Can I expect my partner to distance himself from someone who hurt me?
August 20, 2012 12:07 PM   Subscribe

You have been in a healthy relationship for a long time? Help me figuring out how to feel and what to do about a conflict of interest between my partner and me concerning a third person.

My partner and I work at the same place. I recently had a conflict with another co-worker and friend. Even though I have made my best effort to resolve the conflict, the co-worker seems to have chosen to ignore me instead of facing his feelings and me. My partner continues to be friends with the co-worker and they work together on several projects. I find myself being increasingly hurt by this. I would like to move on but am constantly reminded of the initial hurt during the conflict with the co-worker because he is in my partner's life. I also grow increasingly agitated about the fact that my partner does not stand up for me against the co-worker/former friend. I can't quite figure out what I feel exactly but there is disappointment and a feeling of betrayal in the mix. If you can relate to this situation, help me figure out what I feel, and do you think I am allowed to expect my partner to distance himself from a person with whom I am having a conflict?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
do you think I am allowed to expect my partner to distance himself from a person with whom I am having a conflict?

This isn't the correct question, because it glosses over the most critical piece of information: namely, that this person is a co-worker to both of you.

What your partner is doing is called "being professional" and not allowing their personal feelings to interfere with a business relationship.

What you are doing is called "being unprofessional" and you can get fired for it.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:12 PM on August 20, 2012 [80 favorites]

What wolfdreams01 said.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:15 PM on August 20, 2012

Have you tried talking to your partner about this? That might be the first step. If he/she refuses to recognize your concern then that might be something to consider. From what you've told us, though, I can't tell if you've even tried having a serious conversation about it.
posted by radcopter at 12:15 PM on August 20, 2012

do you think I am allowed to expect my partner to distance himself from a person with whom I am having a conflict?

Socially? Maybe. Depends on context, and there's not enough here to be able to tell one way or the other.

Professionally? No. wolfdreams01 is absolutely right.

Did this conflict happen at work? If it did, then you need to drop it completely and do your bloody job, just like this person is trying to do his.

If it happened outside of work, then the two of you maybe need to come to some kind of outside-of-work resolution to it, but while at work, your personal feelings for this person should basically cease to exist when you walk through that door.
posted by valkyryn at 12:16 PM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

I work at the same company as husband, and we frequently work with the same people, so this is where I'm coming from.

I understand your disappointment and feelings of betrayal. I might feel the same way. But - if you are going to work together, it is critical to separate work from home. Your partner cannot stand up for you at work, because he/she is just another coworker when you're at work. If you can't see it that way, you can't work together.
posted by desjardins at 12:17 PM on August 20, 2012 [9 favorites]

Your partner can't be your white knight at work. It's just not possible. It's rather hard to know what exactly to do without knowing the nature of your conflict. If it's work-related, then your partner has to stay out of it. If it's more personal, then you need to not let personality issues mess you up at work.

I do want my husband and my best friends to be in my corner, and for me! right or wrong, but I don't expect them to be ready to duel with my boss or a colleague on my behalf. If your partner acknowledges that you're unhappy and tries to make you feel better and listens to you grouse about this asshole at work, I don't really think you can expect more.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:19 PM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

they work together on several projects

So, no, he can't really distance himself. I'm not sure what you're asking; is your partner inviting this guy over to the house, or going out drinking with him?
posted by spaltavian at 12:19 PM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh, and stand up for yourself wrt the coworker, and take it to HR if necessary (I can't tell at all what you're upset about). It is totally not your partner's job to stand up for you.
posted by desjardins at 12:19 PM on August 20, 2012

You need to separate out the work and personal. If your partner is still friendly with this person outside of work then there is an issue. But if they are working on work projects together and have an amicable work relationship, that's totally acceptable.
posted by radioamy at 12:25 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it matters if your partner has heard your side of the conflict and can emphasize with you, even as they remain ina professional relationship with the other person at work. It also depends on the conflict. I won't lie... There are some topics that I need my partner to support me on just privately, and others both publicly and privately. It might help if you were clear if your partner supports you privately, regardless if his public professional demeanor.
posted by anitanita at 12:39 PM on August 20, 2012

If you object to your partner doing non-work-related stuff with this person, it's fair to bring your hurt up with your partner. But if you object to them working together, at work, then what you're asking is unreasonable (unless you've left a lot out).

Your former friend isn't under any obligation to "face his feelings" - he's behaving correctly for a workplace by avoiding you. If he does more (sabotage you, talk shit about you, harass you), then talk with HR.
posted by rtha at 12:41 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your partner cannot stand up for you at work, because he/she is just another coworker when you're at work.

I have worked at the same company as my wife, and I would go so far as to say your partner cannot stand up for you at work, even less so than any other co-worker might in a work-related conflict. You have to just sort of recuse yourself from conflicts that affect your spouse, or it can be very easy to accuse you of not handling the situation fairly.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:15 PM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Personally, I'd tell my Bear -- in a setting away from work --how upset I was with co-worker for ignoring me. Re my hurt feelings about him interacting with co-worker, assuming they are all on the job or job related, I'd keep them to myself because they are my problem, not the Bear's for doing his job.

On the job, I'd be pleasant, e.g. smile and say hi, to the co-worker, but otherwise not interact. The co-worker definitely does not have to talk re feelings or whatever prompted the problem.

Sorry about this. It can be tough managing the personal/professional boundaries, but you do have to do it. You do not want to put your relationship at risk by asking your partner to choose between professional and personal commitments.
posted by bearwife at 1:17 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

What Rock Steady said. I've also worked with my spouse and you have to be really, really careful to not appear to give preferential treatment. It was my experience that this ends up meaning you can give your spouse less favorable treatment than you could give anyone else.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:26 PM on August 20, 2012

The very first comment in this thread is spot on, I believe. However, like a few others, I wonder how far this extends outside of work. You mention that your partner is still friends with the guy. Does that simply mean that he's friendly toward him at work because they're partnered on several projects, or does that mean that he is hanging out socially outside of work? The former is required of him. The latter could, potentially, be an issue that you can talk to him about but, unless you can provide more information, it's tough to give good advice here.
posted by asnider at 3:00 PM on August 20, 2012

I think it's reasonable for you to feel uncomfortable if your partner is socializing a lot with this coworker outside of work, because clearly if he's going out for dinner with Phil-who-won't-speak-to-you that's kind of prioritizing his work friendships over your feelings.

But wolfdreams01 is absolutely right that it's none of your business how your partner and Phil interact at work (and I would include things like "grabbing lunch together on a workday" in "at work").

Your attitude is one of the reasons many companies discourage employees from dating their coworkers; your beef with Phil should be between you and him, not between him and your partner.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:43 PM on August 20, 2012

Everyone is right about you not being able to expect your partner to be cold to this coworker.

BUT, it sounds to me like you'd feel a lot better if your partner told you "honey, it really chaps my hide what he did. You were totally right and he is a pig. It's a tough situation for me to have to be professional with him every day. I just gotta grit my teeth and do it, but boy I wish I could give him what for."

I think it's not necessarily unreasonable to let your partner know that you would appreciate some validation of your feelings, in private, not at work.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:23 PM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is one of the main reasons that many companies would not allow spouses to work at the same place.
posted by bongo_x at 6:57 PM on August 20, 2012

being in a healthy relationship doesn't mean being in control of your partner's responses - if you are angry, hurt, or upset with a third party, it does not follow that your partner must be as well. if you actually work together in addition to being physically involved, then raise that sentiment an order of magnitude. a relationship is an alliance, not a merging of being.
posted by par court at 8:41 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everything depends on the nature of the conflict.

If the conflict is entirely a work-related one, then the proper stance is a professional stance, and your spouse must continue to act as required by the professional environment.

If the conflict is at a personal level, well, there are an awful lot of personal levels to have a conflict on. There is a threshold there where you take it to HR or your manager (assuming you have a sane manager), and they solve it. Spousal intervention not required.
posted by enkiwa at 11:13 AM on August 21, 2012

Your problem here is that you don't have the appropriate boundaries for someone who is working with their (romantic) partner. Unless you expect your romantic partner to get themselves fired on your behalf (and if they did you'd still have conflicts with this person you don't like!), this is way to much to ask for.

If your romantic partner is, well, partner, or otherwise involved in management or ownership of this business, it's professional for them to do what's best for the business as far as profitability, not getting sued, etc. If you want your romantic partner to torpedo a business they have an actual ownership interest in for you, this is so far outside of the bounds of good professional behavior that it's time to look for a new job if you want to keep this relationship.
posted by yohko at 11:17 AM on August 22, 2012

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