unlike her. She said X, Y, Z. If there’s some truth to what she said, I’d love to talk to you about it, but I’m also just concerned about the phone call itself. She’s never done this in the 25 years we’ve worked together, etc.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I also assumed the wife has been around for a long time. What has OP’s relationship been with her all this time? In many cases 25 years of company holiday events and retirement parties and whatnot would mean they had at least a passing relationship. Definitely not always, and this is something that varies a lot, but did it feel like a call from a stranger, or from someone she knew?

        I may be biased towards a relationship because I’ve met my wife’s bosses and colleagues (and their spouses) on occasion over her various legal jobs. But I know that sort of thing isn’t universal – I think we’ve had some threads on it here.

      2. Jaybeetee*

        Maybe not the “that’s so unlike her” part, if LW doesn’t particularly know the wife well. Lawyer’s wives often do get pulled into certain functions, so they’ve likely met, but LW may not know her well.

    3. Essess*

      What if she does this to clients??!! I agree that she needs to tell her boss right away about this boundary crossing.

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      I was wondering if there are some other things going on in that relationship, and Boss’s Wife has decided it’s clearly all because OP is stressing him out.

      1. Yorick*

        It may not even be something wrong with their relationship. But maybe they’re dealing with some stressful life event and the wife is trying to help him relieve other stress in a really bad way.

    2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      Yes, I was wondering about that too; since the LW has followed her boss to three different workplaces, his wife may be wondering if she’s following him for less-than-professional reasons…although why she’s bringing it up now is unclear. But it does sound as if this is more about the wife’s feelings than about what the LW has been telling her boss.

    3. No Name Today*

      I think wife is insecure about Boss’ job security. She thinks his hyperbolic “don’t know what I’d do without OP” means he’d lose his job and they’d be hosed on retirement.
      If wife thought this was a personal relationship, I don’t think she’d be telling OP to keep doing her job.

      1. pancakes*

        That doesn’t make sense. This guy has been practicing law 25 years and is a name partner in the firm. Partners don’t lose their jobs for losing a paralegal, and his wife almost certainly knows that.

    4. Delphine*

      I don’t think we need to speculate, especially since that speculation relies on sexist ideas about women. If we get an update that says jealousy was the cause, cool. Until then, let’s use what is actually in the letter.

  9. Cat Tree*

    This is especially odd since this is the rare employer who handles retention right – by giving people an incentive to stay. I mean, he shouldn’t be too worried about OP leaving since she is clearly aware of other opportunities and hasn’t taken them. But if he truly is worried, he seems more likely to actually *do* something about (perks, bonus, raise, etc) rather than stew about it secretly. I agree that it’s worth a conversation to see what’s going on.

    I won’t speculate, but it sounds like this is very out of character for his wife too. I’ll bet there’s a straightforward explanation to be found.

    1. Sharrbe*

      The boss sounds like he may be overextending himself and his wife may be feeling the stress. I mean he sounds like an AMAZING person to work for, but maybe he also brings his worries about his employee’s happiness home too much? Empathetic people often do. Even if the LW didn’t intend to cause such stress in him, maybe she is giving him tooo much information, and the cumulative effects might affect him in ways she doesn’t see. He doesn’t sound like he pushes back and tells the LW that perhaps she doesn’t need to share as MUCH as she does. Yes the wife should not have called and scolded her. But if she’s been absorbing his stress for decades, she might just be at the end of her rope. Perhaps she has her own mental health issues that her husband has been able to support well enough because of his issues. He kinda sounds like a nice guy who wants to make everyone happy at all costs. I’m sorry, but if the LW keeps talking about her market value, that could be construed as trying to manipulate someone who doesn’t have good boundaries.

  10. Kella*

    OP, it sounds like you have the best possible boss to go to about a problem like this. If he wants to know about problems within the workplace that he has power to impact, he absolutely would want to know that something from his personal life was negatively impacting the workplace. Because even if she was 100% right and he is stressed about you leaving, a. he may have decided that those are his feelings to deal with on his own and wants you to continue telling him about the offers you field even though it does stress him out and b. this was the least effective possible way for this information to be delivered and almost seems like it was designed to *drive you away* rather than to secure your position further. In other words, it’s a problem that she said this to you even if it’s true.

    In fact, I’m pretty suspicious of this wife’s motives, that she is somehow trying to cultivate distrust and division between you and your boss. She’s telling you that after YEARS of working with this person, and him consistently being upfront, honest, considerate, and open to hearing concerns, he’s suddenly being none of those things. That is one second-hand data point compared to your years of hundreds of first-hand data points. My first thought was actually that she’s jealous of the long-term connection the two of you have had but that is 100% pure speculation and the actual reason doesn’t change the fact that you should talk to him about it.

    If anything, I hope my skepticism of the wife’s motives will encourage you *more* to talk to your boss because you’ve got a wildly differing data point here and you need some more information to figure out what happened to cause it.

  11. Danikm151*

    I would tell him. This is blurring the lines of your professional relationship.

    If nothing is said she may feel like she can do it again and that will create an avalanche of phone calls at every little thing he may mention.

    1. Momma Bear*

      And/or has the wife called anyone else like that? Is it just OP or is it the whole team? How over the top is she?

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      And if it happens again and you only tell him after that, it’s going to look weird that OP didn’t tell him about the first call.

  12. Madtown Maven*

    Wow. Her calling you is absolutely out-of-bounds. Do not hide this call. Make sure your boss knows that she called, what she said, and how you feel about it.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      I don’t think I would have hesitated to tell her directly. “Sally, this is wildly inappropriate especially with your acknowledgement that boss doesn’t know you’re calling me about this. Please know that any further outreach from you will not be acknowledged or followed up on by me”.

  13. Mental Lentil*

    It’s a kindness to tell him.

    For all the reasons that Alison mentioned above, his wife could be experiencing some issues of her own (whether mental or physical—we had that discussion a couple of weeks ago) and this could be a heads-up for him, or a confirmation of other things he has already seen. If you’ve been working with him for 25 years and this is the first time this has ever come up, this is definitely an aberration and he should be aware of it, both for professional reasons and personal ones.

    Please send an update when you have one.

  14. JelloStapler*

    I agree with the advice of telling him either in the low-key or direct way because needs to know she is calling people, you two need to keep your rapport/trust with one another. This may subconsciously make you less likely to share and then he may wonder why you are not as candid. Also, perhaps it may end up with him being able to reassure his wife.

  15. Mobius 1*

    Tinfoil hat time: Maybe this occurred at the direction of your boss in some way? Is he old fashioned enough to use his wife as a sort of “back-channel”?

    1. Mental Lentil*

      That is tinfoil hat territory.

      Unless LW has wildly mis-represented their relationship, it sounds to me like he would handle this kind of communication himself. (And we are asked to take letter writers at their word.)

      1. The Original K.*

        Yeah, if OP has been candid with her boss about other opportunities that have come her way over the course of their 25-year working relationship, surely he would have said a version of this to her by now. He’s had literal decades to tell her “you should be grateful you have a job,” if he felt that way.

    2. Heidi*

      A back channel would be like asking your wife to ask her friend on the condo board to vote with you so that your tree doesn’t get cut down, not asking her to go on some bizarre rant to his own employee. It doesn’t seem like any reasonable person would want anyone to do this on their behalf. It wouldn’t prevent the OP from leaving for one. If anything, it’s more likely to drive them away.

      1. MsM*

        Yeah, if the boss thought this was in any way appropriate, I can’t imagine that lack of clear and respectful communication and problem-solving ability wouldn’t have manifested in some other way sooner, let alone that OP would have turned down multiple great offers to stay.

  16. James*

    As a manager and as a spouse I’d want to know. This is just so bizarre that I’d want time to formulate a response to it. If I genuinely am stressed out about something an employee is doing, it would give me the opportunity to discuss it with them. I would also really, really want to reassure the employee that my wife was not acting on my behalf or at my request, and that it won’t happen again.

    I’ve seen this sort of attitude on the part of spouses before. I’ve done remedial actions on bases, and spouses of officers just ignore warning signs. When informed that they can’t be in the middle of a remedial site, their response is “Do you know who my husband is?” as if toxic chemicals cared. Worse, the person hasn’t done anything to earn that rank, their spouse did. On the rare occasions when the officer was around to discuss it they have been nothing but apologetic, acknowledging that their wife was 100% in the wrong. (If it sounds sexist it is unintended and I apologize; it’s simply that in my experience it’s been wives of officers doing this.) It sounds like your boss’s wife has a similar attitude, and your boss is likely to have the same attitude as those officers.

    1. Collarbone High*

      I got a whiff of this from “you should be thankful to have a job” – does the wife consider LW “the help?” That mentality might lead to her thinking the LW is supposed to be deferential to the boss (and, by extension, her, including getting scolded by her) rather than talking to him as an equal with the agency to change jobs.

      1. Foxy Hedgehog*

        YES, I agree. This strikes me as “status games” more than anything else. “How dare you not be deferential enough to my husband–he has his name on the door; you need to be thankful he even allows you to make a living. “

      2. James*

        To build on this model a bit: the LW’s employer likely wouldn’t have the same attitude, because he worked his way up the ranks and understands what a tremendous value the LW is providing. Having someone that can talk to you frankly and openly, without fear of insulting you, is a TREMENDOUS value, aside from the value offered in their official role; it keeps you honest, and keeps you sane. Anyone who’s been around a while has seen what happens to someone who doesn’t have this in their career! His spouse, on the other hand, doesn’t have that direct experience, and may not have been involved with him during that rise (I’ve seen a lot of men re-marry later in their careers). I’ve seen the same thing in men and women: those who worked their way up the ranks always display more consideration for the lower ranking people in the company than those who came up higher in the food chain.

        This is getting somewhat speculative, but I don’t think it’s too far off the mark either.

      3. No Name Today*

        yes, “putting her in her place” not realizing that OP’s place is where ever she want’s to be. OP isn’t “lucky to have a job.” It isn’t a gift. It was earned.

    2. Chauncy Gardener*

      This. Yes! How many times, decades and decades ago did I see wives (and yes, sorry, back then it was only wives because there were no female senior officers yet) think they could get past the base USMC sentries without an id. “Do you know who I am?” “No ma’am, but I will shoot you if you go any further.” “Then you need to call my husband and he will sort you out!” Husband called, while 50 cars are waiting behind Ms Entitled, to get on duty. Husband gets there (Admiral, General, some big dude), apologizes to the 18 year old Marine on duty (scared out of his mind, btw) for his wife’s behavior, tells him he did the exact correct thing. Then tells his wife to get the heck home and get her id and never pull a stunt like this again.

  17. Keep MN Passive-Agressive*

    These always boggle me. I haven’t shut my mouth about standing up for myself since I’ve been out of the womb…and while I certainly have been in work situations that require tact, I don’t know how people can be so silent.

    You’re not a doormat OP. It sounds like you genuinely have a good relationship with your boss, and while telling him that his wife did this may seem awkward, it’s ultimately HER behavior that is bad, not yours! I would absolutely say something, if not simply to ensure your boss isn’t stressing about this, but because that Nosy Nelly has some nerve thinking she has a damn right to tell you boo.

    Of course, we tell the boss that in nicer terms, because he’s not the bad guy here.

  18. MissBaudelaire*

    Oh this is something boss needs to know about. I sincerely doubt he’ll be happy with this turn of events. I agree with Alison, it’s worth asking “Is it bothering you that I’m keeping you in the loop about opportunities?” Maybe he’ll ask what it’ll take to make sure you stay, OP. And maybe you don’t have a concrete answer for that this second, I don’t know.

    I do know that it is wildly inappropriate for her to call you to scold you. Your boss has stress over the situation? That’s for him to tackle and deal with like an adult. Not for his wife to come and finger wag at you about. Good grief.

  19. Empress Matilda*

    OP, you didn’t do anything wrong here. You have nothing to feel bad about, and nothing to hide – yes, it’s likely that your boss will be mortified to hear about it, but that’s not *your* fault. He’s an adult, he can manage his own emotions around this. (Unlike his wife, apparently…)

    Also, think about what it would be like if you didn’t tell him. Will you be able to pretend everything is normal and okay? I’m not you, obviously, but I’m terrible at hiding what I’m thinking, especially when I’m uncomfortable or rattled about something. Even if I didn’t say anything, guaranteed the boss would notice something was off within 0.02 seconds of talking to me. And then if he asks, you’re having the uncomfortable conversation anyway, right? Better to take a deep breath and just talk to him before it all comes out another way.

    Good luck, and I’d love to hear an update when you have one!

  20. BethRA*

    Allison’s advice is still spot on, and I agree that OP should talk to her boss, but am I the only person who read this and wondered if Sally’s mental health is deteriorating? OP has been working for this lawyer for 25 years, even moving firms to follow him, and NOW she calls and berates OP? It’s definitely strange and inappropriate, but it also seems new as well.

    1. Anonym*

      I also wondered this. This possibility adds to the urgency of OP telling her boss, and to the importance of being clear about the details. The fact that she *yelled* matters, because it shows just how far out of line the behavior was. If there’s a mental or other health issue at hand, this may illuminate the severity.

      Boss deserves to know what happened, in full. Tell him as soon as humanly possible!

    2. Properlike*

      This was my thought. *Something* is going on at home that’s problematic and out-of-the-norm, if this is the first time in 25 years something like this had happened.

      Think of it as resetting those work boundaries. The castle wall got breached, here’s what happened, giving you the information so we can fix the wall. The more you treat this with professional restraint and kindness, the easier it will be.

    3. James*

      My thought was, perhaps something was going on in Sally’s life and she was projecting. I’ve seen an unfortunately large number of marriages shatter (occupational hazard when you’re on the road 45 weeks a year), and often the spouse that cheats will accuse the other of cheating out of the blue, for reasons that I genuinely cannot understand. And if the couple is getting close to retirement Sally may be under unusual stress–going from working to retired is not an easy transition, after all. Sally may not be experiencing something like dementia or the like, but she also may not be coping with stress well at all.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Thing is, even if that’s the case it doesn’t change the advice. If I suddenly snapped (and I’ve got a few mental issues…practically a library) and rang my husband’s coworker to tell her to stop stressing him out I’d one hundred percent expect my husband to find out. Then likely he’d ask me what was wrong, and tell me to never do that again and/or get me professional help.

      The last year and a bit has been ruinous on a lot of people’s mental health to be sure, but it’s not OP’s business to speculate why the wife called to chew her out as it doesn’t change the fact the boss needs to know.

  21. BigHairNoHeart*

    OP, I’m wondering if the reason/one of the reasons you don’t want to tell your boss is because you really like and respect him, and you’re worried about hurting his marriage. Because it sounds like to me, if you told him, he’d do the right thing–tell you that was unacceptable/apologize, and have a tough but firm conversation with his wife. But since the wife as shown that she’s already got weird boundaries and poor judgement about this, it’s unlikely that she’ll take it well. So, you probably know on some level that this is going to be a big issue for them, and you don’t want to have caused trouble for him.

    Obviously that’s me reading into this, so disregard if I’m off base. But if this sounds right, I think your concern is coming from a very kind place! You don’t want to hurt someone you have a deep relationship with. But please know that if you say something to him, you absolutely won’t be doing that! His wife instigated this, not you. Telling him just gives him the information he needs to make an informed decision.

    Plus, imagine if he found out some other way and realized you hadn’t told him? I suspect that would hurt him more, because he’d worry you didn’t trust him. I think the kindest thing to do is exactly what Alison suggested.

    1. mf*

      This is my read too! But the OP should still tell her boss. I really think any reasonable boss or spouse would prefer to know!

  22. twocents*

    Absolutely the wife is out of line, but also maybe evaluate why you’re telling the boss about these opportunities? “Hey, did you know Teapot Incorporated is hiring?” seems like an odd conversational topic unless you had some interest in potentially going over there, and bringing up other opportunities on a regular basis would certainly give me the impression that you’re looking around. It’s a very different topic than sharing genuine workplace concerns. Maybe someone else can think of something, but I really can’t think of a time when I would tell my boss about all the other roles that are available to me unless I was (a) looking to apply out or (b) looking to negotiate salary.

    Again, wife is absolutely out of line, but the LW seems surprised that her boss wouldn’t want to hear about all these other job opportunities, which is why I would look at what message you are sending in talking about them or what you’re hoping the boss will do with that information.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      In general, yes, but I’m picturing OP saying things like “Samantha from Firm We Both Used to Work At and I had lunch the other day, and it sounds like they’ve really been having trouble with paralegal staffing since we left.” OP and her boss have moved firms together multiple times, so it’s more likely it’s coming up naturally and via mutual acquaintances than that OP is looking at job listings and telling her boss about things that she could theoretically apply to. And even good paralegals probably aren’t getting too many cold calls from recruiters (though my lawyer wife says that good paralegals are hard to find and worth their weight in gold!).

    2. Eye roll*

      Given the context, it could even be directly helpful instead of “look at all my other offers.” For example, “I was contacted by a recruiter about a position as a legal secretary. Their range starts 10,000 above ours. That seems to be a trend. Do you think we should examine salary bands here?” Or “X at Old Company asked if I’d be interested in coming back for X. That’s pretty similar to our current salaries here, but Old Company used to underpay. Do you think we need to increase more to stay competitive?” I mean, he is a name partner. Essentially everything is at least somewhat under his purview.

    3. Formerly Ella Vader*

      We do share stuff like that with our bosses, because they like to have finger-on-the-pulse of whether we’ll have trouble hiring for short-term work or whether the competition isn’t hiring this year or isn’t paying as much as we are. This helps them set pay rates and plan for future work, but I think they also enjoy hearing when the competitors are struggling.

      I don’t think I’d tell if I was specifically approached by a recruiter, because I don’t want to inadvertently give the message that I’m long-term satisfied with my compensation and they don’t need to keep courting me.

    4. a clockwork lemon*

      A paralegal who’s been with the same attorney through three different firms for a continuous 25 years is almost certainly worth her weight in gold to her boss. If she’s really good, people probably try to poach her all the time and after such a long tenure with the same attorney, I’m sure he knows this. Law is an extremely networking-heavy field, which means that generally everyone talks to everyone else about who’s hiring and when. In my experience, these conversations are both common and acceptable, and generally divorced from specific concrete salary discussions.

      She also likely holds a supervisory or managerial role over other support staff. If they’re hiring other support roles and she’s involved in that hiring process, she’d of course be generally keeping tabs on market conditions and the things that are important to employee retention (such as adoption benefits for a secretary they don’t want to replace).

    5. Becca*

      I also think it’s relevant here that they’ve worked together for 25 years. To keep a paralegal for 25 years (essentially tying her career to his very closely), conversations likely have needed to happen occasionally to ensure the paralegal is getting fair market rate and the right incentives to stay. It can often be more lucrative for people to change jobs to jump salaries or negotiate better benefits. If someone worked for me for two years and was talking to me about other opportunities all the time, I’d raise an eyebrow. But a 25 year long, linked-career-type relationship is different, especially as I’m assuming the lawyer she works for moved up through the ranks during that time as well and the complexity of the paralegal’s job may have changed even as their title may not have.

  23. jcarnall*

    Just a guess, but I would think LW is reluctant to tell Boss because this is presenting a criticism of Boss’s wife’s behaviour – and while LW should tell Boss about someone who called out of the blue to berate LW about her behaviour towards Boss, I’d also be reluctant to criticise Boss’s spouse. You don’t normally want to criticise the behaviour of someone who is married to one of your colleagues, let alone to your boss – not even for a (one-off) violation of behaviour at work.

    But this is so out-there, such a weird thing to do, that I’d think Boss would want to know about it as manager and as spouse. I think you have to follow whichever of Alison’s scripts you feel comfortable about, but definitely tell him.

    It’s possible this was a one-off vent brought on by who knows what, and Boss’s spouse is by now embarrassed about what she did. But I’m afraid it’s also possible this is part of a pattern of behaviour that a good spouse needs to know about.

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      Just the bare facts are enough to get how inappropriate this is across without any added criticism. OP can say, “I was too taken aback to reply, and then she hung up on me”- that’s a factual report, not a critique. “This was wildly inappropriate” would be, but the facts state that loud and clear all by themselves.

  24. TypityTypeType*

    My first thoughts were that 1) boss has something else upsetting him, Sally noticed, and boss threw LW under the bus; and/or 2) boss had some kind of health scare and has been told to minimize stress, and Sally is upset and lashing out at a (perceived) source of said stress.

    But all speculation aside: LW, tell your boss what happened!

  25. Baffled Teacher*

    Interesting that she didn’t bring this up literally anytime between, like, 1996 and now. Definitely tell your boss—I’d use the first script Alison mentioned. I’d bet something is going on with her personally, presuming that you’ve known her this whole time and never had an issue before. You didn’t do anything wrong!

  26. S*

    There’s really no way to avoid dealing with this. And it would be very tempting to frame it as “your wife called to yell at me… what’s up with that?”. Because, this is such a major overstep that “softening” it in any way (or deferring, denying, minimizing) is de facto insanity.

    1. Deets*

      I’m not advocating for LW to minimize it but I disagree that wanting to spare someone an embarrassing conversation is insanity.

  27. Archaeopteryx*

    Absolutely you should not hesitate to tell him! The longer you wait, the weirder it will be that you waited; most people would have had that conversation first thing next day. He needs to know that this was an out-of-the-blue dressing-down. Don’t sugarcoat it and leave him with an impression more reasonable than what happened. He needs to have an accurate picture of what his wife did to interfere with his employee.

  28. StripesAndPolkaDots*

    I’m amazed you didn’t immediately call him and tell him the second his wife hung up the phone.

  29. Hmmm*

    I would encourage OP to flip the situation in their mind. If your boss receieved a call from your spouse saying “you have to stop putting so much work on her it is stressing her out!” and then hung up, wouldn’t you want your boss to bring that up to you?

  30. TWW*

    It’s beside the point, but I’m curious about whether the boss really does feel stressed over having watercooler talk conveyed to him?

    I sometimes want to do that to my boss by way of looking out for my junior coworkers. Bad idea?

    1. Arctic*

      Definitely a bad idea. Your coworkers want to be able to vent to each other without having it reported. It could just as easily backfire. Even if their particular gripe is addressed in the back of the boss’s mind you could be labelled a complainer.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      This depends on the relationship, and on what you expect your boss to do with the information. In situations where you think the boss might be able to act on the information but that your junior colleagues will be hesitant to speak up, it can make sense to play that role. Even more so if the feedback can be anonymized.

      “Michael was complaining about having to do his TPS reports” is useless and should be kept to yourself. “Several of the junior staff are unhappy with the way this round of project assignments were handed out. Would it be possible to provide more transparency about why it happened this way, or to allow them more input next time?”

      I have a bit of a deputy relationship with my boss given the levels of seniority among our team, and he would absolutely appreciate constructive feedback from me about team morale and such.

      1. Zzzzzzz*

        “Deputy” is a great way to describe this relationship! It can really be a positive for everyone when doing right (good for boss, good for juniors, good for person passing along info to get more diplomatic/leadership skills).

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yes, I think it’s entirely possible that hearing about market conditions and water cooler gossip is stressing out the boss, to the point that he’s bringing it home. And maybe he doesn’t even want to hear about all of it, even if he hasn’t directly said that to the OP.

      But none of that actually changes how out of line it was for the wife to call the OP. And it doesn’t change Alison’s good advice.

    4. iceberry*

      It depends on the dynamic you have with your manager and if you think the information will result in positive change.

      I do have this dynamic with my manager, I never reveal specifics or name anyone, but will relay general sentiments, particularly in the WFH environment as it can be harder to pick up on issues and dissatisfaction. I am also comfortable putting myself up, as in “I have been finding X thing challenging to manage, and I know others feel the same way, Y and Z are possible options to alleviate some pressure”. We are currently dealing with some rapid turnover, so hoping some insights can provide a bit of stability.

    5. Esmeralda*

      Depends on how OP is passing on the water cooler talk. I’ve been in that position—I had an excellent and long relationship with my boss, others didn’t feel comfortable speaking up directly, especially if it seemed like a pattern (several people frustrated by the same issue for instance), I would mention it to boss making sure there was no way to know who said what to me. And yes, I do always encourage people to speak directly to boss but some people just won’t.

  31. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    So the LW has worked for this boss for 25 years. I’m assuming the wife has been around for a decent chunk of those 25 years, and that this has never happened before. So something has changed.

    Cognitive decline was my first thought. The other thought is that there is some major, major stressor in this lady’s life that you don’t know about. Both can cause people to feel paranoid or lash out in strange, inappropriate ways.

    None of this is to excuse the boss’s wife. Rather it is to say that it’s almost certainly something the LW didn’t cause. If it is possible to view it as a “that lady” problem and not a “me / me and my boss” problem, it might help drain some of the feelings of hurt and shock, which might in turn make it easier to approach the boss. I hate “don’t take it personally” advice, because when you are attacked it IS personal – but sometimes that advice is good.

    1. Anonymity*

      I would not jump to cognitive decline first. I’d think more exasperated about husband venting about LW on multiple occasions and it got the better of her and she acted out. If I were OP I’d bring it up with Boss in a very, calm, let’s all fix this together way. Because something is driving it.

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        I am sure that in 25 years, the boss has vented about the LW before. But their wife has never before called the LW to berate them. So something changed there. And also, berating a grown adult? who doesn’t work for you? on behalf of your spouse? but without them knowing? and hanging up on them mid-sentence? That behavior is wildly out of line.

        No, I don’t think it is definitely dementia – that is one possibility I threw out – but I vehemently disagree that the LW should go in assuming that they *must* have done *something* to cause this behavior. I don’t think it’s helpful to get someone feeling defensive, and angry, and second guessing themselves when one of the people in the interaction very, very clearly has a problem. Whatever “drove” this is not on the LW. If a guy on the train slugs you because you’re wearing a red shirt, the problem is the guy, not your shirt. You need to treat it as a “that guy’s crazy” problem and not a “what did my shirt contribute” problem.

        1. A Person*

          I think it’s alcohol, myself. (Or another drug addiction.) Wildly out-of-character behavior comes from *somewhere* and people who haven’t dealt with addiction issues don’t usually consider substance abuse. (Just like people who have not personally seen someone’s mental decline don’t usually consider that.)

          1. WoodswomanWrites*

            An altered state caused by alcohol or a drug was my first thought, too. OP, I hope you will tell your boss what happened.

          2. pancakes*

            No one here knows enough about this woman to speculate on her character. It’s entirely possible that she routinely tries to foist her anxieties on other people and just hasn’t happened to do so with her husband’s paralegal in the past. Or any number of other scenarios. Whether it is or isn’t out of character isn’t the letter writer’s concern and doesn’t change the advice.

  32. Arctic*

    I work in the legal field. What wife did was unfathomable.

    But why are you sharing water cooler gossip? I don’t want a co-worker sharing my venting about the adoption process with my boss. In fact, I would be furious. Why are you constantly bringing up new opportunities and “market conditions”? There is a time and place for salary negotiations. None of this is the job of a paralegal.

    The wife behaved unforgivably poorly. But she’s probably sick of her husband complaining about what are legitimate gripes. And you should bare that in mind when you speak to him. (When not if. You have to speak to him.) I don’t mean this in an unkind way. I don’t think it does LW any favors to pretend there is nothing of merit hidden in the message just because the messenger was inappropriate and completely unprofessional.

    1. Zzzzzzz*

      But the legal secretary got the support she wanted and didn’t have to start a new job with a new baby. Sounds like a great outcome! I can’t imagine why anyone would be opposed to this. (With a bad boss who punishes people for complaining, that would be different. But with a good boss and a fair firm? There’s only upside.)

      1. Arctic*

        If the Legal Secretary wanted it raised she would raise it. She had reasons for not doing so. It is not the LW’s business.

        And we don’t know that there wasn’t subtle punishments for it. Other partners and senior associates may feel secretary went over their head.

        1. allathian*

          The LW has 25 years of seniority and a good relationship with the boss. It is possible to advocate for people who have less capital than you do in an organization, and I must admit that I think it’s rather admirable that the LW did it for her.

    2. Jinni*

      Probably because OP is some kind of de facto emissary.

      As the ex-wife of a guy who was a big firm partner for 20+ years of our marriage, there’s often a huge disconnect between partners and everyone else. Every time someone leaves, the partners would circle the wagons wondering, why the person was leaving? what could they have done to keep them? is that glassdoor review really how it is working here? There’s a whole consultant industry around just this thing – so I imagine after them going from firm to firm together that she’s probably a proxy to getting information people otherwise wouldn’t share with him.

      That’s just to answer your question about the gossip sharing. Now the wife, she’s out of bounds. But honestly I’ve seen this kind of thing come up more times than zero – though it’s usually a husband of a woman associate/partner being inappropriate.

    3. Mentil Lentil*

      I would hardly call this water cooler gossip. Letting a boss know that a valued employee may leave because she needs support to adopt is not gossip—it’s taking good care of the business. Note the outcome: the boss helped support the employee and the employee stayed.

      Nothing in LW’s letter says that the coworker was “venting about the adoption process”. People really do need to read letters better and take to heart Alison’s admonition to take LWs at their word.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        That’s a good point. I was getting the image of LW as someone more like Joan from Mad Men–she has a role overseeing the operations side of things, and in this case, advocated for an employee to improve retention where she knew there was a high possibility of success.

    4. D.C. Paralegal*

      I don’t think the adoption stuff is water cooler gossip. There’s a difference between reporting something negative about a coworker and alerting her boss to the fact that a valued employee isn’t being taken care of to the degree she should. I think the thing to focus on is, did this end in a net positive for the employee? It seems like it did.

      I do agree about the pointlessness of alerting him to market conditions and possible new opportunities. You maybe get to play that card once every few years when you want a raise or some other concession. But just bringing it up for the sake of bringing it up? What’s the goal there? Even if this is just harmless “keeping him in the loop” (a loop that he apparently never asked to be kept in), it’s clearly causing him anxiety if he’s venting to his wife about it.

      This is a situation where the right thing to do and the best thing to do aren’t necessarily the same. Even though the wife was out of line, I see no benefit to getting into a pissing contest with her. (But quite a bit of potential peril.) So for the sake of keeping the peace, I’d tell the boss about the call in a neutral tone, apologize if he misinterpreted the updates on her job market as indications of unhappiness, and then just…stop bringing up this stuff that was the catalyst for the call.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      Same – and I also worked in the legal industry for quite some time.

      I don’t think people that are saying they don’t see a problem with this understand how law firms are structured. Typically, partners are not involved with HR policy or direct administrative supervision. They assign projects and review work, but employment concerns are handled by the administrative management of the firm, whether that’s HR or some other structure. Going to a partner (or any attorney) rather than the departments that control these things is a purely political move and often an attempt to circumvent the system or be treated differently.

      I come to this with some bias, too – in my experience, people who have followed an attorney from firm to firm often have trouble situating into a new culture. I had a highly specialized paralegal who just wanted to do what her main partner wanted and not the other things that were expected of all paralegals in our program. She basically felt that since she did her client work well, it shouldn’t matter if she was billing far less than expectation, being rude to the administrative support team, or not completing her billable time for months at a time (which is how clients are charged for the work and how firms make money). She ran to her partner every time we counseled her on the requirements of the job, and it was a hassle – both on the political side and on the uneven application of standards, if she was excused from basic requirements. (She also constantly told me what things were like at her last firm – that’s great, but not how we do it here.)

  33. AKchic*

    If a wife contacted me like that, I wouldn’t hesitate. It would be an immediate conversation as soon as I was back at work, with written documentation. In no uncertain terms would I allow that person to contact me again. If she has something she wants to “clarify” or “organize” in the future, she can do so via HR. She has lost all privileges of accessing me (or in this case, the LW).

    1. RagingADHD*

      Well, you can tell her (or have her told) not to contact you. But its not actually up to you to “allow” or not. Unless you’re going to stop answering the phone (which is a necessary part of most jobs).

      1. allathian*

        If there’s no conceivable business reason for the wife to contact the LW, she can block her number, but tell the boss and get his approval first. For true business reasons, like the wife calling from the hospital to tell that her husband’s sick, she can go through the legal secretary or receptionist and doesn’t need to involve a paralegal.

  34. Phony Genius*

    If you say nothing, this can only get worse. Since you’ve known your boss for 25 years, maybe you know whether this behavior is out-of-character for his wife. If it is out-of-character, then it is a much easier conversation, as you can approach him with concern that your worried for her in addition to yourself. If it is in character, then you’re approaching him with a report of behavior that he’s seen and is familiar with, which should also make it easier.

    Alison is right that your boss probably is not a horrible tyrant. Can’t say the same for his wife.

  35. QuinleyThorne*

    OP, while I understand your reluctance to tell him, this is something your boss needs to know. 1) because it’s wildly inappropriate, and 2) if it’s not addressed, there’s basically nothing stopping her from doing it again. If your reluctance is due to you still feeling angry and you’re concerned with how that might color the conversation, it’s perfectly fine to let that subside before broaching the topic with him. If it’s concern about the effect it might have on his relationship with his wife, remember that she’s the one that was out of line by calling to berate you while you were at work(!), so whatever negative effects it has on their marriage is entirely on her. Also you mentioned that candor is something that is valued in your professional relationship; do you really want to risk losing that aspect of it because you’re constantly worried about it getting back to his wife? The professional relationship you and your boss have cultivated over the years is nearly ideal, I implore you to not let this one incident tarnish it.

    That aside OP, if nothing else, know that this incident is a reflection of her, and not at all of you.

  36. RagingADHD*

    Tell him.

    You’ve worked for him 25 years and nothing like this has ever happened before?

    That indicates there’s something going on with his wife — she’s day-drinking, or she needs a medication adjustment, or she’s under too much stress, or she’s ill, or some combination of the above.

    His wife has blown a gasket for some reason, and he needs to know that.

  37. learnedthehardway*

    I’m wondering if this is the only time the wife has rung up to discuss things with the LW – it may be that the wife feels she has a relationship with the LW that allows for this. Obviously she doesn’t, but with long standing support relationships such as executive EAs, etc, sometimes those bleed into other areas of life, too.

    I do think that the LW should speak with the partner, using Alison’s first script. It’s important that the partner understands that the LW is happy and is simply keeping him apprised of what is happening in the market. His wife overstepped bigtime, but she also provided the LW with valuable information – ie. that the partner really, really values her, AND that the partner is worried that the LW may quit for something better.

    It’s in the LW’s best interests to make sure that the partner isn’t starting to think about how he would replace LW.

    1. Anonymity*

      Yes. Once LW becomes a point of contention with the wife, Boss may very well pick between the two. And most likely it won’t be LW. Wife was wrong in her approach but an important problem is being highlighted. I think we’ve all in the past made assumptions about the closeness of a business relationship that was not, in reality, true. If LW quit tomorrow, the practice would go on. I think it’s a good practice to never assume one is irreplaceable. It keeps us all humble. I wish LW luck but this is a deeper issue.

  38. Anonymity*

    Wife is out of control but so may be your persistent water cooler talks and your other job opportunities. If I had an employee I treated well continuously bring up how many opportunities they have to work elsewhere, I’d say maybe you should take it because you don’t seem happy here. Wife was 100 percent wrong, but you’re stressing your Boss out. You now must bring the subject up. I’d do it more as “I apologize if my past behavior has left you feeling stressed. Let’s talk about how much you want to be clued in”. No one is irreplaceable. Boss may have been venting about you to wife and this time it broke the camel’s back. She was wrong but all is not well. Good luck.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, this was my thought: There is such a thing as too open.

      It also doesn’t escape me that they’ve worked together for 25 years, which suggests that neither of them is young. Maybe boss would like to take his career down a notch but feels like he can’t without his staff bailing on him.

    2. Cj*

      Quite a few commenters have mentioned this, and I agree. I wish the OP would jump in and say exactly what she says and how often she mentions “other opportunities”.

  39. Coffee Sludge Gang*

    As someone who does have legitimate mental health issues, I truly wish the commentary would not always jump to “oh they are probably going through a mental health thing” every time someone does something boundary crossing. Is it possible? Of course, but it’s also pretty dismissive to the rest of us who do not do these types of things. I’m a psychiatrist’s dream study, you don’t see me emailing my spouse’s coworkers!

    Sometimes people just do things that we don’t understand.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s strictly the rudeness of the incident that has people guessing at that, but that it appears to be quite out of character for the wife based on what LW has written.

    2. Chantel*

      ^^Exactly. Nothing wrong with just taking things at face value.

      Good call, Coffee Sludge Gang.

    3. tinybutfierce*

      Agreed. As someone with a number of co-occuring mental conditions of various severity, who has ~somehow~ never violated someone’s boundaries like this or other letters’ subjects, it’s honestly frustrating to constantly see the armchair diagnoses come out every time someone does something odd/rude/otherwise outside the norm. Sometimes people are just weird/rude/having a wildly off day; it doesn’t mean they’re mentally ill.

    4. RagingADHD*

      I don’t think it’s necessarily mental illness per se, but if nothing has changed in LWs interaction with the boss over 25 years, and the wife starts screaming out of the blue, something has changed, either in her perception of the situation, in her relationship with her husband, or her ability to manage stress. People do odd things sometimes, but they don’t wake up one morning with a different personality.

      Maybe what changed is that he’s going home and acting like an asshole, and blaming it on work stress.

      In any event, LW needs to speak up instead of covering it up.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Fellow psychiatric case file dream here to and yeah, it gets a bit much sometimes. Paranoia doesn’t mean someone is schizophrenic, being inappropriate doesn’t mean someone has autism…etc.

    6. onco fonco*

      THIS. People are perfectly able to behave appallingly and outlandishly without having any mental health problems at all.

  40. Sylvan*

    Please tell your boss. Something’s not right with her and he should know what’s up.

    Additionally, maybe don’t tell your boss about other job opportunities. I’m not quite sure why he would need to know about those, especially since you don’t seem interested in taking them.

  41. Chickaletta*

    I’m curious what LW’s previous interactions and knowledge of their boss’ wife has been up to this point – for me that would drive a lot of how I proceed. They’ve been working for their boss for 25 years so surely they have a fairly good idea of what this woman is like – is she normally reasonable, low key? Or is she emotional and vengeful? Is she kind and caring? or doesn’t give two licks about other people’s feelings? Is she a busy body or does she normally stay out of other people’s business? Even if they’ve never spoken to the wife before, surely their boss has talked about her and LW should have some idea of what kind of person she is. Basically, if she’s normally kind and stays out of the way, I would take her call a lot more seriously than if this was just “par for the course” kind of behavior from her.

  42. Jaybeetee*

    I understand the awkwardness of “weighing in on the boss’ marriage”, but in this case, his marriage kind of came to your door. You ought to tell him so he can figure out how to deal with it.

  43. DrRat*

    I had a particularly unsettling experience years ago. I worked with employee A at another agency years ago, and we had a friendly, bantering relationship. I’m a hetero female and he was an openly gay man who did things like asking which shirtless photo I thought he should post on dating apps. One day his boss, B, came to me and said that A thought I was sexually harassing him. I was horrified and immediately addressed the issue with A. (We were at separate organizations and I was not in a position of authority.) It turned out that A was both astonished and mortified. He had never once thought I was sexually harassing him and all we could figure out was that B had some issues around a strict religious upbringing and that this was about her, not about me or A. As others have noted, I think this phone call is about the wife, not about you or the attorney you work with.

    In the past year I’ve seen many people dealing with stress by lashing out at others in bizarre ways that might usually be atypical for them. I do think it would be a kindness to talk to the attorney about this. As others have noted, you can just report what happened in a factual manner. You don’t have to say, “Btw, your wife is losing her religion.”

  44. LifeBeforeCorona*

    One thing that enrages me is when I hear “you should just be thankful to have a job.” No. I have a particular skill set that is always in demand and I bring years of knowledge and experience to my job. Phrases like that are insulting and imply that OP is lucky to be employed at all. For that condescending line alone, she needs to speak to her boss.

    1. Zzzzzzz*

      Yes! Always true, and like a million times true for paralegals. Paralegals everywhere, thank you.

    2. Tuesday*

      It’s insulting, but it also makes no sense, especially in this context. Supposedly Boss is all worried that she’ll take one of these other (sounds like fairly numerous) job opportunities available to her, but she should also just be thankful to have a job?

    3. Elenna*

      Ah yes, let me bow down to the Great Giver of a Job, who has done me the great favour of… conducting a mutually beneficial business transaction to exchange my work and expertise for their money? Haha NOPE.

      Giving people jobs is not a favour you are doing to them.

      1. allathian*

        Indeed, at least not in the vast majority of cases. There are a few exceptions, like someone who’s really close to retirement and gets full salary even if they only work part time, or work full time but don’t really pull their weight. But these are rare exceptions, in the vast majority of cases employees are performing a job that the employer needs done for money.

  45. Dashed*

    1. Absolutely tell your boss what happened. Avoiding a possibly awkward situation now ALWAYS leads to bigger trouble later. ALWAYS.

    2. I have to ask how often you are talking to your boss about other opportunities? If my assistant was regularly telling me about other opportunities, I would assume she had a foot out the door or was hitting me for a raise. Again. And again. And again. After just a few months of this behavior, I would be quite stressed and probably wanting my assistant to take one of those opportunities already. I am certainly NOT excusing Margo’s behavior, but it’s not difficult to understand how she might be upset at her husband’s stress caused by an assistant seemingly always ready to give notice. If this behavior has been going on for 25 years, well, then…

    1. Boof*

      I think it depends a lot on the context. If boss is a partner and likes hearing about “the market” for hiring decisions and to know how to keep people happy – great! Or “whoah [competator] is hiring up a storm!”. I sort of doubt LW is going “by the way I was just offered $X at this place think I should leave?” over and over.

    2. squeakrad*

      I agree. How would the boss wife know that LW is mentioning these opps if the boss didn’t tell her. Still no excuse. And bizarre.

  46. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I’d be on my way toward his office to tell him about this call before the receiver hit the hook. Maybe I’m overreacting, but no one has the right to call you up and be abusive especially after 25 years of what I can envision has been pretty damn loyal hard work. That would P me off right then and there. I can see myself in the situation just…never talking to the boss about anything other than work again. How utterly demoralizing.

  47. ArtsyGirl*

    My grandboss’s spouse once called me at work to yell at me because a houseguest of theirs had left the place mess. I was assigned to help the house guest while he was visiting our site but had (obviously) not stayed with him at their house (and in fact had never been in their house) and was in no way responsible for a middle age man respecting someone else’s space. This individual also got in a social media fight with a young black junior staffer by telling her that [insert other marginalized group that they belonged to] had it much harder than POC in American and that she should be working to support them rather than posting on black experiences. The coworker was put in an untenable position because this was grandboss’s spouse so was not able to respond as she would have under other circumstances. Everyone was horrified – so happy grandboss and spouse were fired eventually for another incident.

  48. Emily*

    There’s some missing information here that I think would be really helpful to have, such as what your relationship with your boss’s wife was like prior to this, and what you knew her behavior/temperament to be like prior to this, but I agree with what many others have already said, I think it is likely that your boss’s wife’s behavior towards you has to do with other stressors she is experiencing right now, but no matter the reason, you definitely need to have a conversation with your boss about what happened, and sooner rather than later. I know you are probably trying to avoid an awkward conversation, but delaying the conversation will just make things more awkward.

  49. Jill*

    I think you should tell him for all of the reasons listed but also, there’s a good chance done this before to someone and nothing will stop her from doing it again in the future. It definitely could be one bad day but there could easily be another bad day and she needs to figure out how to respond to those appropriately and not chastising you.

    1. Van Wilder*

      Yeah good point. I tell him if only to stop her from contacting *me* again in the future. Because right now, there have been no negative repercussions to her actions.

  50. Bree*

    This may not apply to the LW’s situation, but I have noticed a number of people whose tempers appear to be shorter than usual in the last couple weeks. Cumulative pandemic stress, maybe? I sure am tired of people snapping at me, though.

  51. Melissa*

    I’ve been here, but with a coworker/friend, not a boss. I’m the tech nerd in my department. Boss waged a campaign to get everyone up into the 21st century; especially the teapot selectors, because they were old school, trained in the days where you ordered teapots by looking through catalogs, and they still produced drawer after drawer of 3X5 cards, one teapot per card.

    I would occasionally get help requests from one of the selectors, usually as boss was pushing her to become proficient in computer aided selection. We never had any awkwardness between us about it; mostly we just laughed about it and carried on.

    One day, I ran into her husband in the hallway; he was in a different department. He cornered me, and told me that wife was intimidated by me, I was very condescending to her, and there were times when she was wary of coming to work and dealing with me.

    Those things were not typically something she would say, so, at first, I tried to blow it off. But it did affect me; I found myself pulling away from her, because though I didn’t think the conversation husband described was truly accurate, but because I couldn’t help worrying if I did come across that way.

    I didn’t go to my friend to discuss the encounter. I really wish I had…the long weeks of awkwardness could have been spared. Because with much hindsight, the person husband was describing wasn’t me, it was our boss…..

  52. J.E.*

    This probably isn’t about the LW. Maybe boss has been stressed about work and it’s carrying over into his home life. Over the years the boss may have come to rely on LW to the point they’d be lost without them. If this most recent job is stressing him a lot, boss’s wife may be afraid that LW will leave, thus leaving boss more stressed.

  53. Former Employee*

    Some people are speculating that the wife is having some sort of mental health issue; others are insulted that it seems like every time someone behaves obnoxiously out of nowhere, people jump to “mental health issue”.

    To me, what stands out is that the OP has worked with the boss for 25 years. If something like this occurred previously, I am fairly certain the OP would have mentioned it.

    That’s why it is not unreasonable to think that the boss’ wife is going through something. Maybe the boss is having health issues that are exacerbated by stress and the wife is so frazzled she is taking it out on someone she sees as making things worse.

    Regardless, I believe the OP should tell her boss. Honestly, if he does have a health problem he has not disclosed, it might be a good idea for him to share it with the OP. That way, if something happened at the office, the OP might know what to do.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Its because people forget that a mental health issue, and a mental health illness, are technically not the same.

      Stress is a mental health issue. Everyone goes through it at some point. But it’s not the same thing as being diagnosed with depression or something.

      The wife may very well be having a mental health issue without having an illness: there could be stress going on in her life or relationship or even physical health and it’s causing her to lash out randomly. That’s pretty normal, even if it isn’t appropriate.

    2. Deets*

      Just because LW and boss have been working together for that long doesn’t mean boss didn’t get married recently.

      I didn’t think we were supposed to armchair diagnose on this site tbh, maybe that only refers to a specific diagnosis but regardless it’s kind of crap to jump to mental illness in general as an explanation for this.

  54. NerdyKris*

    And this is the flip side to all those “Why can’t I advocate on behalf of my spouse” letters.

    1. NerdyPrettyThings*

      Yes. From now on, Alison can just link to this letter in her replies and say, “because if you do that, you’ll sounds like this.”

  55. An American(ish) Werewolf in London*

    Do tell your boss.

    I do notice (as have others) a fair amount of speculation as to the mental state of the wife as ‘she’d never done this before.’ Of course, one huge assumption that depends on is that he’s been married to her for the decades that the OP has been working for the Partner. It is equally possible that she’s relatively new to the scene – that he married her recently and that she is unaware of the relationship the OP and her boss has or is even jealous of it. Or is just purely jealous. We just don’t know.

    Of course, that might NOT be the case. But we have zero information on the wife except for the content of the phone call. She could have been married to the LW’s boss for 30 years or 3. Apart from the (good) rule of thumb here to avoid speculating on someone’s mental health, we don’t even have enough information to do so, really – we can’t use ‘well, she clearly changed over the last decades’ because we just don’t know if the LW has known her decades.

    Just a thought.

    1. ThePear8*

      THIS. Most people are assuming the wife has been around for the 25 years OP has been with her boss, but we just don’t know and there’s only so much speculation that can be done with the information given.

  56. Paralegal Part Deux*

    This reminds me of when my boss’s wife (he’s the firm president) decided to accuse me of faking workman’s comp when I was injured in the job, and I hadn’t even filed a claim and had no intention of filing a claim on a Saturday (long story as to why we were both there). I left the office and immediately called my boss, and I don’t know what was said to his wife, but she immediately stopped her shenanigans.

    So, please speak up. You’re doing yourself a disservice by not speaking up.

  57. The Rafters*

    This happened to me numerous times at old union job, so very different. Soon to be ex-wife called constantly. The first time I took the call, I was too taken aback to respond except to take a message and let boss know his wife was NOT happy. After that when she’d call, I would simply repeat to her what I’d said 5 minutes earlier (not kidding) and hang up. After the first call, I also would word those conversations with the boss that I was rude and hung up on his wife (again). Nonsense with the wife never stopped, but he understood what was happening and never chastised me.

  58. Red 5*

    I cannot even fathom a situation where my spouse would do this because they are an extreme introvert, but if it did happen somehow, I would absolutely 100% want and NEED to know that it happened in order to continue being a good boss AND a good spouse.

    I really think you should tell him.

  59. Not trying to be rude, just good at it*

    Good morning Mr. B. How are you doing? What is our action plan for today? BTW, has your wife mentioned the conversation we had last week?

    I’ll get you some coffee now.

  60. Parasaurolophus*

    Just adding a perspective here…even if the bosses wife is right and he is stressed out about the thought of his paralegal taking another job…it’s STILL not the responsibility of the paralegal to manage that. People leave jobs, even good ones. It doesn’t sound like the LW is planning on leaving anyways, but even if they were it’s not appropriate to yell at them for doing so.

  61. Deets*

    I’m getting really afraid I’m missing something with all the people calling LW “she”, did I miss where gender or pronouns were specified?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, I default to “she” when gender is unknown to counter hundreds of years of the male default. I continue to do it because many people have told me that as a result, when they picture a default manager now, they picture a woman (whereas research shows most people picture a man).

        But in this case, I know the LW is a woman from her email.

  62. EmsterLG*

    Why is LW telling him about other offers she is getting? Is it in order to receive something from him? Praise, promotion, money or pleas never to leave him? That could be the reason why LW is not prepared to talk to him about it, as she is embarrassed that she has been reading the signals wrong. As a good boss, he has been dealing in a professional manner with these discussions over many years but that doesn’t mean that he is OK with them. I would find these draining.

    Most people don’t have discussions with their bosses about other offers unless they are very tempted to take them, or else they are looking for something from the boss. They really don’t.

  63. Tea Fairy*

    I am also in the legal field and get calls from recruiters frequently when they are hiring in our area. I share these with my boss not to suggest I may leave, but because it is a (relatively) small community and knowing who is expanding and who has likely left somewhere can be useful to know as they are competition. LW may be sharing as ‘everyone knows everyone’ in the field and it can be good to know who is hiring and who can’t retain staff and so are constantly hiring.

    1. No Name Today*

      Honestly because of the way the wife acted toward OP,
      1) with high and mighty tone, “you’re lucky to have a job”
      2) the way the wife presumed it was OP’s job to prevent Boss from feeling stress

    2. flk*

      I think because, in my experience as a female, women are far more likely to “police” other women’s actions than male actions. Is it right? Hell no, it sucks. But it is, unfortunately, the way the dynamics still are oftentimes. There might be stereotypes at play here too, of a male lawyer and female “assistant/secretary” even though the LW is a paralegal and, obviously could be either sex.

  64. bopper*

    I’ve read a zillion stories about how there was one person that the boss/company relied on who wanted a raise/flexibility/vacation and the Boss/company said no so the person said “fine I will leave” and they did and had to be replaced by 3 people. Or the boss had “no idea” that the person was unhappy when they left.

    So the OP is being very open on letting the boss know where they are in terms of market value and the boss is making sure that they OP feels they are valued. What is the other choice? Being quiet and getting resentful and leaving?

    1. Van Wilder*

      I think there’s a good way to do this and a way that it’s too much, too often. We don’t have enough info to say which OP is doing but I disagree with people proposing a blanket statement that she should never tell her boss about other opportunities.

  65. Van Wilder*

    Bosses! (And bosses’ spouses!) YOU DON’T GET TO TELL PEOPLE THEY’RE LUCKY TO HAVE A JOB.

  66. NowDon'tYouAllYellAtMeToo*

    Hi All– OP here. I emailed this to Alison but thought I would add a comment here too

    Thank you so much for answering my email– it was amazing to read all the comments from everyone too– so I wanted to send some clarifications and an update as requested by some of the comments :)
    1- I am a woman and use she/her pronouns- Alison was spot on there
    2- My boss and his wife have been married for 25+years, this is not a new marriage and they were married when her husband and I started working together.
    3- I would say she and I had a “friendly” relationship in the past, given time and by virtue of the relationship I have with her spouse. 2 decades of holiday dinners, firmwide gatherings, etc. — we have seen each other a lot. She is not someone I would choose as a friend, but she is his wife, so I gave the effort.
    4 – She does not work outside the home, and hasn’t since they got married. She is not the type of person to call me to apologize… not her style. In all the years I’ve interacted with her, she has never once asked about me, my kids, my vacation plans, etc.. it is always about what she has going on (her kids activities, her trips, etc.)
    5 – I do not flaunt offers with my boss– we’ve discussed it maybe 10 times in 20 + years. The firm lost 4 employees in the past 4 months to competitors (we are very niche business and everyone knows everyone else) so the flight fear has been very real here…. that’s why I told him. They kept wondering why they were losing people.

    The call she gave me was on a Tuesday (I emailed Alison on a Thursday). I saw my boss very briefly that Friday morning and did not say a word about her call as I was still contemplating how to talk to him. I asked him if all was ok, and he said he just was a bit distracted. On Sunday, he sent me an email to let me know he would be out of pocket for the next week as he has to deal with a family issue. He did not clarify what that issue was. I haven’t seen him since, but have interacted work wise and he is (as usual) the consummate professional .

    I am just going to wait it out, as there is clearly something going on personally, and I really don’t want to be in that drama. I’ll let you all know if and when we actually talk about this, but given his absence, I may just let it lie

      1. Happy Lurker*

        Yes! Thank you – I love to get more info right away. Best of luck OP to you and your boss.

    1. Anon for this*

      Hi OP!

      You know your boss best, of course, but just a thought. There’s been some speculation here about the wife’s mental health, and it sounds like you may think that is, at least, on the list of possibilities.

      IF that’s influencing your decision … well, speaking as the spouse of someone who has mental health issues: they never pulled a stunt like this, but I’m not sure it’d be a kindness to keep it from me if they did. Examples of erratic behavior are something you need to be able to report to the doctor. It helps get the right diagnosis.

      Now, if you’re keeping quiet about it because it’s not your circus and she’s not your monkey, that’s absolutely fine. That’s a reasonable decision. But if your decision is influenced by the thought she might be having psychological issues, you shouldn’t feel guilty about giving him the facts.

    2. Chilipepper*

      Thanks for updating us. I think you are handling this beautifully!

      Would love more updates if you have them. I wish you and your boss all the best.

    3. CasualManager*

      What an update—thanks OP. Thinking good thoughts for you and your boss. What an unfortunate situation!

  67. Lauren19*

    LW2 if you want a bonus ask for it, but if you want time to relax and recover from a very stressful year, ask for a sabbatical. After the past 13 months your employer should recognize the criticality of your skill set and work to ensure those skills are dispersed across the team. Once you have solid coverage for the work that only you have been able to do, ask for the time!!!

  68. Former Govt Contractor*

    As a paralegal who worked for my first boss for 21 years, I agree with Alison 100%. I had a great, very open and honest relationship with him (still do, 10 years after I left for more opportunity) and I wouldn’t hesitate to tell him about this for the reasons many of you have pointed out. The thing that concerns me the most is that nothing like this has happened before which leads me to believe something is not right with his wife, which he needs to know about. I also wonder about multiple conversations with him about other opportunities; I was approached many times with other opportunities and I only told him about them unless it was time to revisit my salary or the person trying to poach me was someone he thought he could trust. If you have no intention of leaving, why put that in his ear? He knows you are worth your weight in gold already. It’s unnecessary.

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