what’s up with the term “work wife”?

A reader writes:

I’m wondering what your (or your readers’) thoughts are on the term “work wife.” Recently a coworker referred to me (a woman) as another (male) coworker’s work wife, and it totally bugged me out. I brushed it off at the time but internally felt VERY icky about it.

Personally, I feel like the term implies a whole bunch of things I’d rather not have associated with my name at work — office romance/flirtation, unprofessional cliquey-ness, gender-based subjugation, gender roles, heteronormativity in general … (I’m queer and don’t want to be married, which might be part of my aversion to the term — but I’m not super open about this stuff at work.) I definitely get along well with the guy in question and chat with him a lot, but there are several coworkers I could name that I have the same type of relationship with. The only difference is that those coworkers are women.

I talked to a few friends about it, though, and the greater consensus is that it’s just a jokey name for coworkers who are really close with each other, and I probably have nothing to worry about in terms of how people view me at the office.

It seems like such a loaded term to me, but since other people only think of it as describing a particularly close work friendship, I’d love to hear other people’s feelings about the word. What do you think?

It’s one of those terms where some people are really squicked out by it and some people don’t have a problem with it because they don’t mean it in a squicky way. “Work wife” and “work husband” are generally used to mean “colleague with whom you have a very close work relationship.” And while they did originally seem to only get applied to colleagues of the opposite sex, they now get used for colleagues of the same sex too.

It’s not intended to imply any kind of romance or flirtation, although clearly when you’re using “husband/wife” it brings that up for some people.

Since “work husband” gets used too, I don’t see any particular gender-based subjugation in it — unless, crucially, it’s applied to a relationship that does contain problematic gender dynamics, or unless there only seem to be “work wives” and never work husbands in your circles, in which case, yes, totally objectionable.

But if it’s used to describe both parties in a close and equitable relationship, I’d argue the concept isn’t problematic, but it’s always going to be weird when you take words that describe something totally different and apply them to something else. It’s not surprising that some people will hear the connotations of the first usage carry over to the second.

Personally, I don’t love the term but don’t care if others use it to describe themselves — but it’s a bit weird to apply it to someone else without them doing it first. And if that happens to you, it’s definitely reasonable to say, “Ugh, I really hate that term, please don’t use it about me.”

{ 376 comments… read them below }

    1. morethantired*

      I think we just have trouble describing a relationship at work where you actually trust someone, and work well with them. It’s rare enough that we just don’t have a good word for it. “Friend” seems to fall short because I have friends who I adore but would never want to work with. “Spouse” is close from a “get along and get things done together” standpoint but is awkward because of the romantic/sexual connotations. “Partner” is used in so many situations, it’s too vague. “Trusted colleague” sounds insincere, it’s so formal.

      1. one L lana*

        I don’t like the term either and don’t use it, but I agree it captures something specific. Affection (you like each other), collegiality (you respect each other as coworkers), trust (you can vent with one another and know it won’t go any further), mutuality (you are the go-to person for your work spouse, and vice versa).

        Which is kind of spousal, I guess!

      2. Certaintroublemaker*

        What about “work besties”? It leaves off the icky romantic/ sexual connotations and more accurately describes the relationship.

        1. The Rules are Made Up*

          I feel like Work Bestie would be different. For me, I’ve had a Work Bestie (or work friend that I’m particularly cool with, chat with, vent with) and a Work Husband. I think that in its original form Work Wife/Husband when people used it, did include some flirtation. Like a person at work that that you share a camaraderie, affection and dynamic similar to a romantic partner, but you both know you wouldn’t actually date each other (and one or both may have actual husband/wives/girlfriends/partners). Maybe they bring you lunch, or look out for you “Hey grabbed you an everything bagel before Tom in Accounting ate them all” or whatever. A littleee closer to the non-platonic line than a work friend.

          1. Charlie*

            You’ve nailed it perfectly! My personal experience has been there is a mild romantic tension between two “happily” married co-workers.

          2. a tester, not a developer*

            I don’t know that I’d call it flirtation, but I was definitely more involved in the details of my work husband’s outside the office life (and he mine) than I am with any of my work besties. Stuff like “Your MIL is coming to visit, right? Did you pre-order that pie that she loved so much?”

            1. The Rules are Made Up*

              Yes yes! It’s just like… different? Idk. I’m also in an industry where people are split into teams of two, and quite often those pairs have worked together for years and truly do act like a married couple. Regardless of gender or real life relationship status. All of the ones I’m familiar with really do have a married couple, affectionate, but also getting on each others nerves sometimes but still love each other vibe, it’s so interesting.

              I think part of this is that as a society we’re so romantic partnership centered that a lot of us don’t know how to model relationships outside of that dynamic since its so heavily emphasized in movies, music, art, books, life. So people start mimicking that dynamic in even non romantic close relationships.

          1. Gato Blanco*

            That is SO much better than these spousal terms. I did have a particular colleague to whom I would ascribe all of these things (trust, platonic affection, mutuality, collegiality, etc.) and sometimes other people referred to us as work spouses and it freaked me out as a married 23 year old new grad. He was nearly 40 and also married and other colleagues would *not* back down telling us how great we were together. It was gross and felt like it tainted what would have otherwise been a really great team environment.

        2. Kathy Grewe*

          I like that waaaay better than wife/husband.
          I have a doctor friend who told me that he spent more time with his (female) nurse than he spends at home with his wife. Fine enough. But he followed it with “of course I know which one to f***”. That comment totally grossed me out then and ever since.

      3. Nessie*

        I agree with you here, but also that our partners in life don’t always have the same context or understanding for what is happening at work (unless they actually work with you). So my work wife (both F) and I discuss a lot of work related things, rely on each other, support each other, and all around there for each other in the context of work. So I agree that it is a like a spousal relationship, but not because that’s what we emulate, but because there is a greater understanding of the things you are going through specifically at work.

    2. Green Beans*

      there are two sets of work husbands at my very functional, very 9-5 workplace! I use it to mean (1) they’re very good work friends who chat frequently with each other and usually know what’s going on with the other person and (2) they are typically found together during work social events.

    3. Just No*

      For me (m), I have had others inside and outside the org refer to different people (always f) as my “work wife” – never with the hanky-panky meaning, but always in reference to a competent woman who is viewed as indispensable and as handling everything. Basically pulling the infantilized-husband/mommy-wife/everything-falls-apart-without-her connotations into the workplace.

      I dislike the term in any of the ways it can be used: I do not require a “mommy-wife” at home or in the office, I do not want anything that could be sexually or emotionally construed in the office, and it does feel like there is a power dynamic in there that makes the “work wife” somehow “lesser” even while seemingly being used to state the world would fall apart without them.

      Just all around ick.

      But I also do not want a “work bestie” – let me do my job, manage my people, help the company succeed, and then go home and be with my family…the entire reason I am working in the first place!

      And tell those kids to get off my lawn! :-)

      1. ferrina*

        Yeah, I don’t like it at all, but I know it’s a common enough term. I just use a script similar to what Alison has. That way folks know it’s not something that I want used for myself, and they don’t use it for me (and the one guy that insisted on it was immediately outed as a jerk)

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I haven’t heard the terms much, and I think I’d find it slightly odd if a couple of coworkers described themselves that way.

        If a coworker described me that way, it would make my skin crawl. Between being a woman in a male-dominated profession and being aromantic (and therefore uninterested in any romantic relationship), my reaction would be “ew no no no no no”.

        1. KateM*

          I haven’t heard it anywhere but in AAM, never in real life I have heard someone called that, so this may influence me feeling it being Extra Icky indeed.

          1. marvin*

            I’ve only ever heard it used on Ask a Manager too, and it seems so weird that I find it surprising that it’s as common as it apparently is. I have to imagine there is some heteronormativity at the core of it, even if it isn’t always applied that way.

          2. 123Anonyphant*

            I also haven’t heard it anywhere but here. In my current job we say “work twin” with basically the same meaning. I don’t mind that although I don’t use it myself — I think it has almost the same sense of closeness without the weird romantic/sexual aspect and is also gender neutral.

      3. ecnaseener*

        Squicky is a GREAT term that I don’t see used enough anymore! I used to see it all the time online several years ago, it meant “this grosses me out or bothers me in a visceral way but no judgment on anyone who likes it, this is my personal emotion not a moral stance.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          It’s such a useful term for expressing a boundary without judgement: “This topic is squicky for me, could we talk about something else?”

    1. another Hero*

      hard same, and most importantly, I think enough people do that it isn’t weird at all for op to shut it down if it comes up again

    2. Green Goose*

      Me too. My first full-time role was teaching business English to bankers in South Korea when I was in my early/mid twenties and my students (who were all adults, and a lot of them married with kids) would tell me about their lives and the term work-wife or work-husband had a pretty different meaning in South Korea. My students worked LONG hours everyday (like 12 hour work days) and if someone had a work-spouse it usually involved an emotional affair (or worse) and was hidden from their actual spouse so I was pretty horrified when I moved back to the states and heard people using the term before I realized the term had a slightly different connotation here.

      1. Daisy*

        I’m in the US, and all the times I have heard work wife/husband used by people in the relationship it was a cover for an emotional affair at the least. I’m definitely not a fan of the term and would shut down anyone applying it to me very quickly.

        1. Darsynia*

          I think this is the important context here. Sure, folks use it in a way that’s meant to be benign, but because it could lead to assumptions like that, I would find it unacceptable for a coworker to choose to characterize me like that if I hadn’t done so myself.

          There’s such a risk of that kind of thing turning into a he-said she-said about actual impropriety that could be headed off by just… not making those choices for coworkers!

        2. Lizcase*

          I’ve had the term used for my (now ex) husband and a coworker he was particularly close with. Turns out the relationship was far from a work-only one.

          I already found the term work-spouse/wife/husband icky. This just pushed it over to ‘please never use that term around me’ territory.

        3. Ellis Bell*

          Yeah me too; I think it enables people to talk about the elephant in the room when two people are way closer than they should be. Then it gets used by the oblivious and innocent, because… edgy giggles?

          1. Ellis Bell*

            Actually I just asked my partner what he thinks of these terms and he said: “Why, is someone shagging in the office?”

        4. KateM*

          Hm, when it is used to people who actually have a private life wife/husband, then they have something to compare the realtionship with, and so they do in some sense say that “my relationship to this colleague is similar to what I have with my spouse”. Now it feels even more squicky.

        5. wordswords*

          I’m also in the US, and have definitely heard it used in a genuinely platonic/work-focused way, by people who were not using it flirtily or with emotional affair connotations (and often not in a heteronormative context either). They genuinely just meant, we’re coworkers who work together closely all the time, chat a lot during work hours including about other parts of our lives, have each other’s backs, etc.

          That said, I also find it uncomfortable every time I hear it. I’ve never used it, and would use something like Alison’s script if it were applied to me. It just sounds too much like ‘everybody assumes we’re a couple’ or something to me — too many wires crossed that I don’t want to bring into proximity actually, thanks.

    3. Macaroni Penguin*

      Yeah, work husband/wife is not a term that I like at all.

      My brain thinks “I already have a spouse and you are NOT that person.”

    4. Aldabra*

      The first (and last!) time someone said “Oh, you’re John’s work wife) I said “What! Ew! No, I absolutely am not.” It was a knee-jerk reaction but I have no regrets. The term implies a waaayyyy closer relationship to John that I have (I work very well with John and like and respect him, but have no emotional entanglement with him).

    5. tamarack and fireweed*

      I don’t like it either, if it were to apply to me. But I have friends/acquaintances who talk about their work wives (or husband, in one case) and don’t mind that.

      In every case, though, two people should absolutely first and foremost get on the same page about using the term for each other. One should never just use it about someone else, whether it’s “my work wife/husband/spouse” or, even worse, about a third person “X is Y’s work wife” – argh!

      The two people I’m thinking about most started it as banter *between* them first – basically an in-joke that escaped to their circle of colleagues and friends – and that’s fine with me.

      1. Kacihall*

        My husband and I joke about his work wife, along with her. But he works in a bowling alley that has a very casual (if any) professionalism. Jokingly flirting or calling each other an a**hole is about half the conversation between the employees AND the regular customers. I can’t imagine being comfortable with it in a professional setting.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          The people who use it seem to be in highly collaborative environments with a lot of pressure. Think media, event planning, … oh, and one pair of musicians who refer to each other as “work spouses” mainly because they keep collaborating, or recruiting each other, to various ensembles, and are also the backbone of a long-standing one. The kind of people who can both teach in a larger workshop and tell each other “would you come over and sing with my second period session ensemble for their recital performance?” and it’ll be all fine and ok, not an imposition.

        2. Bex*

          Weirdly, at my (40F) leaving party, no less than three people introduced themselves to my actual wife (39F) as my work-wife or work-husband. I knew one of them used it – which was weird because I was actually managing him – but we’d worked super closely on projects for the last 5 years. The other two, I just have vague descriptions from my wife so I’m still in the dark. It’s a little weird but I do know that it is used in jest in these instances.

          I just think it’s a reflection on the fact that we spend 8+ hours a day with these people. In some instances more time than we actually spend in quality time with spouse.

    6. KayDeeAye*

      I don’t like the term at all, never, ever use it, and would strongly discourage anyone using it about any of my work relationships. But it genuinely doesn’t refer to anything “inappropriate.” Your work spouse is someone you work closely with and feel close to…but that’s it. It’s not emotional entanglement, and it’s not even particularly gendered. Like, I doubt if many men would refer to another man as his “work husband,” but plenty of women of all stripes have no problem refer to a close work friend as “my work wife” or “my work husband.”

      If the OP doesn’t like it, they should discourage anyone from using it. But this discussion need not be complicated or fraught. All you’d have to say is “I really don’t care for that term. Let’s use ‘colleague’ or ‘work friend’ instead, OK?” There is nothing complicated or inappropriate going on, so the OP doesn’t have to beat around the bush or anything.

    7. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      The first time I heard it, a woman was using it to describe her husband’s female coworker. Mind blown.
      But I was mid 30s, they were mid 20s, maybe be a young people thing, maybe from the state they’d just moved from thing, but a thing
      But here is MY thing. I work in a predominantly female division.
      There are people who meet the criteria for being another’s work wife. Never heard it terms of two women.
      I have since heard of two men being work husbands, but never two women being work wives.

      1. Employee of the Bearimy*

        That’s an interesting point – one of the reasons I’m never bothered by any patriarchal implications of “work wife/husband” is that my husband (who’s straight) has had more than one work husband in his career. But I also have never heard of two women being work wives.

      2. Properlike*

        I’ve heard “work wives” referring to two women more often than I’ve heard “work husbands” referring to two men.

        My gay BIL has a “work wife.” His real husband doesn’t mind.

        Straight, female friends of mine have “work wives” and may have spouses at home.

        I think of it as the type of relationship a cop would have with an on-duty partner, when it’s functional. Nothing weird. You work really closely together, and you develop a shorthand and are able to understand and anticipate how each other thinks. I personally consider it a mark of affectionate respect, entirely separate from “affair.”

    8. a good win*

      I had a work friend use it with me for the first time when introducing me to his actual wife and I was like “…what?” I felt so awkward and uncomfortable. It didn’t help that was the first time I had heard the term – I understood the non-romantic connotations of it, but it still was a weirdly possessive and intimate term to have applied to me.

    9. LittleMarshmallow*

      I was cool with it until it applied to me (granted, I’ve never used it on anyone else… if you’re gonna use the term it should come from the person it applies to and not from observers).

      I wouldn’t call my work “marriage” healthy. If you’re close enough to someone at work like that it can be problematic. I’d say if it had been “work bestie” it would’ve been fine. I’ve had work besties and those were healthy relationships, but if you get to the point where you or others want to call it a work marriage I’d recommend doing a little soul searching about what role your job is playing in your life.

    10. TG*

      Yes you don’t want that term associated with you and your coworker; it’s insinuating something and disrespectful.

    11. Hrodvitnir*

      Another one who is not a fan. On a few levels, including that while it’s not inherent to the term to imply sex or romance, it’s most certainly used as plausible deniability for people exploring at least an emotional affair.

      What really reinforced my side eye is a friend of ours who has made some massive lifestyle changes that have lead to her spending a lot less time with, and having less in common with, her wife. She has a “work wife” she DOES do all those activities with as well as spending the work day together. Heavy side-eye for whatever is going on there (their marriage has looked plenty unhealthy for a while, all round dubious face.)

    12. Not that other person you didn't like*

      My position on this is that if I don’t like a term (and in this case I don’t) then I won’t let people lable me with it. That means I’ll ask people not to call me a work wife or claim that someone is my work wife / husband. But I don’t go out of my way to say anything or judge anyone else who might use it. Cause that way lies makes. Like, I have a colleague who uses the term “daddy day care” instead of, oh I don’t know PARENTING… and I just bite my tongue and love my life.

  1. AdAgencyChick*

    I swore up and down I was going to avoid the term. Then I basically fell in work love with my creative partner (I manage copywriters, she manages art directors). We have a strong professional partnership, a genuine friendship, and we spend so much time together that it felt right to refer to each other as work wives!

    We are both in heterosexual marriages outside of work and recently introduced our husbands to each other, which was hilarious. “[Husband name], meet my wife. [Work wife name], meet my husband.”

    1. Mid*

      I think consent is a big part of it. I think it’s creepy when people outside the working relationship place it on other people, but I think when both people use it for themselves, it’s more endearing. As long as everyone involved is okay with it, it’s fine. It’s when someone expresses discomfort that it should be stopped immediately.

        1. Ann Onymous*

          Yeah, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with people choosing to refer to themselves that way as long as everyone involved is onboard and understands the context, but I also wouldn’t use the term unless I was certain the people I was talking to knew the nature of the relationship and wouldn’t potentially assume I meant to imply something else.

          1. Despachito*

            And I assume it should involve their real partner’s consent, too.

            I would be royally pissed if my husband referred to anyone as his “work wife”. For me, “wife” has clear sexual connotations, and I find the term “work wife” very weird. I think there are a lot of other ways to describe a person I work a lot with.

            1. Not really antisocial. Just anti waste time*

              I agree- I’ve heard other people use it without thinking anything- but when considering how I would feel if someone said that about my husband in his new(ish) workplace- I wouldn’t be thrilled.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Exactly this, 100%. In my experience it’s often been a very one-sided thing and so has been much more uncomfortable as a term.

    2. Bee*

      I have predominantly heard it used in my circles for same-sex pairs as well – my BFF started using it about me, and for a while we would have lunch/drinks with another pair of friends who called themselves work wives in a way that was sort of work-double-dating, lol. My friend’s now left the field so it no longer applies, but I kind of miss it! It was jokey and affectionate and really just implied that this is the person I go to first with both work problems & work celebrations. I do think it has to be self-applied, though!

      1. bookworm*

        As a queer person who generally feels neutral about work spouses, I do feel a little weird about it when groups of straight people use it exclusively to refer to same-sex work spouses in jokey ways. Not saying it’s the case in your situation necessarily, but be aware that it can feel kind of invalidating of actual same-sex relationships if there’s a tone of “it wouldn’t be OK to have an opposite-sex work spouse because that would be threatening my romantic relationship, but it’s funny to have a same sex work spouse because it’s gay (but not really!)” A little like the “no homo” jokes of the early 2000s.

        1. Bee*

          FTR, I am also queer! I mentioned this because the OP said that the only difference between her so-called “work husband” and her other work friends is that the rest of them are women. Just clarifying that it doesn’t just stem from the old chestnut that “men and women can’t be friends” (which I probably should’ve been more explicit about).

        2. Despachito*

          As much as I hate the term, I’d consider it strangely less risky in the situation you are describing (the logic behind it being that if I am heterosexual, it is clear that if I call a female coworker “my work wife”, I am joking and that there is no risk for my real husband, but if I called a male coworker “my work husband”, my real husband could rightfully raise an eyebrow.)

          I would absolutely NOT mean it as invalidating to same sex relationships (if I was gay, I would not say it about a same sex coworker for the very same reason – I would be saying it about a person who I might be in theory interested in).

          But I think we can agree it would be best to avoid it altogether.

          1. AsPerElaine*

            The only IRL people I’ve known to use the term were a gay man and a straight (? probably? Possibly bi, but I was only aware of her being involved with men) woman, and I do think that the fact that he had very “I AM GAY” mannerisms let it be less-weird, because it was so clearly not used to describe any sort of sexual/romantic anything.

            I would’ve described them as work besties, personally. Interestingly, he actually worked much more closely with me, and I would’ve said that we were fairly personally close (and I think he would, too), but while we liked/trusted/relied on each other, we didn’t have that extra something that pushes it into bestie territory. I think I also would’ve felt weird about being anyone’s “work wife.”) FWIW we were all in our mid/late twenties; I would not be surprised if the intensity of those relationships was not at least somewhat influenced by the fact that we were young transplants and not as settled into our outside-of-work personal lives to the extent I am now.

        3. squid*

          Yeah I’m a queer person and also feel similarly. I think for me it also has the same energy as when straight women always refer to their friends as their “girlfriend.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but when I hear a stranger say it it makes me nervous because this is often something done by women who think that women could not Possibly Ever have a girlfriend in a romantic sense and therefore saying girlfriend inherently flags ‘platonic’ whereas I, with an actual girlfriend, know I’m going to end up having to do backflips of extra clarification around them… like yeah my Romance Girlfriend who I’m Dating in a Gay Way (and somehow people will still interpret that as just some gals being pals.)

          1. Despachito*

            If I hear someone referring to their “girlfriend” or “boyfriend”, I’d immediately assume “romantic partner”.

            A straight woman referring to her non-romantic female friend as a “girlfriend” sounds very confusing to me. Isn’t it obvious that the other woman is … female?

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      Just last week I met my wife’s work husband for the first time. That is how she refers to him, and how she introduced him to me. I am glad she has a colleague with whom she works well. And no, there is nothing more to it than that.

    4. Dinwar*

      This is pretty much what happened with me. I talk to my work-wife more than I do my wife-wife, due to schedules and travel. The positions we’re in in the company require us to work extremely closely, both because we need to share information constantly and because they’re both high-pressure positions.

      Both me and my work-wife are in monogamous marriages, and both of our spouses find the situation amusing, not the least because neither of us would be able to stand the other as a romantic partner! Plus, the nature of the job puts relationships through a filter–jealous spouses don’t stick around long when you travel 40 weeks a year.

    5. Teacher Lady*

      Similarly, I used to bristle at it a bit when I heard other colleagues using it – not enough to say anything, though because I only ever encountered it with people who opted into the label. (I’m in a female-dominated profession, so it was only ever women referring to other women [both usually heterosexual, and always cisgender] as their work wives.)

      Then last year, one of my absolute favorite colleagues referred to me as her “work wife” when introducing me to her real wife, and it gave me the warm fuzzies because I found it a very pleasant affirmation of the closeness of our work relationship. *shrug emoji* I guess for me, it was one of those things that I didn’t get until I got it!

    6. Smithy*

      100% when people use the term themselves, I see it very much as the LinkedIn version of a BFF.

      However, in that same way, when it’s used by someone from the outside looking in – it’s often uncomfortable. Two people may be spending a lot of time working together for a variety of reasons, and it can just end up feeing like you’re being watched in a way that’s unsettling. Even if ultimately it’s true that you are friendly with one another, it’s kind of like hearing your mom describe someone as your best friend instead of getting to that place with your friend on your own.

    7. Ophelia*

      Agreed – I (cishet female) have had a work wife! She and I are still close even now that we don’t work together, but really we used it because we did click extremely well professionally? I have male coworkers I am friends with, and ones I work well with, but interestingly, have never designated any of them as a work husband.

    8. Cat Mom of 4*

      I (late 30s heterosexual female) have a work husband (mid 50s heterosexual male.) We are both happily married to other people. I started using the term when we were the only 2 left of our previous team of 4. I think he’s amused by the term. We got to know each other when he was reassigned to what I do, and found that we work well together. Now we talk every day at work and are each other’s backup when on PTO. We have been through so much at work together – dealing with a Covid in an essential industry, coworker upon coworker quitting, chronic overwork and understaffing, the company we work for being acquired – that it made us close work friends. Now sadly we are on the brink of a work divorce. We can’t take the toxic culture and management’s lies anymore and are looking for other jobs. I will absolutely miss working with him but we will keep in touch.

  2. Mid*

    I’m on team “it’s weird but don’t care if people use it.” I don’t want to be anyone’s work spouse, but I don’t see it as harmful or inherently overly intimate. Just weird.

    1. Work stepchild*

      Agreed! It seems akin to announcing who someone’s best friend is … you don’t know what’s really going on in a relationship* so to just announce that level of closeness is so odd.

      *im thinking of this especially bc one half of a “work wife” duo on my team recently confided in me that they really struggle to collab with the person who could easily be labeled their “work spouse.” Bc they are good at their job, you’d never know and they confessed they worry they show obvious irritation when they preset together but I genuinely thought they were thick as thrives!

      1. frame*

        one half of a self-described work-wife duo said this about a different possible work spouse? or are you applying the term to them despite the possible upcoming work couple therapy they may need to undergo?

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Perhaps followed by a work legal separation, then work divorce. Who gets custody of the work projects?!

    2. MsClaw*

      Yeah, I don’t like the term at all. OTOH, I have been in groups where there are co-leads and it’s not unusual for people to say things like ‘mom and dad are fighting’ when there is a disagreement (regardless of the actual genders of the leads). So I get that people tend to use these ‘family’ terms even when it doesn’t quite apply.

      I also worked for a while with a pair of people who had followed each other through multiple job changes over two decades. They were married to other people but if one of them took a job at workplace A, 3-6 months later the other person would follow. They were on their 3rd job together when I met them. If there was ever a pair where ‘work wife/husband’ applied, it was them.

    3. Sleeve McQueen*

      Yeah, I feel the same way about calling yourself a parent to a pet. I cringe when someone calls me mum for the dogs because it feels weird to me – they’re my pets, not my children – but I will not begrudge anyone who describes themselves that way.

    4. Ladybug*

      I’ve used “work sister” for a close relationship with someone at work, there is a sense of bonding that comes through tackling a tough project together and coming through the other end successfully. Funnily enough my real sister was a bit jealous (in a joking way)! As a cis/het woman I wouldn’t use work husband though maybe because I’m older, I can see it as cute looking back on my twenties/early thirties when a lot of my socializing was through work, and I was earlier in my career.

    5. Avril Ludgateaux*

      I think I fall into this camp, although I do find it a little overly intimate. I would never use the term myself and I’d probably visibly recoil if a colleague applied it to me, however close we are, but if I hear other people using it amongst themselves, that’s their prerogative and I’ll keep mum. But I do privately think it’s weird.

      It’s interesting – we don’t say “work boyfriend” or “work girlfriend” or “work SO” because of the immediate romantic implications, but somehow “…wife” or “…husband” is supposed to be interpreted as neutral? It doesn’t jive with me. I like “work bestie” if you need to single somebody out for being exceptionally close, capable, reliable, and trustworthy, or simply colleague, collaborator, partner, comrade… There are so many words that I don’t quite understand why we settle on ones that have romantic implications.

  3. Luna*

    I find the term super uncomfortable and for context I’m not married so it’s not even the idea of having another spouse. It’s just icky. It kinda creates this really awkward dynamic when there isn’t a need. I don’t mind a work brother or sister as much, but I can see if someone might.

      1. another_scientist*

        I was thinking that you can be good friends with many colleagues, but work spouse implies that you collaborate closely in your work, rely on each other etc. But this is all hypothetical because nobody in my environment uses that terminology anyway!

        1. Pants*

          I should have typed “I said…” because I’m thankfully now in a place that people don’t seem to work-marry.

      2. marvin*

        The gendered nature of it kind of bothers me too, although as a nonbinary person I’m kind of sensitive to excessive gendering. I think it’s a little weird to draw so much attention to colleagues’ genders. If it was just “work spouse” across the board it would be less weird to me. (Although I’m also somewhat anti-marriage so maybe this is just something that isn’t for me.)

        1. Hrodvitnir*

          Haha, same hat. Present as female, don’t care about pronouns, hate gendered titles with the fire of one thousand suns. So I’m not a fan of the concept on a few levels (though I wouldn’t be a dick to someone who was in a mutually enthusiastically consenting work marriage :P), but I hate the words “wife” and “husband” at the best of times. Joyfully reporting from a country where you don’t need marriage to have rights in your relationship either. :)

    1. College Career Counselor*

      I look at it as a little weird and don’t use the term myself. But, in the few instances it’s been applied to me, I haven’t had a problem with it because the people question were acknowledging that we just have a close division of labor/working relationship on our shared projects.

      The places where it becomes problematic is if, as noted, it veers into the sexual and/or if there is an implication that the person (regardless of gender) is somehow responsible for doing labor for the other person, e.g., “Without his work spouse, Chad would never be on time for any of our meetings.”

    2. Moonpie*

      I’m a solopreneur married woman who contracts work out and therefore works closely with a lot of men.

      I’m friendly with these men and our business relationship goes back many years but I work REALLY hard to keep all communication professional and beyond reproach that even if a spouse were to look through our communications there would be nothing to fear.

      Still, I heard one of the men’s wives referred to me as his work wife and I cringed.

    3. Avril Ludgateaux*

      Oh, I like “work [sibling]”! I don’t understand why we (broadly) have settled on “work marriage” when there are so many other ways to express the same sentiment. I never even thought about work siblings but honestly it works much better and avoids the risk of any unintended romantic or emotional implications.

    4. Office Gumby*

      I prefer the term “work {sibling}” over “work {spouse}” mostly because, like others have mentioned, of the potential sexual connotations that spouse implies.

    1. Wisteria*

      Bc it’s not describing the personal relationship of the two people. It references the working partnership, which is humorously similar to the type of partnership that married people can have. The similarity is to running a household and delegating chores, not to having a liking for each other.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        Does it, though? Legit question.

        I have heard it used. I haven’t used it myself, but I thought that work-BFF would cover the exact same ground.

        Not work-siblings, though (mentioned above). My brothers and I aren’t close enough for that to make any sense. Wife/husband/spouse and BFF both imply a choosing closeness that siblings do not.

        1. Ann Ominous*

          For me, the differentiating factor is not the closeness (which is present in both romantic partners as well as BFFs) but rather the partnership involved. BFFs are not usually partners in running things jointly in the way that spouses/partners are.

          You can be someone’s bff without commingling finances, figuring out plans to feed yourselves on a regular basis, raising kids together, paying bills, and being expected to share a home and a bed. You CAN be a partner without any of those things but the general societal expectation is that you do fall somewhere within that framework.

          …So that’s why I think they are called work husband/wife and not work bff.

          (Also, the term personally squicks me out and makes me think someone thinks I’m being unfaithful to my partner, and while I don’t personally care if others call themselves that (it sounds affectionate and reflects something pretty cool) I work in an environment where close relationships are very strictly regulated and scrutinized so I am programmed to not feel comfortable with those terms).

          1. Non-Essential Librarian*

            Agreed. I have a “work bff” who works at the same company as me, but we don’t work together. We get lunch together and hang out when we can, but our departments don’t work together. Our coworkers know we’re “work bffs.” But my “work wife” is my departmental coworker who works most closely with me, who I have to schedule vacation time around, who I have to settle budgets with, and who most often I say about, “let me check in with ‘coworker’ first.” My “work wife” is not my best friend. She’s my work counterpart and other half (at work). I do think it’s a compliment to our relationship how well and how closely we’re able to work together, to the point of it being seamless. It’s a bit of jokey term of endearment but also (to me) implies just how intertwined our work lives are and how well we mesh as coworkers.

        2. Wisteria*

          “Does it, though? Legit question.”
          Legit answer: people use it in a lot of ways, and I can’t account for all of them.

          “but I thought that work-BFF would cover the exact same ground.”

          I dunno, do you typically have shared projects with your real life BFFs? Spouses need to maintain the household, possibly maintain the house if they own it, decide on and delegate chores, schedule things as a duo, etc., that BFFs typically don’t.

          “Wife/husband/spouse and BFF both imply a choosing closeness that siblings do not.”

          Work spouse doesn’t usually refer to personal closeness, though (generally, I do not take responsibility for the people who refer people who bring in food as work wives). It refers to a work relationship, which is not actually one that you get to choose (at most work places, anyway).

          Look, it’s not a perfect analogy. If you don’t like the term, you aren’t required to use it or allow other people to use it to describe you.

      2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        I find this kind of the problem that I have with it, though, because the kind of work respective spouses (in general) do around the house is highly gendered.

        1. Gnome*

          Not in my house… but that’s just me (and my spouse).

          That said, I think it ALSO covers the part about having each other’s back. Not in a shady way, but like, if work-spouse1 knows work-spouse2 has a client who is on the warpath, they might warn them. Or, they might cover meetings for each other if one has something come up (like, “shoot, I have to pick Tommy up from school” “oh, do you need me to cover the 1:00 with the new team member?”)

        2. MsClaw*

          I think that perspective and also the comments about ‘choosing’ your real spouse vs just getting stuck with them are freighting the terms with more than most people mean by them. I’m not saying your wrong or that you have to use the terms (I don’t care for them either). But it does not actually mean ‘this person performs the tasks at work that a wife would do at home’. (At least, not how most people use it).

          Generally ‘work spouse’ does not mean, for example, Bob work-dated 7 systems engineers before getting into a long term work relationship with Carol. It’s more like Bob remembers to have the admins order a vegetarian option for team lunches for Carol, and if he’s out of the office people know Carol will know why he’s gone and what the status is on the slides he was working for tomorrow.

          1. Koalafied*

            “Generally ‘work spouse’ does not mean, for example, Bob work-dated 7 systems engineers before getting into a long term work relationship with Carol.”

            This hits on another of the key differences to me between a work friend and a work spouse: a work friend is someone you have bonded with because you like each other/clicked as people, regardless of what your job descriptions are. A work spouse is someone else job description in some way mirrors, depends on, and is depended on by your job description, regardless of your personal relationship.

            Of course, having a mutually interdependent work relationship with someone you personally can’t stand is usually going to be some combination of intolerable and ineffective, so there’s a selection effect going on where your work spouse is more likely to be amiable to you than any other coworker picked at random, because if they weren’t, it wouldn’t be long before one or both of you would quit or be fired or manage to completely alter your role to eliminate the structural interdependencies – the end result in any case being that there is no work marriage between you!

            1. allathian*

              You hit on one reason why I’ve never had a work spouse. I’m a translator, which means that there’s very little need for synchronous collaboration. There is some asynchronous collaboration, because we proofread each other’s texts sometimes. We used to proofread most stuff, but now it’s a lot less necessary because most of the stuff we work on isn’t printed, and any errors can be fixed at any time after publication on our website.

      1. one L lana*

        I have both! My work best friend is my closest friend within the office. We’ve been friends almost a decade, we went to one another’s weddings, we hang out outside the office, and we mostly talk about non-work stuff at this point. I am certain that I’d stay friends with him if we both changed jobs tomorrow. I also am not sure I’d want to work closely with him day to day; I love him but I also don’t have to deal with his downsides (everybody has them).

        My work spouse (I hate the term and don’t use it, but fits the description) and I used to co-lead a team. He is the person I talk to most during the day other than potentially my actual spouse. We are each other’s safe space for “I cannot take it with Bob in accounts”-type venting or “Have you heard the latest about the Teapot and Kettle reorganization” gossip. When I am talking about a work problem, my husband’s first question is usually “Have you talked to [name] about it, what does he think?” We like each other a lot as people, but we don’t know much about each other’s lives outside the office beyond the basics. (He did come to my wedding; I invited everyone I was close with at the office.) If I left the job tomorrow or vice versa, we probably wouldn’t keep in touch regularly, and I would miss him, but it would make sense.

        I care a lot about both of them and they’re both important to me, but in different ways!

      2. Koalafied*

        Agreed. A work bestie is the person you most enjoy talking to or working with. A work spouse is someone you are constantly trading deliverables with, such that one of you cannot do your job without the other.

        Like the person who reconciles the fundraising records and the person who reconciles the bank statements every month, where they both need to show the same information on their reports, pulled from two different systems, and if the information doesn’t agree it’s going to take both of them collaborating and going line by line through their records together to identify what’s missing or doesn’t match between the two system. Or the two people who jointly manage the editorial calendar for their two different writing teams to publish to the same blog, where each depends on the other’s willingness to be flexible and accommodate the other’s need to publish on a specific date as much as possible and each has a vested interest in the other team’s content performing well, because to their readers it’s just one blog and if one of the two teams’ pieces is turning off readers it’s going to cost the other team page views.

        The people in those kind of roles usually have to have strong working relationships with each other to be able to do their jobs well, but they aren’t necessarily also having lunch/happy hour together or serving as each other’s primary casual banter partner on Slack, which is more what comes to mind when I hear “work bff.”

        Personally, I don’t use “work spouse” terms, but it’s definitely much more about the degree to which your work roles make you unavoidably and mutually dependent on the other to be able to do your jobs, than it is about being close friends or having affection for them.

        Personally I’ve only had two coworkers that I had that kind of mutual independence with, and in both instances I referred to that person as “my counterpart.” In one instance because we had the same job on two different teams and in the other instance because we had two complementary roles on the same team, but in both cases this person did “the other half” of what I did, and I did the other half of what they did.

  4. Elle*

    In my first job (think big professional services firm), I was one of a class of ~30 new grads hired at the same time to do the same work. Six of us women were particularly close, and quickly came to refer to ourselves as “workwives”. In our usage, there was definitely never anything flirtatious or relationship-implying, just close friends at work. Nearly 10 years later, we’re still friends and actually just saw them all this weekend at one of my workwives’ weddings!

    I understand being weirded out by the term, but for me, it was just convenient shorthand for some of my close work friendships. But I don’t think anyone would think twice if someone like OP requested to not be called a work wife, which seems like the simplest solution here!

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I was curious about that. I commented about never hearing it in terms of two (or more!) women. It is very cool. I think in this case you kind of coopted a term to say, yes, we work closely and well together, we aren’t some gatekeeping group or clique.

    2. Kristin*


      My friends (colleagues) and I did the same thing. We had a mixed gender group of friends at work, and while we were all genuinely friends, we also had such close working relationships that we were just in sync with one another. Nothing romantic, just a “I got your back, you got mine” sentiment.

      Plus, let’s be real, pre-pandemic how many of us were spending more time each day with our colleagues than with our actual partners? Assuming 8 hours sleep, 8 hours work, 8 hours personal time…something’s gotta give, and it’s usually not work.

      I think the term is fun, but I completely understand if other people never ever want to use it. Both perspectives are valid imho :)

  5. Just Another Zebra*

    So I am in a work “marriage”. I work in a department of 2 people, including myself, separated by the rest of the office staff. We are, most days, each others only source of interaction. Lucky for us, we do get along very very well and have fun with the term.

    I think it all comes down to consent of the “husband” and “wife”. It can be a fun source of comradery, but if someone finds it yucky then it’s no good.

  6. Klackender*

    I’m a heterosexual woman and I’ve had work husbands and wives. I understand people who don’t like the term and I get it but for me and my work spouses it really did just mean a long term work relationship with someone who you find dependable. Your work spouse is your work go to for assistance, advice, etc.

  7. Tara*

    I really agree with the OP here that the idea of a “work spouse” is weird. The only difference between a spouse and a friend is there’s a romantic relationship between spouses, which should not be present with friends (ideally). Using work as an adjective doesn’t really change the meaning to something platonic. If they’re just trying to describe a close relationship then why not say “work sibling” instead? Or just friend, which is what I use.

    1. Wisteria*

      The work spouse term doesn’t describe a personally close relationship. The work spouse thing is more about working together, such as how you need to work together to run a household. You don’t refer to just someone who you like a lot as a work spouse.

    2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      For me the difference is the deep partnership aspect. What makes a work spouse is that they aren’t just a friend – they are someone you rely on day in and day out, your goals are aligned, you are building something together. Friends can fit that but not necessarily. I’ve never had a work spouse, but used to have a “work soul mate”.

    3. Green Bell*

      As Wisteria said a couple comments above, though, the term can easily be seen to refer to how well people work together the way that in a marriage a couple could run a household.

      I think there’s a cultural assumption from relatively recent decades folks have that husband/wife=first and foremost a friend and confidante, rather than partner to closely manage a thing with together. So it’s not surprising to assume that undertone with terms like “work wife”/“work husband,” but that older meaning isn’t gone from how people view what the connection. I’m a bit meh on “work spouse,” personally, but I can also see why “work bestie” or “work sibling” wouldn’t necessarily encompass the same thing.

      1. LawBee*

        Yeah, I’ve had work besties but they were more like the person I ate lunch with, chatted to in the hall, occasionally went for after-work drinks with. But not necessarily someone I trusted with my actual work, or relied on in any professional capacity.

        I don’t rely on my irl bff for professional stuff either, so for me the work bestie is cute but doesn’t encompass the true partnership that close coworkers can develop.

  8. Caramel & Cheddar*

    My coworker and I refer to each other this way and we’re both women. We generally use it as shorthand to describe our closeness and joke about how co-dependent we are. I think it also helps convey that there aren’t any (work) secrets between us, so if one of us knows something, so does the other.

    It’s funny because I don’t like the term in concept, yet in application it works really well for us and I wouldn’t be upset if anyone referred to us as work wives.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Years ago I used the term in the same way. My coworker and I (both women, both married to men) referred to each other as “work wife.” We worked closely together and we were work friends and confidants. We were much closer and depended on each other more than the regular coworker relationship, but there was never anything romantic about it.

      Years later, I worked closely with a male colleague who was senior to me by several levels. We did great work together; he was technically brilliant but needed help with organization and prioritization. Other people started calling me his work wife, but no one called him my work husband. In that case, it felt icky and I found myself avoiding the term ever since.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        The latter is the only relationship I’ve heard described as “work wife”, and it really irritated me because of the gender dynamics I perceived. I saw it as only slightly less problematic than referring to the woman who has to keep everyone on track as “work mom”.

        1. Daisy*

          Yeah, I agree. I don’t want to be anyone’s “mom” or “wife” at work. It suggests I am responsible for organizing or passing messages to them (on time for meetings, messages delivered, or paperwork processed) that I otherwise wouldn’t be responsible for.

        2. Ann O'Nemity*

          Right! It didn’t bother me that I took a more supportive/admin role with the male colleague because that was a reflection of our positions and experience. What bothered me is when people saw support work as being gendered (aka women’s work or wives’ work) so they called me his work wife. And there was no reciprocity – he wasn’t expected to support me and no one called him my work husband.

          Ever since I’ve shied away from the term “work wife.” Even in the first example I gave (two women supporting each other), I retrospectively worry that we were unnecessarily bringing gender into it.

          And I think about the flip side. Hypothetically, would two straight male coworkers call each other work husbands? Probably not, unless one of the men was in a support role and then he’d probably be called the work wife!

    2. DataSci*

      Um. My actual wife and I are also both women. “There’s no possible romantic connotation, because I use it for a same-sex relationship!” is not a good argument.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        Agreed, which is why I didn’t make that argument.

        Alison’s response said “And while they did originally seem to only get applied to colleagues of the opposite sex, they now get used for colleagues of the same sex too” and I wanted to add my two cents as a woman who also has a work wife, vs responses we’ve seen from women who have men as their work spouse (or vice versa), which would be impossible to do without clarifying that we are both, in fact, women.

  9. Morticia(she/her)*

    I was going to do a long rant about why I hate this term, but I realised it’s because I have major baggage around it, caused by a personal situation, and it has nothing to do with the term itself. I’m going to say this one needs to be opted into by the participating parties, much like a real marriage. If the LW is squicked out, it needs to stop.

  10. The Wizard Rincewind*

    My spouse had a coworker who referred to herself as his work wife in addition to being slightly flirtatious. He had to awkwardly but politely shut that down. I definitely think that both parties should be on board with the term before using it.

    1. Matilda*

      Yes. This was done to me when I was working for a small family business, by a member of the family. He’d been flirting with me and then randomly introduced me to a client as his work wife one day. I didn’t even feel like I could shut it down because of the power differential between us. It was an awful situation and I quit soon after.

  11. PsychNurse*

    My husband has a “work wife.” We both call her that– they don’t have any sort of romantic thing happening. But they work on the same team for many projects, so they are necessarily spending many hours a day together. They also get along well and are friends. I’m his real wife and I don’t have any problem with their relationship or with the term!

    1. Cat Mom of 4*

      Same. My husband knows all about my work husband and that he has no reason to be jealous of him. We work closely together, have each other’s backs and are friends. Nothing more.

  12. Shhhh*

    I agree that it’s weird to use it to describe others’ work relationships when they haven’t or don’t use it themselves. IMO that’s where it gets squickiest – I’ve seen/heard it used in that context and the person saying it was implying that the close work relationship miiiiiiiiiight go beyond work (this was a person who said lots of problematic things, particularly concerning gender roles, FWIW).

  13. Language Lover*

    The thing that jumps out to me about this situation is that someone who is not you or your coworker “work spouse” decided to label you two as work spouses. That doesn’t work for me. The choice to label a working relationship between two people as “work wife/work spouse/work husband” should be at the discretion of the people in that relationship and not someone outside of it.

    As for the term, I don’t love it but I’ve never associated it with a romantic relationship. I can see its value in being a quick descriptor as to why you enjoy working with someone so much but again, it should be your choice.

    1. Student*

      I think part of the issue is, when someone else tries to label these relationships without the buy-in of the actual people involved, it comes off like an office gossip trying to set up relationships for their own amusement. In that context, it has more of a feel of a busybody looking for romantic office intrigue where there is none, instead of recognition of a good professional work relationship.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      Now I’m imagining two coworkers having a “how do we define the relationship” conversation.

      Work girlfriends? Work friends with social benefits? Work non-exclusive dating? Work co-parents of a beautiful project? Work polyamorous relationship (for a couple that also sometimes works with others)? Work “it’s complicated”, so just call us coworkers?

  14. Grey Panther*

    I’m on Team Ick with “workwife/husband” after seeing too many people with ulterior motives using it. It just squicks me out.

    1. Sabina*

      Very much agree. To me it implies an emotional affair situation and/or a lack of understanding of boundaries between work relationships and personal relationships.

  15. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    I tend to hear “work spouse” on just this side of the squick factor. If it’s “we work together so closely and we know each other work-intimately” I don’t mind it hugely, but it seems a bit precious and/or a bit tricky if there’s potential for favoritism or whatever.

    But sometimes it’s a “work wife” in terms of “I’m his assistant and I do the emotional labor of tending to his personal needs and feelings” and that’s what gets me super anxious.

    1. Danish*

      I agree it seems precious. I’m not really sure why we needed a whole term for “coworker with whom I work well”

      I suppose my bias is I’ve never been interested in marriage, and I don’t see marriage as any more inherently indicative of Good Partnership than… Any other partner term you might use. In fact I had sort of assumed it just meant “person at work I spend an abnormal amount of time with/glued at the hip with”

      1. Hrodvitnir*

        Yes, this discussion has actually been very interesting. It’s a fair point above that it (sometimes/often) refers to relying on each other and working together in a partnership more than getting on well. That does make sense.

        But I am indeed allergic to cutesy terms like this so that also poisons my perception of it. It’s also highlighted my belief that close friendship absolutely can be a partnership (though society makes that harder than it should be. I do love the idea.)

  16. Teapot Unionist*

    I’m a lesbian and I definitely had a work husband when assigned to a different office than the one I am in now. I don’t mind the term and it was totally devoid of any sexual/romantic attachment. But, he was the person who would drop everything when I had an emergency meeting pop up and needed extra support for an unanticipated deadline. and, I was the person who he felt comfortable stopping to buy new socks with when we shared a ride to and from a meeting. At least for me, it is a different type of friendship–one where you know that each other’s obstacles are joint ones, even if you aren’t actively assigned to the same project for something.

    1. PotsPansTeapots*

      Yes, this. I think the term is useful in describing a co-worker relationship where you really are helpmeets for each other and capable of anticipating each other’s needs.

      1. Theo*

        I guess I just don’t see the point of using “work spouse” to describe this when “dear colleague” is right there.

        1. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

          Maybe it’s a how much time you spend on the internet thing or a regional thing or whatever, but I can’t read dear colleague as anything but incredibly sarcastic. Definitely can’t imagine someone saying it out loud with a straight face.

          1. Jaydee*

            Am I the only one reading “dear colleague” as the start of a policy letter to all persons occupying a particular role from a person occupying a compliance or monitoring function at a government agency? Like “Dear Colleague: The Department of Camelid Affairs is pleased to announce the creation of a new Bureau of Alpaca Nutrition and Nourishment Assessment Services (BANANAS). The BANANAS will provide training and technical assistance to state camelid management units related to the assessment and monitoring of state and local alpaca nutrition programs.”

        2. Eyes Kiwami*

          I can’t imagine a native American English speaker preferring “dear colleague” as a more natural and fun phrase than “work husband/wife”. Maybe that’s just my experience…

          1. Cat Mom of 4*

            I prefer work spouse/wife/husband but I am going to ask my work husband his thoughts as he is not a native English speaker.

    2. CTT*

      Agreed! And for me, the person I thought of as my work husband (I guess he is now my ex since he has since moved across the country) was someone that I was working towards a common goal with – we were both in the same associate class in the same practice area and since we were on similar tracks, we talked a lot of with each other about how to grow as lawyers. That commonality of purpose is something that I don’t typically experience in my friendships, even close friends I’ve had for literal decades.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        OK, that helps explain to me why work-spouse works better than work-BFF. A two-person team working towards a common goal can describe a couple, but friends, even BFFs, don’t necessarily have that common goal.

  17. PotsPansTeapots*

    I had a “work husband” in my first job out of college. It really felt like we were two halves of the same brain sometimes.

    I wasn’t be bothered by some people using it, but with others it rubbed me the wrong way. Those people also seemed to think that a man and a woman couldn’t be close without there being a romantic component.

    That’s a long way of saying I see multiple sides of the issue. OP should be polite, but firm in shutting down use of the term at work if it bothers them.

  18. OrganizedChaos*

    “Work wife” and “work daughter” were recently applied to me by my husband after both my age equal and my half my age coworkers requested on two separate occasions that I bring them the same leftover meals that I was bringing for myself the next day. When I told my coworkers about it, they both said “it seems to fit” because we do work closely together a lot. It doesn’t phase me one way or the other being referred to like that but I can completely see why some people are bothered by it.

    1. Wisteria*

      That’s an Ew from me. That’s using the personal relationship analogy rather than the working together relationship analogy, and I would shut that down immediately.

    2. Esmeralda*

      Oh no no no!
      Work daughter!! argh!

      I had a young colleague I was mentoring once introduce me as her “work mom”. I didn’t want to embarrass her in the moment, but I got A Look. Afterward she said, “I screwed up there, huh” and I said, “I understand your intention, but. Do not ever refer to a colleague as Mom or Dad, it is completely unprofessional. Mentor is a perfectly good word.”

      1. Banana*

        I had a colleague refer to herself as my Work Mom a few years ago. It had nothing to do with us working closely together, we didn’t! She tried to mother everyone and being The Work Mom was part of her personal identity. I told her that “Mom” was a complicated relationship for me and I’d rather just keep it professional. I honestly don’t know how she felt about that but it’s what I needed and I don’t regret setting that boundary. We did have a good professional relationship and she was a sweet lady.

    3. Gerry Keay*

      Ya know, I actually think I’m more squicked out by the work-parent/work-child thing than work-spouses. Calling someone your “work mom” feels even more burdened with gender and age-based biases.

  19. NYC Taxi*

    At different jobs I’ve had either a “work husband” or a “work wife”. There’s nothing romantic about it, and we were all ok it. I get if people are uncomfortable about that for themselves, and they should be clear that they don’t like that terminology for themselves, but if people are ok with it they should be able to use it as they like. No one is ever going to like everything that goes on in a work setting.

  20. Work Wife*

    I’m on team “if both parties are comfortable with it”

    I used to have a work husband who was not into women, and I had a real life husband. It worked for us, but if he was uncomfortable I would not have used that term.

  21. SometimesALurker*

    I’m mostly on team “this is fine as long as the people being called work spouses are fine with it,” but I do wonder whether the reason this joke exists at all is the way that our culture treats romantic relationships, especially marriage, as the highest form of relationship. It’s the default way of saying that two people are really close, spend time together, and depend on each other, and that’s weird. So I guess I’m also largely on team “why not work bestie?”

  22. The Other Evil HR Lady*

    I used to work in a nursing home (my main biz is HR, in case no one guesses) and the ED and DON (Director of Nursing) considered EACH OTHER work wife/husband. I always saw it as a jokey way to confer the level of accountability each has to the other in a work setting. They’re both important people in a building, and one is not more important than the other – at least, not that I saw, although you could make an argument for either being more important, I suppose. I totally understand why it’s rubbing you the wrong way, but I honestly don’t think they meant it in any “icky-yucky” way. You have every right to say, “that’s such a weird thing to say,” and see if that shuts it down…

  23. Kaiko*

    I think work-spouse conveys a lot – a tight collaborative partnership where people work really well together, and maybe some element of both role-related syncopation and friendship/emotional connection. (I’ve never had a work-spouse and they seem pretty great!) But I would *only* ever use the term in a non-work setting; like, I would never introduce a colleague to new clients as a work-spouse as a way of introducing how we work together.

  24. Sparkles McFadden*

    It’s weird that the whole “work spouse” thing never really bothered me when I’m a person who hates that everyone uses “guys” as gender-neutral plural…which it isn’t. I think it depends on who is using the term and why.

    I have been called someone’s “work wife” along with being called someone’s [insert name of mostly male sports activity here] wife. It’s not meant as anything sexual at all. In my case, the “work wife” moniker was given to me by a couple of coworkers’ wives with whom I am friendly. That was during out-of-work social introductions. Both times it really just meant “work friends who look out for each other.”

    I’ve also been called a direct report’s “work parent” by one person’s wife who was thrilled I insisted that her husband stop wearing ripped and stained clothes to work, and that he groom himself a little better. She called me and said “It means nothing when I tell him to look more polished at work, but you can get through to him, so thank you.” I didn’t love that term but he was a young guy who needed a lot of managing so I’m sure his wife heard all about it when he went home.

  25. JumpAround*

    I’m on team “meh” although I do tend to go with a less romantic more familiar relationship if I’m using this kind of lingo. So for example I’m about to go to a meeting with my “work little brother” a term I use because he’s a few years behind me in his career and I tend to look out for him and lightly mentor him. We work extremely closely together.

    For me it’s about consent between the people and how the term is used. Don’t call me your work wife because I nag you to get your work done lol

  26. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

    Definitely should not be applied to others; definitely I understand why it would squick people out; definitely I have felt the feeling of having a “work spouse.”

    It’s your #1 person you most want to talk to about work stuff, whom you most want to share time and ideas with (regarding work). If you have an *actual* spouse, this is the work-person they’re most likely to hear about (other than the people you complain about).

    I do think it’s a little weird when people very officially deem people a work husband or work wife, but when you find yourself in that kind of relationship…the term fits.

  27. Michelle Smith*

    I don’t like the term, in any context. I’ve read the comments here and I still do not like it. I obviously can’t control other people’s use of language and wouldn’t tell someone how to refer to themselves, but I’d definitely not want them to refer to me in that way. I am also queer and unmarried, if that makes a difference.

    1. Academic Fibro Warrior*

      Same and I’m straight in a long term relationship. Too much connotation for me that the ‘wife’ becomes the one doing all the emotional labor for the other person without recognition of accomplishments of the support person. I research into how women are historically seen and portrayed so that probably colors my dislike of it. But it smacks too much of people who present or are seen as women as being the support-extension of the achiever rather than an individual worthy of recognition and celebration on their own, which folds those achievement back into a patriarchy narrative. But I spend all day reading and writing about this and recognize my perspective is just one and don’t want to police others language, but do want to be sure it’s being chosen by the individuals rather than applied. I still wouldn’t use it.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yes, queer and civil-partnered— we deliberately do not use the term “wife” for each other and I correct people who assume my partner is my wife. If someone started applying “wife” to me in a work context I would not try to hide the look of horror which would pass across my face!

      I have a friend (also queer) who uses it about a colleague and I think it’s horrifyingly twee, but, you know, people are allowed to be twee. Just don’t be twee about me.

    3. MEH Squared*

      Same. Queer, genderqueer, unmarried, and no desire to get married here. I don’t like the terms at all. Would never use them for anyone, especially not myself. I would not allow anyone to call me work spouse or anything of that ilk. Of course, I would not say anything if someone else wanted to call themselves that, but I would at least internally flinch.

    4. Morrigan*

      I’m also a queer woman and this term has almost always signaled who the homophobic people were in my past offices. It might just be my industry, or I have terrible luck in picking jobs, but when (mostly straight women) have used this term, they turn out to be deeply uncomfortable with actual women who have wives. They lean hard on the ‘haha wouldn’t it be funny if we were together like THAT?’ end of things. I’ve come to be extra leery around anyone who uses it now, tho I try to put aside my baggage surrounding it.

      1. Elle*

        This has been my experience too! How cute and funny, the idea of women being married to each other! *enormous eyeroll here*

        I’m in biotech, and have also wondered if it’s most common in tech industries. The folks around me using it with great enthusiasm tend to also be the ones who are extremely uncomfortable with actual queer women and who will treat me like “one of the girls” until they find out I’m actually queer, and get extremely cold.

      2. Parakeet*

        It could be an industry thing, or a regional thing, or something else – I will say (without suggesting that this contradicts your experience in some way!) that the only person I have ever heard use this term outside of AAM is a nonbinary person in an ultra-progressive field and workplace (I don’t want to give details for anonymity reasons, but trust me on this one, and that I mean something more substantial than the usual corporate DEI stuff), in a queer-focused subfield, who has mentioned their “work husband” to me before.

        I get what you mean though even if this particular phrase doesn’t set off that instinct in me – I feel similarly about straight women who use the term “girlfriends” for their platonic female friends (and I also always spend a couple of seconds sincerely thinking that the speaker is queer and polyamorous before realizing what they mean).

    5. Nope*

      I am straight and married and I also hate the term. I think it has sexual or romantic connotations but also may have gendered stereotypes attached. I completely understand that there are people who disagree with me, but having been in the professional world for more than 20 years, this is where I fall on this.

  28. to varying degrees*

    I actually don’t think I’ve ever heard it used in a sexual/romantic way at my workplace IRL, even with those who were actually having affairs! Possibly my own viewpoint is skewed (asexual/aromanitc) but I’ve never though of it in that way nor have I ever had any one imply it when it’s been said ” in varying degrees is xxx’s workwife…”

  29. Someone in BioPharma*

    I had a co-worker who called me her ‘work husband’. Her husband left her shortly before I started working with her. He was a contractor and he took care of all of the house, car, and yard maintenance. She didn’t know how to do any of that.

    I talked her through basic things like how often she should have the oil changed on her car and how to put gas in her lawn mower. She was a quick study, and within a year she had changed the pump on her above ground pool on her own, and by the time she left the company a few years later she owned a couple of rental properties and was doing all the handyman work herself.

    We used to joke that him leaving her was the best thing that ever happened to her.

  30. Not really a Waitress*

    My coworker recently went on a week long vacation with his female friend who lives out of state. By the end of the vacation, she had begun referring to me as the work wife.

    We are friends. We have different backgrounds and strengths, but similar sense of humors. We clicked from the beginning, and although we were in separate depts there was a bit of overlap which we were responsible.

    6 months ago, there was an opening in his department that I was promoted to. Now we are literally each other’s counterpart. I work part of the week, he works the other part. We have a hand off mid week.

    I don’t use the term, The only time it bugs me is when someone puts more to it then there is. To me it means, this is the one person I can trust at work. I know he has my back, he knows I have his. We make each other take our days off. We balance off of each other. I only wish my failed marriage had such a partnership

    1. i guess my whole department was the real work wife all along*

      „ this is the one person I can trust at work. I know he has my back, he knows I have his.“
      maybe the reason i find it strange is because i don’t even know what place „having someone‘s back“ has in the workplace. if you need that, it‘s a bad workplace and you should try to leave. if you just mean things like, if you have a good idea they‘ll support it and not take credit; if you’re good at something they‘ll recognize you for it…i really think you should be getting that from most of your colleagues.

      1. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

        “if you need that, it‘s a bad workplace and you should try to leave.”

        I mean…welcome to life under capitalism. There aren’t actually enough good workplaces for everyone.

  31. Vegas*

    I like the term as long as both people being described by it have opted into it. Having a close friend at work is EXCELLENT for retention so I definitely don’t think companies should discourage this. But I think if you’re called that and don’t like it, you could definitely say “Hey, I don’t love that term, please don’t use it for me, thanks!”

  32. It’s the implication*

    The terms Husband and Wife imply a sexual relationship, at least in my understanding of those words. I don’t like that implication at work.

    I’ve never felt comfortable hearing those terms and couldn’t put my finger on why until now, so thanks for that!

      1. Esmeralda*

        They do exist, but that does not change the connotation of those words. That’s what the words imply.

        1. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

          That’s why, in this phrase, the word “work” is used as a modifier–specifically to indicate that that’s not the case.

    1. Employee of the Bearimy*

      I tend to think they imply an emotional connection, instead. I have a work husband and I will absolutely say that I love him very much, just in a completely platonic way. My actual husband is completely on board with this and doesn’t feel it takes anything away from my actual marriage.

      1. Wisteria*

        I would not be ok with being referred to as a work spouse as a way of implying an emotional connection!

  33. SongbirdT*

    I’ve always interpreted the phrase to be “the person at work who you can let your guard down around” in those moments where maybe Wakeen is on your last nerve or you just got some rough family news or you need a professional perspective around a tricky work situation (like your own personal Alison). I’ve never read anything icky into it, but totally can understand why someone would. I’m in camp Personal Preference on using the phrase to describe oneself, don’t use it to describe others unless you know it’s okay.

  34. tinaturner*

    I think it’s fine if it’s used rarely, for those cases where people do complete each other’s sentences & jut have a great connection. Not all the time.

    And why does LW seem to think that wives & husbands even have much erotic activity? They’re always complaining they don’t.

  35. MisterForkbeard*

    I was very weirded out by the term, until my best friend at work started calling herself my ‘work wife’ and Actual Wife was totally cool with it.

    In general though, it still felt a little weird. Work Wife is and was awesome, we’re interested in the same things, got along excellently, etc. If I wasn’t already in love with Actual Wife, we probably would have gone out. As such it felt vaguely disloyal before Actual Wife cottoned onto the whole thing and kept inviting WW places to hang out with us, because Actual Wife is awesome and got along with Work Wife too.

    But really, it’s a consent thing. There needs to be an agreement that it’s okay to use the term, let alone that the relationship is correct.

  36. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I’m meh about the term. I’ve really only heard it used to describe a work partnership where the two people rely on each other for both work and (…it’s difficult to describe) non romantic daily functional support — ie. they are the one who reminds you to take your keys/phone/wallet/jacket when you leave for the day because they know you always forget and have to come back, or they’ll go out of their way to carpool if your car is in the shop. It doesn’t necessarily have to be emotional support, like tell each other secrets. A work spouse is someone who fills out both theirs and yours expense reports for the conference you both just attended, while you are the go-to on filling out purchase requests …or something like that.

  37. K too*

    Eh, it doesn’t really bother me. Then again, I actually do work with my husband and everyone knows we’re partnered, but in order to maintain a healthy relationship we don’t really have much face-to-face interactions while in the office. We each have our own co-workers we’re close to and he has his ‘work-wife’ and I have my ‘work-husband’ – it’s just the nature of our jobs that we have to work more closely with these specific people for more hours than we even spend together, and it’s a good thing that we actually have good relationships with these people rather than hating every minute of it. I think it’s not so weird in our case specifically because we all know each other and none of us mind.

    I do however see how it’s very heteronormative and can be icky if it’s being used at you rather than both people being a part of it.

  38. Bromaa*

    You aren’t alone, OP — I’m a fellow queer and would lose my MIND if anyone did this to me. I also would never create a relationship at work like this (that I labelled my work spouse). I think it weakens the strong *professional* bonds one can have with a colleague; like lol let’s just label it as husband and wife, can’t possibly have bonds that aren’t somehow associated with a cisnormative relationship structure. I shared an office for eight years with someone who became an incredibly dear coworker, who I collaborated with regularly, whose opinion I valued and who I looked forward to seeing — they were my colleague. We have a WORD for an esteemed close working relationship and it’s that one.

    It’s also super uncomfortably gendered, from a nonbinary trans point view.

  39. Middlemgmt*

    I would have called my old coworker my work wife. We’re both women. To me it just signified that we’re not only friendly but that we work together particularly well as a team, so when we’re on a project, we already know who’s going to do what and have a shorthand that makes for easy and quick communication. I can understand why it’s uncomfortable for many people though.

  40. cmcinnyc*

    I absolutely hate this term. I’m in a support role, and people in admin get tagged with this label a lot. I hate it because the person who “jokingly” bestows the term almost always wants/expects the sort of no-boundaries/we’re family/do it for the team dynamic that I reserve for my actual family. Think remembering when your actual wife’s birthday is and brainstorming gifts (and maybe even picking it out), emotional support for all the various office politics your actual wife is very tired of hearing about because she doesn’t actually know these people, etc. I don’t want to play that role at work. I’m not your wife, and oh hell I am not your mother.

  41. frame*

    one reason i don’t like it is because the term implies an inappropriate level of exclusivity and commitment. it seems to imply a clique of two (unless you’re work polyamorous of course). but if i‘m told to collaborate with someone else, i‘ll do it. so i don’t exactly see how the term maps effectively to the new domain.

      1. Phony Genius*

        Oh, great. Now we’ve opened the door to concepts such as “work throuples,” “work bigamy,” “work mistresses,” “work infidelity,” “open work relationships,” “friends with work benefits,” and my personal favorite, “work swingers” (who make frequent use of “swing spaces”).

        My point with the above is that this terminology feels “squicky” because it lends itself to misunderstandings/double entendres since it is either not understood or not accepted universally, regardless of the consent of the involved parties.

    1. Purple Penguin*

      I like that you’re pointing out that the phrase implies not just a close relationship but an exclusive one; I am mostly on team “meh” to the term and “yes I do see that relationship pattern” to the concept, but it’s helpful to have it pointed out that maybe if we refer to Jane and Alice as being work wives that might keep Wakeen from talking to Alice as much as he should for their project.

    2. Wisteria*

      “an inappropriate level of exclusivity and commitment”

      I think this is really overthinking the term work spouse.

  42. Ari*

    Interesting topic!I have only ever referred to one person as a work spouse, and it was 1) a joke between the two of us because we had to rely on each other to get anything done because management was unreliable and 2) we never used the term on the job…only in private conversations or with our actual spouses. For one thing, it’s not very professional, but also I didn’t want to hurt other peers’ feelings by the implication that I couldn’t rely on everyone the same way (though it was true). I would NEVER apply that term to two other people, even if they used it themselves.

  43. The Original K.*

    A former boss said she always had work husbands and from what I observed, it meant “men she had close platonic relationships with at work.” Like, not necessarily men she worked closely with, but men she liked (not romantically). Her work husband where we worked was married; boss was not. He didn’t call her his work wife but didn’t seem to mind being her work husband.

    I wouldn’t use it or like to be called that, but if both parties are cool with it it has nothing to do with me.

  44. Work Domestic Partner*

    I’m personally squicked out by the term. In my heritage culture, “work wife” or “work husband” is typically used to refer to people who are having an emotional affair outside of their personal relationships. In my host culture, it sounds like the meaning is something more platonic. When I speak about someone I work closely (or particularly well) with, I usually just say “teammate” or “[person’s name]” depending whether we share a manager or not. Otherwise, if I share a close friendship with a coworker or colleague, I just refer to them as my friend. The term is thankfully not commonly used in my industry, so it’s not awkward or clunky for me to do what’s comfortable for me.

  45. Terra*

    Try to think of it as a term of endearment. I worked on a team for the same boss for 14 years with several other people for most of that time. Several of us left that team, but had a reunion dinner with that attorney a couple months ago. He joked that he was having dinner with The Ex-Work Wives Club. We thought it was hilarious.

    1. Marcia*

      Why? Treat others the way they’d like to be treated. If you’re all cool with that, it’s your prerogative, but that doesn’t mean other people need to ignore their discomfort or pretend like it’s appropriate if it isn’t for them ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      1. Wisteria*

        Yeah, if every one at Terra’s workplace are all cool with it, that’s grand. I wouldn’t like that particular usage, though.

    2. Gerry Keay*

      “Babe,” “honey,” and “sweetie” are also terms of endearment and completely inappropriate for the office. That’s… not a great metric for appropriateness!!!

  46. Aarti*

    I hate it so much. It’s not squicky, I just don’t live at work and don’t want to imply in any way that this is my family.

    1. Helen*

      Exactly this. “We’re family” is such a red flag in a workplace, and that totally feels like the implication of referring to someone as a work wife/husband

      1. Cam*

        Every office I’ve worked in that peddled the “we’re a family here!” line (and I’ve worked in a few like this) was super toxic. All had terrible boundaries, too. My current job is a breath of fresh air. Management respects my life outside of work and everybody’s friendly but not friends. Absolutely none of the weird enmeshment I experienced at previous jobs.

        I knew it was time to leave my last job because the company was heading for bankruptcy after senior management ran it into the ground hiring and promoting their friends and subordinates they were sleeping with.

        The “work wife” term smacks of poor boundaries to me. Not surprisingly, the only time I’ve heard it used offline were at 2 of the worst employers I had.

  47. Mallory Janis Ian*

    I always think of it as involving people whose work is interdependent and who work well together on it, and who are also friendly enough (in an at-work way) that they would miss the other one if they were out for the day. I don’t think of it as people having an affair or flirtation, but I see where it could be construed that way.

  48. Lenora Rose*

    my immediate reaction is “Ew.”

    My more considered reaction is it’s not nearly as “ew” when the two people involved are the ones who chose it — and when there’s buy in to the joke from the real spouses, if real spouses are in the picture. I can also see it quickly going from fun to toxic in the wrong hands, and the relationship implications are rough to navigate.

    But there is an aspect of spouse-hood that involves sharing and collaborating on getting tasks done that nobody likes but need doing, which isn’t implied in most BFF or bestie relations, or even many roommates, which does make sense to compare to the workplace.

    If only we had a more platonic term for it.

    1. Cam*

      I’m single and feel the same way. It feels like a huge boundary violation.

      I haven’t heard many people use the term offline but was baffled to hear 2 coworkers use it with each other. They were both married to other people. I wondered how their spouses would’ve felt about it.

  49. Qwerty*

    I blame Grey’s Anatomy for popularizing this. I’m sure it was used before hand, but it amplified it. As a result, I associate “work wife” with a lot of 50s housewife stereotypes and usually heard it referring more to a woman who is seen as responsible for taking care of one of the guys at work.

    I’m in a male dominated field, so I haven’t seen it go over well with women in my industry. The exception to this is when its used to call out a problem. After getting nowhere on trying to explain the uneven perception around the work shared by my teammate and I, describing it as “I feel like I’m Fergus’s work wife” got the immediate understanding of our manager which led to more equitable work distribution and acknowledgement of my contributions.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Ehhh it was 100% a thing before it ever came up on Grey’s Anatomy although the way Callie defined it for Weber & Bailey is similar to the way most people in the comments mean it – supportive and mutually beneficial.

  50. Anonymouse*

    I land on ick for this one too. For some reason I don’t think I can adequately articulate, so easily associating Wife and Nothing Sexual is bumming me out, even though obviously that’s a very good thing at work!

  51. bookwyrm*

    I’m not a fan of the terms, I think at least partly because my former roommate was the first person I heard use it. And her “work husband” was hooking up with her… and cheating on his girlfriend. So I have that association with it. I know a lot of people do mean it platonically, but it just seems kind of unprofessional to me. I would be so uncomfortable if anyone called me their work wife.

  52. Spearmint*

    When applied to a dynamic where one person manages another it feels even more uncomfortable. A few years ago I had a coworker refer to me as the work husband of my female boss (who I worked closely with at the time) during a big meeting. Thankfully it was a one time thing, but I still felt super uncomfortable.

  53. Bikirl*

    I seriously dislike and disapprove of using this term at work. First, as the first commentor, noted it’s a sign we’re spending all of our lives at work. The term glorifies, condones, and perpetuates overwork and long work days. Then there’s the gendered/sexual/clique-y/privileged component of the term. It implies that two colleagues are in a special family-like relationship that is distinct from the other relationships at work. Not worth using, IMO, for many reasons.

  54. Lacey*

    The first time I heard that term I knew immediately what they meant, but then it also had me second guessing whether my totally platonic and above board work friendship with a married, male coworker was inappropriate somehow.

    Because even though that’s not what it means at all… ick, people should just choose a different way to express that.

  55. Esmeralda*

    Pretty strongly disagreeing with Alison here (I know! )

    Both terms — work wife and work husband (which I think is used a LOT less than work wife, and let’s consider why that is) — are completely inappropriate. It’s a step beyond “we are family”, which is all too often used to coerce people to cross professional boundaries by expecting the kinds of relationship obligations of actual families.

    It plays on gendered expectations. It is sexualized even when people don’t intend that — that’s a component of those roles in American culture for sure.

    It implies a kind of exclusiveness in a relationship which is almost never appropriate or desirable at work.

    If someone wants to say that about themself and the other person in the relationship is ok with it, fine, they should just be aware of the connotations.

    No one should go around saying it about other people, however. Completely and absolutely that’s a no-no.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      work husband (which I think is used a LOT less than work wife, and let’s consider why that is)

      Yes, I’ve found it interesting (but not surprising) that in the comments section there have been mentions of work husband/work wife and work wife/work wife pairings, but none (as I write this comment) of work husband/work husband pairings. And that gender-imbalance is part of the reason I’m not a fan of the work spouse labels.

      1. Pikachu*

        Yes. Show me a male CEO and male CFO who work together in a very close partnership and who call each other work-husbands.

        They don’t, because working together effectively is literally the job. That’s what they get paid to do.

      2. Eyes Kiwami*

        Yes I think it’s an important call out that there have been no mentions of work husband/husband. Yes this site skews female but still.

    2. Cam*

      Best answer here, in my opinion. You hit on all the reasons the term’s inappropriate, and there’s many (particularly the sexual connotations).

      I’ve never heard 2 male colleagues be referred to as “work husbands.” Homophobia aside, there’s also no implied expectations of emotional labor from one party to the other as there from women to men.

    3. penny dreadful analyzer*

      work husband (which I think is used a LOT less than work wife, and let’s consider why that is)

      I’m gonna go with “it’s not alliterative and it’s longer, so it’s not as snappy and fun to say”

  56. Won't Get Fooled Again. Maybe.*

    Work wife and/or husband doesn’t phase me but adults using the word, “icky” does. Go figure.

    1. Hrodvitnir*

      “Squick” is a specific (90s?) term for things that you find strongly unpleasant/repulsive but don’t judge other people for. Often used for fan fiction tropes or kinks.

      I also find it unappealing to look at, but appreciate its niche.

  57. Sharon*

    I agree with Allison that it’s weird someone used it to describe your relationship, I’ve only heard people describing themselves or their “work spouse” as that.
    To me, it’s not even a close working relationship, it’s also a partnership that includes a closeness but also a kind of shorthand that comes from working closely together. Gender is rarely relevant when using the term in my circles (then again, in education women are very much the majority).

  58. Purple Penguin*

    In my mind it’s a squicky misogynistic term not because of implied relationship status but because of implied emotional labor.
    There’s the guy on my team at work who, of all of us, is most helpful and willing to deal with paperwork, and he is often the first person I go to when something’s not working right (ugh, did you get your expense reports in from that trip last week, it’s complaining about my receipts, how did you fix that?). And he’s the one who sees the paper is low and asks the admin to order more, and who thinks to tell the rest of the team when there’s relevant news from management, and is generally just on the ball. Great guy… and that kind of makes him the work wife because everything is tidier and more complete after he’s done with it.
    So the reasons I dislike the term “work wife” are more when it’s used in the assumption that wives take care of people instead of or in addition to doing their own work.

  59. OP*

    Ugh, ugh, I hate this term.

    Besides the heteronormative nature of the term, and it’s attempt to be a super unfunny joke apparently normalizing workplace sexual harrassment and discrimination (which is still common in many fields including my own – STEM), it reeks of the “this workplace is a FAMILY” dysfunction.

    What’s wrong with “colleague”? It’s respectful, accurate, non-gendered…why make up problematic terms to use instead?

    1. Wisteria*

      If you don’t like it, don’t use it! You aren’t required to.

      I don’t think it’s worth getting bent out of shape over, though. I can’t speak to every single person or every single usage of the term, but in general, not it’s not a joke that normalizes sexual harassment. It’s a joke that acknowledges that working closely on projects is similar to running a household.

      As to “colleague,” everyone I work with is a colleague. Few to none of them are people who support me and collaborate with me in running projects.

    2. Elle*

      Huuuge yes to the heteronormative aspect! I’ve struggled to put my finger on why it bothers me when my straight female colleagues use it for each other, but I think it sometimes feels to me like sort of a symptom of how society treats relationships between women (e.g. less serious, a joke). I don’t intend to ever bring it up because it ultimately doesn’t bother me/come up that often and also feels too personal. I don’t think the chances of it being received without defensiveness are high, anyway.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, and in any case, how other people choose to refer to themselves is their business, regardless of how you feel about it. But obviously you can put your foot down if someone uses the term about you.

    3. Russell T*

      I hate it, too.

      For me, it always had a strong “high school”vibe, like 16 year olds who refer to their girlfriend as”the old ball and chain” (seriously, I knew this kid). Bleech.

      My opinion is probably colored by the fact that the two coworkers I knew who frequently used the “work wife/work husband” crap were annoyingly cutesy about it. It was just stomach turning.

  60. Nicki Name*

    I’ve had a work twin (we started the same day, with the same job title, sitting right next to each other) but am creeped out by work spouses.

  61. Dark Macadamia*

    I think there’s a VERY different ick factor if someone outside the “marriage” refers to people this way vs if you and your “spouse” mutually use it for each other. That’s extremely weird.

  62. Chirpy*

    “work wife” or “work husband” just makes me think of the old post here about the person who came back from a leave to find one of her coworkers had been telling everyone they were secretly married. ugh.

  63. Raw Flour*

    I don’t like it. I think my issues are around the gendering, the romantic implication, and the degree of exclusivity. I use the term “work bestie” to describe, well, my work bestie. I concede that the degree of exclusivity implied in that phrase, though not that of “work spouse”, is not totally unproblematic either.

  64. JustInCase*

    At my last job, I had a “work wide”. She and I are both cisgender women. She is queer and married to another woman. I am straight and married to a man. To me, it just meant that we spend a lot of time together and we could be counted on to back the other up in stressful times and to serve as trustworthy confidants when we had conflicts to figure out at work. Our spouses know we call each other “work wife”. And both have no problem. I recently went back to visit and when I went into the section where my work wife was, she practically ran me over to give me a hug, screaming “Wifey!” Outside of work we are good friends, but in no way is it romantic or anything but platonic.

  65. CharlieBrown*

    At my last job, I was a work-husband with a work-wife. There was nothing romantic or sexual about it; she was happily married and I was happily single.

    We also had a colleague (K) who struggled with some issues whom we gladly helped out on a regular basis. On my last day, everyone was joking about our “divorce”. I mentioned that I was leaving custody of K to her, which was both the truth and a bit of joke. Everybody laughed.

    At my previous job, I was work-husband to my female manager because I was the one whose working style most matched hers, so we ended up working together on a lot of things. It was retail, and I would occasionally get a text asking me to pick something up for her on my way in (she often opened and I often closed; our shifts overlapped in the middle of the day) including, yes, feminine hygiene products on occasion.

    In both of those jobs, there was nothing icky about it, and everyone was okay with it. But I have worked other places (my current job, for instance) where it would be weird. I think a lot of it depends on the workplace and your coworkers.

  66. Cat Lover*

    I’ve heard it used more, in my experience, between two coworkers of the same gender. I (female) have a coworker who refers to me as her “work-wife”. We are both in hetero relationships.

  67. Hiring Mgr*

    I’d always thought the term meant someone at work you spend alot of time with, or have worked together for a while. In my experience it has nothing all to do with the ”we are a family” vibe

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Same here. I’ve heard it off and on throughout my career, and no one really seems to care one way or the other. It doesn’t bother me if someone calls a guy at work my “work husband” or calls me the “work wife.” I never thought to attach any meaning to it other than what you’ve said.

  68. Nobody's Wife*

    I find it deeply uncomfortable and would be furious if anyone ever referred to me as someone’s “work wife”. It’s inappropriate for the workplace, makes a business relationship sound uncomfortably intimate, and makes a person’s gender the focus in a way that should not happen in the workplace. Neutral terms like colleague and friend do not bring gender into it, while this centres someone’s gender.

    I would object strongly if others referred to me like this, and I would be very uncomfortable around people who use this language for themselves or others. It would make me wonder how else they are inappropriate in their thinking.

    1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      You can be very good social “personal” friends with work friends outside of work, but still I would never call someone a work wife or work husband. Even jokingly. Ick!

    2. WorkingMom*

      +1 in my mind there is an innuendo behind the term that the relationship is not entirely professional

  69. ICodeForFood*

    We have a quarterly survey (administered by an outside firm) that includes the question “Do you have a best friend at work?” The first time that question appeared, most folks were a little put off by it, but the explanation that we got is that having a best friend at work is a measure of engagement. I think most of us got used to it, because the term “work BFF” became part of our jargon. Somehow, that sounds better than “work wife” or “work husband” to me…

    1. allathian*

      Yes, but it’s also problematic in its own way. Sure, if people enjoy working with each other, they’re more likely to stay at a workplace. But my lack of a work bestie is no reflection on my engagement, it’s simply a consequence of the fact that I maintain a strict work/life separation, and a part of this is that I’m friendly with the vast majority of my coworkers, and coldly professional with the few asshats I’ve had to work with, but that I don’t go to work to make friends.

      I’ve realized that I don’t want to know too much about most of my coworkers, ignorance really is bliss here.

      The expectation of having a work bestie sounds like the company expects is employees to live to work rather than work to live. That tends to show up as long hours, lots of emails and IMs after hours, barely any time for a social life outside of work.

  70. Tau*

    It might be because I’m not from the US and my workplaces don’t use this term, but I would protest vehemently if someone referred to me as anyone’s work wife, to the point of going to HR if they didn’t cut it out. I’m defending the gender minority corner in a very male-dominated field (software development), and anything that remotely implies my male coworkers are viewing me through a lens of romantic/sexual potential instead of as a professional colleague needs to get shut down ASAP with extreme prejudice.

      1. Gerry Keay*

        Different careers/industries have different stakes around this type of stuff. If you’re already fighting an uphill battle against sexism in the workplace, it makes sense to be much more guarded and defensive around this type of thing.

    1. Raw Flour*

      I have been in a similar role (woman supervising a software development team of 12 men and no women) and I can empathize. It sucks to have to hold the line that hard – it’s exhausting. But you are absolutely right to hold the line that hard.

    2. HS Teacher*

      I hard disagree with this perspective, but if I worked with someone who felt strongly about it, I certainly would respect their perspective. I’ve used the term for years and never thought that people were turned off by it.

      1. Tau*

        My visceral no way response is probably a combination of this term not being used where I am so I don’t have any platonic association with it (my workplace is English-speaking but about 95% ESL and a lot of slang etc. just never makes it here) and the extreme gender imbalance in the field. Like, certain comments just land differently if you’re the lone exception in a 20-person otherwise-all-male team, you know? I get really vigilant about boundaries in a way I probably wouldn’t (and wouldn’t have to) if the field was more balanced genderwise.

  71. Dr. Doll*

    LOATHE the term. Probably because my late mother used to use it at her job, referring to herself and one of the business owners. She was desperately single, seeking any kind of connection, even non-romantic ones. It made me cringe every time I heard it, still does.

  72. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    I hate the term work wife or work husband.
    Why not just say work friend or colleague without it being gendered or weird?

    1. Danish*

      “this is Joe, my work husband” VS “this is Joe, we work great together” or “this is Joe, I love working with him” both seem like they’d get the point across fine, huh?

      1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

        Though I get that work husband/wife implies a much deeper personal connection or friendship though.

        The closest I can think of is a friend I met at a job 20 years ago. She became like the big sister I never had, a close friend and mentor to me. We spent a lot of time together both in and outside of work and remain close friends to this day. I get the sentiment, but I still wouldn’t call her my work wife or work sister.

    2. Dinwar*

      Because neither of those convey the right idea of the relationship. “Colleague” implies “person who I only associate with because of the job”–which isn’t necessarily bad, and you can have good relationships with colleagues, but it’s not the same. If a colleague called for a personal matter I’d feel fairly uncomfortable; I’d take it as a problem if my work-wife didn’t come to me for help on personal matters, and I come to her for advice as well. (Ironically, my wife goes to her to complain about me. We play D&D together, and at least once my wife told her to make my character suffer for some transgression of mine.)

      Likewise “friend” doesn’t get it across either. Especially today, “friend” can mean anything from someone you’d give a kidney to without a second thought, to someone who’s Facebook photos you occasionally look at and whom you haven’t spoken to in twenty years. My work-wife and I quite frequently speak to one another in tones that would NOT be appropriate for a friendship, but which absolutely are appropriate for work (“This is my call, we’re doing it my way” and the like).

      Blame the paucity of nuance in terminology for interpersonal relationships in American English. Plus, we live in a degenerate age, and are, compared to people of the past, emotional cripples. As a society we have lost the concept of non-romantic affection. It’s not just my opinion–there’s a body of literature on the topic.

      The term may not be great, but I think the concept is a step in the right direction: A more nuanced understanding of relationships, and an acknowledgement that some go deeper than others. It’s a bad attempt, perhaps (I happen to like the term, but I acknowledge disagreement is entirely justifiable), but….well, we need SOMETHING.

  73. Danish*

    I’m really fascinated by everyone saying “work (wife/husband) is someone you work really well with” because that is so not the assumption I’ve been making when I hear it. To me it’s “person with whom I spend a noticeable amount of time with at work, either by choice or necessity”.

    The term “marriage” doesn’t automatically imply any kind of Deep Partnership or Good Working Relationship so it’s really interesting to me that that’s how it’s being used.

    1. Carrots*

      Agreed. I think of it as someone you actually have a lot of disagreements with (like a typical marriage) but you have to spend a lot of time together due to your shared work goals and roles.

    2. Daisy*

      I agree the term implies a couple who spend all their time together, required by work or not.
      I really dislike the term, would never use it myself, and shut down anyone who applied it to me as I see it as a slur.

  74. Mouse*

    I have definitely seen it used in a bad gender-role-reinforcing kind of way. When I was an executive assistant, our CFO referred to me as our CEO’s “work wife” a few times and we both felt very weird about it and told him to stop. In that context, he definitely meant it as “the woman that does all the silly organizing that Important Men don’t do.” To be clear, that organizing was my job, and I loved it! But putting it in that very subservient women’s-work kind of language was very uncomfortable.

  75. i am a patient girl*

    I’ve used this term in the past – but don’t know if and when I could recreate the situation to need it. I was on a team where one person and I started at the same time, and we were on the east coast and everyone else on my team was on the West Coast in a couple different offices. I ended up becoming pretty close with everyone on the team, but the person in my office and I became super close. We shared an office, she had a baby with her real life husband, and I got married to my husband during the time that we were on the same team, and we also spent a lot of time going through the same annoyances and experiences while working remotely from the rest of the team. On the flip side, the other people in our same office we became close to but didn’t necessarily work directly with them.
    The work wife and I ended up just knowing a ton about each other and supporting each other during our personal life stuff, yes, but also just like… small caring and considerate things like grabbing them a cup of coffee or food from the food truck when you knew they were in meetings all afternoon, or bringing cupcakes on each other’s workaversaries.
    It was just such a specific time and a person I really truly care about (even after we both got promoted onto different teams) and I agree if someone ELSE had put the label on our friendship it would have been super squicky but the amount and quality of time we spent together made it really the right word.

  76. Selina Luna*

    I’m not a fan of the term, and one part of the reason is that I work with my husband. He and I are both high school teachers. We work in the same building, but in different departments, so our circles don’t cross. However, if I made friends with, for example, the college and career counselor, and he was called my “work husband”… well, no, my actual husband works here and we often discuss work outside of work as well.

  77. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

    Years ago, my (male) manager of Team “A” had a (female) work spouse who managed Team “B”. I heard Team B’s manager referred to as “work wife” by others, but no one ever called my manager a work husband. To make things even weirder, the employees on Team A and Team B referred to them as “Mom” and “Dad.”

  78. I Said Hey! (Nonny Nonny and a Ho Ho Ho)*

    I’m a bit late to this discussion but I wanted to add my perspective because my co-coordinator and I were *just* joking about this last week. We share oversight of an academic program (50/50), and also happen to be close friends outside of work, as well. During one of our (innumerable, daily, never-ending-but-in-a-good-way) conversations last week I jokingly referred to her as my “work-wife,” to which she immediately giggled but then heartily agreed that the term effectively encapsulates how we operate – as full partners in running our program but also in having a kind of easy casual friendly closeness that helps facilitate that great professional partnership. We’ve long joked that we share a brain, and this is just another way to talk about that dynamic.

    Caveat to all of the above: we said this between each other – we’re not running around the department calling each other “work wife” or anything…. yet. (it’s only a matter of time, honestly, now that I think about it)

  79. Lizzianna*

    I don’t love the term. I don’t have a separate husband at work, I have the one husband I married. I also don’t understand why the term “friend” doesn’t work, and I feel like it implies that men and women can’t just be friends (I understand that now two women can be “work wives,” although I’ve never seen two men be “work husbands,” but it definitely started as opposite sex pairs of friends when it came onto my radar).

    But I don’t care enough to say anything when other people use it.

  80. Asenath*

    I have never even heard the term “work wife/husband/spouse” in real life; only in online forums like this one. I don’t feel any need to use the term myself or for anyone I worked with, but I do think I understand from what I’ve read how others use it.

  81. raincoaster*

    I remember back in the 80’s reading an article about work wives, and it was certainly a sexist term then. The article pointed out that men who performed the functions of a “work wife” ie smoothing the path for a man’s success by playing a supporting role, we also called work wives.

    1. Wisteria*

      Ew. So glad I wasn’t in the work force in the 80s.

      There was an example of a male who was called a work wife in the comments section up above, so obviously we have not grown out of this labelling. I’m glad the work places I have been in have at least grown into the usage as more equal partners.

      1. raincoaster*

        It’s still squicky and unprofessional. People with jobs have job titles. I do not require a “work helpmeet” or whatever euphemism is trendy. If I need a PA I’ll hire a PA.

        1. River Otter*

          If I had a working partnership with a colleague, I’d be way more offended by them calling me their PA than I would by them calling me their work spouse. YMMV

  82. aebhel*

    Yeah, that would squick me out. I don’t care if other people refer to their own dynamics like that, but I would be really put off if anyone used it about me in regards to any of my coworkers.

  83. Rinn*

    Not offended at all. In the nursing profession we use it all the time for our female and male colleagues. It means your best work friend. The person you are SO happy to work with and when you see them on the schedule you do a little happy dance!

    1. penny dreadful analyzer*

      I love this personally but could definitely write a several-page earnest-sounding monologue about the Problematic Implications of calling yourself and/or your coworkers criminals if I so wished.

  84. Lizzianna*

    This also makes me laugh because after sharing work from home space with my actual husband for the last 2 1/2 years, we have come to the conclusion we would be terrible coworkers as we have polar opposite ways of working.

  85. Pink Marbles*

    I think most people understand it in a very joking way. But… in a previous job, a coworker made a weird joke about a “work wife” when a manager’s *actual* wife came into the office and met said work wife. It came off awkwardly. Come to find out, the actual wife had been cheated on in a previous relationship, and the other woman was a coworker of her ex… so while she completely understood that it was a joke, it was still really, really cringey. The manager encouraged us to remember that phrases can feel very different from one person to another. I just avoid it myself.

  86. Not your wife, creeper*

    All the comments arguing that it’s the right term because it encapsulates how you work great as a team etc etc etc make me laugh, because that is NOT the image I have of marriage. At ALL. Calling someone your work wife makes me think they’re the person you dump all your crap jobs on, expect to do all the emotional labor, expect to do all the “women’s work”, and treat as an inferior.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, I think the only time “work wife” was applied to me was when I was the #2 behind the boss, and I really did not like the implication that someone who is subordinate to someone and does all the little nitty gritty things for them is like a wife. I didn’t mind the term as much when I encountered two women using it mutually to refer to each other as being unusually close at work, although it’s still not my favorite.

  87. Star Struck*

    In my experience, someone is only referred to as a work spouse if they work frequently and closely with each other and are comfortable enough with each other to call each other out when needed. Or if other coworkers witness benign bickering…

    You might not say “don’t be a donkeys behind” to your close coworker but could – if needed – say that to a work spouse.

  88. Good Enough For Government Work*

    I always thought I’d hate work wife/work husband, but the more office work I’ve done, and the more work-spouses (of both mixed-genders and same-genders) I’ve encountered, the more I get it. Definitely on Team ‘It has to be chosen by the spouses themselves’, though.

    Until quite recently (when one retired), I had a Work Mum and Work Dad, who who were a much older couple of work-spouses who shared the same bank of desks as me but weren’t on my team. I think when I first joined, in my twenties, I’d have hated the terms and found them incredibly patronising, but now that I’ve been here ten years and am in my mid-thirties, I just find it sweet and funny. (And use it as an excuse to nick my work dad’s Emergency Biscuits!)

  89. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    In my office, there are two new employees who have quickly become good friends (but only friends) while learning the job. They might have been called “work spouses” in years past, but our director calls them “training twins” (a workplace counterpart to college “study buddies”).

  90. Daisy*

    I absolutely hate work wife/husband. I do think it implies a closer-than-appropriate relationship, emotionally if not necessarily physically. It implies the relationship between those two people is prioritized above that of the project and other coworkers.

  91. Carrots*

    For me, the “work spouse” dynamic is NOT about being into each other or being best friends. It’s about having that kind of bickery, familiar, goal-oriented partnership that resembles a real marriage. I once had a “work husband”, and there was no physical attraction whatsoever. We had to do some grueling lab experiments and spent a lot of time together, and we often bickered like spouses do. We had a fondness for each other borne out of shared goals and shared space-time.

  92. Jessica Fletcher*

    I’ve also heard “work mom/dad,” meaning a colleague you’re close to, who is older such that “wife/husband” would be gross. This person isn’t a mentor, but they’re experienced in your field and help you learn the ropes.

    I don’t know that anyone uses this term to someone’s face, the way they do with work wife/husband.

  93. HS Teacher*

    I have a work husband and a work wife. That’s two more partners than I have in my personal life! I guess I’m in a throuple.

  94. Mimmy*

    I’m not sure I love the terms myself. Just the other day, I mentioned to a coworker, who is very skilled with technology, how my husband helps me with technology at home; he then said, “maybe I can be your work husband”. I just laughed it off, but I’ll admit I was slightly squicked by it because we do talk a lot (our roles overlap). My coworker has otherwise never been inappropriate with me so I’m not too concerned, but still, I think people should be careful about who they use the term around.

  95. North Wind*

    I find it uncomfortable, too gray, something that could really mean different things to different people. But I’ve only heard it first-hand when folks say it in a whisper-y, eyebrows-raised kind of way; acknowledging the innocent meaning of the term but implying there’s more going on.

  96. Ozzie*

    I’m not a fan of the phrases at all, and would definitely be displeased if others applied the term to me/a work relationship I had. I’m not entirely sure why I dislike it so much even, though my best guess is, I don’t like a phrase that is usually applied to very personal relationships being applied at work – not even in a “omg there’s something going on there” way, but more in a “I don’t want to think of my work life as my personal life” sort of way. I’ve been there and done that when I was younger, and now I work pretty hard to have pretty firm boundaries to keep them separate, both in a logistics way AND in a how-I-think-about-them way.

    I wouldn’t tell other people not to use the terms, assuming it was free and clear of dynamics issues and really just a fun/quirky term. But I would definitely ask someone who used it in reference to me to stop.

  97. kittybutton*

    I have never heard of straight men referring to one another or being referred to as each other’s “work husbands.” Has anyone else?

    I think it is an extremely hetero-normative term, and I hate it. I realize that people do not mean harm by using it so I would not judge someone harshly for saying it, but I really wish this term would disappear.

    1. Elle*

      This. I feel so validated seeing this comment! The fact that I mostly hear straight women initiating its use feels like a symptom of how our society trivializes actual relationships between women? I’d never actually say that to anyone in my actual work life because I know it’s fully my sensitivity (and I know also that it would result only in defensiveness at best and retaliation at worst).

      1. Cam*

        Fellow queer woman? I’m noticing a pattern in these comments where we all seem to hate this term for the same reason.

        I would also find it degrading if applied to me and a male colleague, because I’ve worked hard for my credibility and don’t want it damaged by even the suggestion of impropriety.

      2. River Otter*

        That’s funny, I feel like the lack of two straight men calling themselves work husbands is a sign of how we degrade male friendships! I bet if it were two straight men they would joke about who the wife was in a very gendered and also homophobic way with a demeaning implication to “wife” as the person who is inferior. Because for some reason The relationship options available to straight men are limited to buddy (With other men) and romantic/sexual partner (With women).

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I’ve always wondered how gay people feel about this; to me it was obviously invalidating. Also, the dynamic where it’s okay to joke about two people being a work couple because one is straight and one gay – that one always seemed like a very dodgy joke to me.

  98. Elle*

    I get the function of the term for some people, but it’s not my favorite either. As other comments have pointed out, context and consent are key. I especially do not love it coming from straight women, but that’s connected to a lot of weirdness I as a queer woman experience from that group at work in general. The first time I heard the term was from an extremely peppy, jargon-loving (according to them, we were a fabulous squad of #rockstar girlbosses!) group of straight women I had the displeasure of working with who were pretty constantly casually homophobic. Squicky is a great word for how it felt- I hated it, but knew if I pushed back I’d be seen as difficult. Or accused of having a crush on one of the rockstars.

    Conversely, were my closest colleague (with whom I spend time outside of work, along with her actual wife) to use it, I’d be surprised but not bothered.

  99. lilsheba*

    I have heard the term applied to people I knew, but it has never applied to me nor have I ever used it. It just wouldn’t occur to me to be honest.

  100. doreen*

    Where I work no one ever referred to a “work wife” or “work husband” – but I suspect that was because most people had “partners” who they worked closely with. Partners were not necessarily assigned by a manager – but they shared an office, saw each other’s clients and handled issues on each other’s cases when the assigned person wasn’t available for some reason , did field work together, traveled to training together and usually had a close personal but non-sexual relationship as well. I kind of wonder if some of the use of work wife/husband is to describe a similar relationship in jobs where referring to a partner doesn’t make sense.

    1. itsame*

      Your description of partners lines up really well with my understanding of how work wife/husband/spouse is used. I’d say partner is a better term in general, because it avoids being gendered or too personal, but there are so many ways the term “partner” is used in the work world that I think it wouldn’t really get the point across outside of offices like yours where it’s an established term of art (of sorts.)

  101. Cakeroll*

    Alison sort of addresses this, and I’ll add my own queer experience to this: I don’t have a problem with the labels themselves, but I do take issue with the gendered way I see them applied to me at work. Like the LW, I have this kind of work relationship with several colleagues at work. But others seem to only use the “work wife” or “work husband” when describing me (a man) and a woman. Despite having just-as-close collaborations with several male colleagues, outside observers never seem to call them/me “work husband” when describing those dynamics.

    Thus, I’d prefer that the phrase just go away entirely, even though I value the work relationships it describes (and don’t think are inappropriate). I think “one L lana” described the relationship really well – the combination of mutual affection, collegiality, and trust in the work we do together is very valuable.

  102. slashgirl*

    Doesn’t bother me at all and I’ve never heard it used for anyone in romantic way (not even the two people I was on shift with at a call centre who were literally having an affair–older married guy/younger single woman; she’d sit on his lap during work time. Now THAT was skeevy).

    I’ve never had a work spouse–but I did have a work “other half” once. This was at the above mentioned call centre. I only worked 3 days a week and he worked 4; we both applied for Team Lead assistant positions. They hired each of to work 3 days in the same position, his fourth day was doing other work. So we were literally each other’s other half of the job. It didn’t require us to really work together because we just did the tasks our TLs assigned to us the days we were there and/or took calls. We were friendly and had known each other prior as we’d often worked the same days.

    In my current job the current principal and previous vp referred to themselves as work husband/work wife and they’re both female–I don’t think they thought of both being the work wife. The also always told staff to not try the ask mum/ask dad thing (ask one a question and you don’t like the answer so you ask the other)–the principal was always the dad… Our new vp is a guy, so they’re still work spouses but he calls himself the dad now. Doesn’t seem to bother either of them and no one on staff seems bothered by it as it’s obviously nothing more than them working closely together to run the school.

  103. Huh?*

    What’s all this “gendered” business? Are people supposed to avoid any language that hints at their gender? Why?

    1. Jessica*

      No, it’s not that people shouldn’t refer to their actual gender or sex. The reason people are using “gendered” as a criticism is about
      (a) bringing gender unnecessarily into a business relationship that isn’t gender-specific;
      (b) projecting gender-role stereotypes along with it.
      As we’ve seen already in this thread, people read this term a lot of different ways. If I’m called someone’s “work wife” that could mean
      (A) we’re having an affair or people think so;
      (B) we work closely together and are an effective team;
      (C) in our work together, I’m supportive and deferential and pick up loose ends after him and am generally his Office Helpmeet.
      Often people just mean B which is why some people here don’t find it problematic, but to many others, “wife” gives off a vibe of C, which I could barely type without gagging. It’s “gendered” because it’s taking what should be a gender-neutral workplace dynamic and paralleling it to personal-life gender roles, and possibly ones that many people would like to reject in personal life also.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Thank you for this great explanation!

        Huh?, if you want an example of the “genderedness” of the term “work wife” specifically, look for raincoaster’s comment about how and when the term “work wife” was applied to men in the 80s.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Identifying your gender and the genders around you is A-OK, as in “I am the department’s first female manager and I get so much support from my counterpart Rob; he’s such a good dude” etc.
      Not OK? Stereotyping people into something ‘gender’ appropriate as a way of explaining something not-about gender: As in “Rob and I get along so well because I’m his work wife! We are so in sync that it makes you think that we are married so I don’t have to understand hard business stuff, lol” (Caveat that loads of people don’t use it this way at all).
      See also – calling people a “work mum” or “work dad” or “work daughter” or “work son” as a cunning way to keep your workplace ageist and slightly shocked at the mixing of generations.

  104. itsame*

    The only time I’ve seen the terms appear in the wild are about two people who, because of the nature of their jobs, work together and rely on each other during the work day, like two managers who have to collaborate to run a department, or a two person communications team, etc. It’s always read to me as meaning “we enjoy each other’s company, work together all day every day, and rely on each other’s work to be able to do our jobs” often with an added bit of “we’re the only people who fully understand what we do all day and what it’s like to do it.” It can read a bit co-dependent to me, but I’ve felt it had a sexual component.

    I can totally see it getting a lot grosser if it’s used about people where there’s a power imbalance (like a secretary and their boss) or two people who are inappropriately close socially/actually having an affair with each other, though.

  105. ProducerNYC*

    I’m a straight cis woman who has referred to very close coworkers in the past as work husbands and work wives- there was never anything going on besides work relationships, but I can understand how it can squick out some people. I feel it’s a term you can only use on yourself or the partner in question- I wouldn’t refer to other people as each other’s work spouses unless they’re very clear about it. My last job was in a very toxic environment, and my work wife was a trusted friend and coworker who helped keep me sane until I finally escaped!

  106. Not So Little My*

    I’m an introvert software developer and work with mainly other software developers, so this hasn’t really come up since the term became popular in the last 10 years or so. (I’m one of those folks who doesn’t like the word “wife” in general and have trained my husband to say “spouse”.) I did have one job where another dev and I had a friendly relationship and would often mercilessly rag on each other, so that felt kind of like “work siblings”. I guess in general since I am usually a gender minority in my team, and I’m nonbinary even though I’m not out at work, so I really hate it when any terms at work are gendered because it emphasizes my difference from the majority, when I just want to be evaluated equally.

  107. PookieLou*

    I’m not a fan of work “spouses”. I’m not saying that men and women can’t be just friends, but it’s also true that people having affairs with coworkers is a real thing that I’ve seen first-hand, which is maybe why that term feels too intimate for the workplace to me. I prefer something more platonic like “work BFF” just because of those instances where there actually are complicated feelings involved or there’s a gossip-y office culture that could make things weird. Just my feelings here, but I like to play it extra safe with rhetoric at the office.

  108. Pigeon*

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never heard this used in my (very professional) workplace, and I’ve only heard my friends talk about it in their workplace in the context of something well beyond professional and usually salacious. It would be hard for me to view this as a synonym for “close colleagues” and I think LW’s colleague is a gossip-monger.

  109. Sleepy Unicorn*

    I’m not super comfortable with the term but mostly because the first time I heard it (back in my first job out of college), it was used to describe two coworkers (who were each married to other people) who had a *very* close relationship at work. About five years later they became actual husband and wife. They seemed very happy and I’m happy for them, but it’s sort of forever coloured how I view the terms work wife/husband.

  110. Laurel*

    I’m a nurse, and ‘work wife’ is a common term (most of us are women). It denotes a relationship with a coworker who one can depend on for assistance and support. It is usually a term mutually agreed upon. If a coworker referred to someone as my ‘work wife’ and I don’t feel the same, I just say, ‘No, not really ‘, which usually clears things up

  111. Noworkspouses*

    I had a friend who used work brother/sister and I think this conveys the closeness well, without the Ick.

  112. anonforthis*

    I’ve only ever seen this used as an inside joke between the people who call themselves each other’s work “wife/husband”. It’s weird to call someone else that because, as Alison implies, there still needs to be some kind of consent.

  113. Not your typical admin*

    I hate this term. Probably because the first time I heard it was at a party attended by a work “couple” and their spouses. The “couple” were talking about how they looked out for each other at work, he brought her coffee every morning, they had lunch together every day, ect. While everyone laughed, you could tell it made their spouses uncomfortable.

  114. James*

    For a few years I shared an office with a colleague whom I got along with very well. He’s gay, I’m straight, we’re both males about the same age. We used to refer to each other as our ‘work wife.’ It was just funny and spoke of the affection and respect we had for each other.

    It perhaps only worked with this person because we had the same sense of humor. This is Australia which is perhaps a bit more tolerant and laid back.

    1. River Otter*

      If you are both men, why not work husband? Or work spouse? Why use the female term when neither of you is female? It seems like you ascribe something to the role of wife that you don’t ascribe to a man, and I think there is an element there to why so many people find the term icky.

      1. James*

        Well it is true, terms become loaded over time and unfortunately gendered terms have a lot of baggage and have been used as insults. It is also true that it is rare and nice when you are comfortable with someone at work and can share and enjoy a joke together. It’s context specific and makes the days more pleasant.

  115. Megan*

    I have a work mum (from Australia) and to me it is the exact opposite of what you said: we don’t celebrate mother’s day or anything like that! She doesn’t parent me. (in the same way you think work wife means romantic relationship).

    For us, it means a close working relationship with the acknowledgement she is old enough to be my mother.

    1. KelseyCorvo*

      I would be very wary of this relationship and the way it comes off to others. Alison has covered this many times here on Ask a Manager.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I’m sure this is respectful acknowledgement of her experience, and just closeness like you said. However if I overheard this and wasn’t fully au fait with your dynamic I’d be a bit puzzled.

  116. Cam*

    Bi woman here, and I have a visceral negative reaction to the term “work wife.”

    As other queer ladies pointed out above, we’ve all noticed the homophobia that tends to come with the term. I find the term implicitly demeaning. It’s hard to be taken seriously as a woman just in general. I’ve had to fight to get to where I am despite rampant sexual harassment and accusations that I was promoted because I must’ve slept my way to the top. I don’t need anybody destroying the credibility I’ve worked so hard to build by implying a level of intimacy that isn’t there, especially with a male colleague.

    “Wife” implies a level of intimacy reserved for my spouse. Unless we’re married, then you are my colleague and nothing more, no matter how good of a professional team we make. Fences make good neighbors.

  117. just another queer reader*

    1) I am also deeply uncomfortable with this term (especially when someone else applies it to you! without your consent!)

    2) as a queer woman who has no intention of ever being in a relationship with a man, I am deeply unhappy/ upset whenever a person assumes or implies that I am.

    Heteronormativity sucks.

    I’m sorry this happened to you.

  118. Madame Arcati*

    I’ve never heard this term in the wild; nowhere but AAM. It is weird to me – if someone I manage said to me, here’s my work wife/husband, I would talk with them privately and suggest (not insist) that they consider not using the phrase as it comes across as inappropriate, people will probably assume you are in a relationship/affair, and is excluding to others – “I like/respect this colleague more than I do any of you!” That’s how office cliques start and I HATE cliques.
    Mostly though it seems unnecessary. I just don’t see the need for a term to rank how well I work with my colleagues. Yes, some you’ll mesh with better than others, that’s what happens with humans, but why do you need to give one of them a special title?!
    Tl;dr – using this term is likely to do more harm than good I reckon

    1. River Otter*

      If someone pulled me aside privately and told me that calling someone my work wife/husband/spouse implied I was having an affair with them, I would put that person in the category of people who say it is inappropriate for women to give greeting cards to men or be in the office alone with them. I would probably also warn other people that said person sees affairs in completely innocuous activities and to be cautious when interacting with said person.

  119. FalsePositive*

    “Work wife/husband” is in the category of “pet parent” for me. It’s not my thing, but I’m not going to stop other people from using it.

  120. GlitterIsEverything*

    Huh. Maybe it’s the field I work in, but I’ve always heard work wife to describe a relationship between two women. The person each of them can rely on, without question, for anything work-related. Their go-to “I need help” person, who never judges, just jumps in to help.

    That said, I refer to my son’s BFF’s mom as my baseball wife, for the same reason. And I’m referenced in multiple places as a work mom / baseball mom.

    I totally understand that not everyone is ok with this alternative use of what can be loaded terms. Though I have to say, I’ve generally had people use them to describe themselves first.

  121. Meow*

    Personally, I think the terms are inherently problematic and gendered. Women make less money and face discrimination at work much more frequently then men, and when it comes to heterosexual marriages/long term relationships, women do more of the caregiving, household management and emotional labor – bringing that dynamic, even in name only, to a work situation feels gross to me. I’ve also seen occasions where the term has been used for women who perform primarily administrative work and in my experience about 50% of the time someone uses this term there actually is some underlying flirtation. All of that together just makes the term feel very off to me. I wouldn’t try to police others use of the term if both sides are comfortable but would never tolerate someone referring to me that way.

    A couple posters mentioned “friend” not seeming like a strong enough term. I find that strange as I have many friends outside of work who I feel much more strongly about than my coworkers and the term seems to suffice just fine. It feels a bit juvenile on top of what I said above.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      This is one of the best comments, I think. The whole dynamic reminds me of the famous “I want a wife” feminist essay.

  122. River Otter*

    What I have learned from this comment section is that the way people view the term work wife/husband reflects the way they view actual wife/husband. If you think a marriage is about a sexual relationship, then you see the term work wife/husband as implying a sexual relationship. If you think a wife is someone who does all the low level emotional labor and PA work, you think a work wife is the person who does the emotional labor and PA work. If you see a marriage as a collaborative partnership, then you see a work wife/husband as a collaborative partnership. If you see a marriage as containing affection and friendship, then you see a work wife/husband at someone with whom you have affection and friendship. I think the takeaway here for me is that I should not read anything at all into someone who uses the term work wife/husband because they are probably using it to mean something different than I would mean.

  123. GoldenHandcuffs*

    Oh this is interesting…thank you LW for writing in about this. I have used this term to refer to myself and my best work friend (both female – I’m hetero but don’t her orientation) but I’m now rethinking it overall. She never minded and referred to me as the same but she’s since left the company. I don’t think I’ll be using this term in future knowing that it makes other uncomfortable.

  124. Dodecahedron*

    The only time I ever heard the term “work wife” was when my own wife and her best-best-buddy-at-work (a guy) would refer to each other, in a clearly jokey tone. (in this case they were both the wives).

    Now, we’re a queer polyamorous family (and I’m a trans woman), so we don’t carry a lot of the baggage that might make that term sting for some people (plus, it couldn’t be more clear that these two are just good friends), but on balance I’m not super enthused by the term, and I can see why it would be contentious for many people.

    There’s just something about it that gestures toward some unpleasant dynamics, which in our case were counter-balanced by the obvious jokey-ness and the queer gender dynamics.

  125. H3llifIknow*

    I had a male colleague that I worked together with for 13 years and we shared an office. We always called each other our work spouse. It wasn’t romantic; there was nothing at all inappropriate, but we probably knew more about each other than our spouses did in many ways. I knew to remind him of appointments, he’d remind me to take a breather and eat when I got stressed and too in the zone. We traveled together to visit client sites, and ate every meal together, as well. It was really more about our level of knowledge and comfort (oh and bickering…plenty of bickering) that made us and our co-workers call us “work spouses”. Even my hubby called “Doug” my work spouse and his wife had no issues with introducing me as “Doug’s work wife”. *Shrug* we all have differing levels of ick tolerance, I guess.

  126. Editrix*

    The first time I used this term in front of my mom, she responded, “What’s that, someone who does all your work for you?” I think about it often.

  127. Florida Fan 15*

    I think this is one of those YMMV things. I’ve heard it used occasionally at my office and never in a good way. Not sexual, but always about straight people of the opposite sex and negative. Think Doofus Incompetent Man, Competent but Shrill Harpy Woman sitcom trope (complete with possessiveness by Woman if another woman so much as smiles at Man). Only applied if the man equals or outranks the woman.

    I wouldn’t assume people in other jobs mean the same thing by it, but I know what people here mean and I hate it. I haven’t heard it lately and I’m glad.

  128. Seashell*

    The only time I’ve heard this term used in real life was when my friend, who is an out gay man, used it to refer to a female co-worker. I’m sure they have no risk of being confused for an actual couple. In other circumstances, I might find it a little awkward.

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