I’ve been having some really interesting discussions with people regarding boundaries in the workplace and what boundaries are needed to protect your marriage relationship. There are a lot of different thoughts on this topic and I’ve loved discussing them all. I’ve learned that boundaries are important to have in the workplace, whether you’re single, dating, engaged or married. And I’ve come to realize that everyone’s ideas of appropriate boundaries are very different. The one thing that’s been true across the board is that every marriage, whether it’s strong or struggling, needs boundaries to protect the people in it and the relationship.
Why is it important to set workplace boundaries?
Let’s talk about one of TV’s favorite couples, Jim and Pam Halpert from ‘The Office’. I know, everyone loves them and was rooting for them to be together from episode one, but if you stop and think about it, their relationship is a little cringe-worthy when it comes to boundaries. Their entire friendship toes the line between friends and more than friends. And even after they are married, the boundaries they have aren’t solid and put their relationship at risk.
When Jim is in Florida for a business trip, Cathy has her sights set on him and based on some things she’s seen at work, thinks that she can come between Pam and Jim. While Jim isn’t in any way interested in Cathy, he doesn’t set clear boundaries, like not even allowing her to come in his hotel room, which causes some less than ideal situations for him. And later in the series, when Jim is living in Philadelphia and he and Pam get into a fight, Pam turns to a friend for comfort and ends up getting more than she bargained for as well.
Even if you have no intentions of letting other relationships get in the way of your marriage, it can happen. Having solid boundaries in place will protect you and your marriage. Most full time employees spend more time with the people that they work with each day than they do with their family and their spouse.
How to Set Boundaries at Work to Protect Your Marriage
Set boundaries that are right for you
One of the people I talked to said that if the boundary isn’t right for you, there will be no follow through. Without follow through, having boundaries is pointless. You have to decide what boundaries are going to be important for you to set and then set them in a way that you will keep them. Where do you feel uncomfortable at work? Are any of your coworker relationships getting too friendly? I have more suggestions below for things to consider as you start tailoring boundaries to fit you personally.
Discuss your boundaries with your spouse
You might feel like the relationships that you have with coworkers are healthy, but your spouse might not. If your spouse expresses concerns, it’s time to sit down and chat. Find out what about a particular friendship makes your spouse uncomfortable and don’t brush their feelings off with a, “there’s nothing to worry about”. Be willing to hear your spouse out and adjust your boundaries as needed to protect their feelings as well. This is just one more way that you can show that your marriage is a priority and that you care about how your spouse feels, their concerns and what they have to say.
Respect other people’s boundaries
I’ve seen a lot of people’s boundaries mocked and ridiculed, particularly politicians whose lives are very public. And while other people are making fun of those boundaries and calling them uptight, I respect them for knowing where they want to draw the line. If someone voices a boundary that they have, don’t question it or try to justify their making an exception, respect the boundary and make it work. I know that this can be difficult at work when it comes to meetings or other important gatherings, but making arrangements to respect those is important!
Listen to what other people are saying
If someone hints at you and someone other than your spouse being in a relationship or being friendly, it might be time to step back and reevaluate your boundaries and how close you are with them. Going back to my reference from ‘The Office’, when Pam goes to Jim’s party and Phyllis teases about her and Jim having feelings for each other, Pam realizes that things might be getting too friendly and puts up some walls. Even if you think that other people’s perception of a relationship is way off base, take what they say into serious consideration and find other ways to get what you need to done without pushing them to break those.
Workplace Boundaries to Consider Setting
Avoid being alone with a member of the opposite sex
I think this is the first thing people think of when they start to consider setting boundaries at work. I remember one politician who had a rule that he would never be alone in a meeting, the car or for a meal with a female other than his wife. He got a lot of flack for that decision and people told him that it was really silly and limiting to his professional career. A few months later, accusations of inappropriate conduct started to surface toward other political figures, and I couldn’t help but wonder if his boundary seemed as silly now.
If this is a boundary that you feel you could benefit from, set it. It might mean that you drive in separate cars and meet someone at a meeting or meet up for lunch rather than driving together. You could ensure that your meetings take place somewhere you can be seen. I loved that the last office I worked at built conference rooms with windows so anyone walking by could see into the room.
Don’t discuss your marriage struggles with others
If you are having trouble getting along with your spouse or agreeing on something, don’t turn to a coworker to talk about it. It doesn’t matter if that coworker is male or female, word can get out that you’re having problems and it can cause some unwanted attention from others at work. Have a friend outside of work as a confidant, even though it might be easier to talk to a desk mate or someone you share a lunch break with every day.
Remove the term "work spouse"
Whenever I hear people referring to someone as their “work wife” or “work husband”, I cringe. The term implies that you have an intimate relationship with someone other than your spouse (click here for the beyond physical definition of intimacy). Whether your spouse is ok with this term or not, I recommend kicking it to the curb and reevaluating the relationship you were using it for. Do you need to set more boundaries to ensure that that friendship isn’t viewed as something it’s not or turn into something you didn’t intend it to be later on down the road?
Tell your spouse about things first
I think this is a good rule in general. When something happens that you want/need to share with someone, be sure to share that news with your spouse first! If you get a raise, if you find a new favorite restaurant that you love, if you’re wearing two different shoes, etc. It might seem silly, but getting into the habit of always telling your spouse first or asking for their input on things first (unless it’s work related and doesn’t need their input), helps you to put them first always.
Don’t go out after work regularly without your spouse
I know a lot of people who go out for drinks, appetizers, dinner, or to play games with coworkers on a regular basis and I think that’s great! It starts to cross a line when you’re avoiding going home by going on those outings, or if you’re regularly going out with members of the opposite sex to spend more time with them or
Avoid the appearance of favorites
Grabbing something from the break room for the same coworker on a regular basis, always picking someone to be on your team for projects, etc. These are things that can be seen as playing favorites. I’m not talking about those times when you do things because you sit next to each other or they’re good at their job. If you are going out of your way to bring someone their favorite drink or a treat or wanting to be on their team for projects because it means you can spend more time together, you may need to set some boundaries.
Do you know a coworker better than your spouse?
If I asked you what your spouse’s favorite drink is, would you know? What if I asked you the same question about your coworker? Because we spend a large part of the day with those we work with, it’s easy to learn their preferences and habits. I’m not saying that you have to put blinders on and not get to know the people you work with all day. My suggestion is just to make sure that you know the same things about your spouse. What does your spouse do to relieve stress? Where do they go for lunch and what is their regular order? Think about those things that you know about the people you work with, just as a result of being around them often, and make sure to find those things out about your spouse.
Obviously not all boundaries are right for everyone, but I hope you’ll start to be more aware of when your work relationships might start to cross the line into something inappropriate. A lot of times people don’t realize until it’s gone too far and someone has the wrong idea, or one party in the friendship thinks it’s something more than it is. Boundaries aren’t there to restrict or make things difficult, they are meant to protect everyone involved!
What boundaries have you set in the workplace?