Can I be friends with husband's team's spouses?
February 7, 2008 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible for the wife of a CEO (me) to be good friends with the wives of my husband's management team spouses? We socialize a few times per year and I always sort of feel guarded with them. I like many of them a lot and would like them as friends. Part of me sees it as not a good idea though? Would it compromise my husbands relationships at work? Might there be trust and confidentiality issues? Maybe it is just about how close I get to them? Keeping boundaries as far as what we talk about? Staying away from talk about the company? Would I be able to share important things going on in my life or will it become company gossip---and spread like wildfire? Anyone here have experience with this?
posted by seekingsimplicity to Human Relations (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Unfortunately, I think that this would be difficult. I've seen some of this type of thing gone bad when I worked in HR for a Fortune 500 company. The wives would socialize, someone's husband had to fire someone else or was caught cheating with a secretary or had a bad performance review, and then things would get uncomfortable if not ugly.

You would have to have very clear, maybe even explicit, boundaries about talking about the husbands and the company. As in, never, ever do it. And everyone would have to be okay with that.
posted by jeanmari at 11:04 AM on February 7, 2008

Can you clarify your first sentence? Do these potential friends work for the company? That would affect my answer. I can't parse "wives of my husband's management teams spouses"
posted by neustile at 11:04 AM on February 7, 2008

Sure, you can be their friends. You can hang out with them at kids' soccer games, have holiday parties, etc. The key thing is that you have to respect your husband's position enough to not divulge any company information, and respect your friends' confidences enough not to let it spill over to your husband, if they start talking about job-related stuff.

This is actually not too difficult, as women don't often bring up the specifics of their husband's jobs. They are more likely to talk about how they are feeling overwhelmed, or brag about their kids or their husbands in terms of their home life, or mention how they wish they would chip in at home more. One exception is that they might complain if their husbands are working long hours, to which the expected response is usually a sympathetic ear, not for you to tell your husband to let theirs off early, anyway.

Your husband needs to be able to vent to you while trusting that you won't let it slip over to your friends when he is irritated with their spouses. You would have this going on with mutual acquaintances anyway, though, where you would both say things in private that you wouldn't bring up in casual conversation.

As for sharing personal issues, women tend to bond with other women, not think of each other as "his wife," so I don't think you would need to worry about them spreading personal gossip through the workplace via their husbands.
posted by misha at 11:07 AM on February 7, 2008

My husband was an executive at a small company that, over time, became a big company. The social situation for me was about the same throughout. No matter how friendly and compatible I was with his direct reports or their spouses, they always kept in mind that I was the boss's wife. That meant that they were somewhat guarded. Also, I can't say that they were "kissing up," but once my husband left that company, I did notice that many of them were a little less friendly, for want of a better word. I'm not trying to malign them at all, and I don't know if they were even aware of the change themselves. I just think it's natural to treat one's boss and his/her spouse with a little extra respect and solicitousness. There were a couple of exceptions: after my husband moved on, we became closer to two of those couples. While the working relationship was in effect, some distance remained. Once there was no longer a president/vice president thing going on, it was possible to be real friends.

I hate to admit this to myself, but I liked a lot of those other people better when they flattered and coddled me in the subtle ways that they did. Now that they no longer do that, I don't find myself thinking, "What a great person; I wish we could be friends."
posted by wryly at 11:28 AM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've been friends with the boss's wife. At the time, I wasn't a skilled executive spouse (i.e., not guarded) and it made everything really bad.

I could not bitch about my (now ex) husband. Ever. Because if it had anything at all to do with his performance - he saw a strippers in Vegas when he was supposed to be at CES, he drank too much over the weekend, blew off work to go go kart racing. A real friend you could moan about these things to. Heck, you don't want to bitch about finances or money because the purse strings are just two steps away and it sounds like you're not grateful for the salary. Every little thing can be seen as relating back if you let your guard down.

I've also seen another boss's wife, after a night of drinking with everyone, being super lax, turned to someone and said (I hope jokingly), "Hitting on your boss's wife. I'll have you fired!" It ruined the evening and put on damper on the hair letting down of earlier.
posted by Gucky at 11:56 AM on February 7, 2008

You're finding yourself in the role that political spouses have found themselves throughout history. There's a reason these social interactions tend to float along superficial topics.
posted by rhizome at 12:18 PM on February 7, 2008

If you could avoid coming across as Carmela Soprano (Queen Bee), it might be worth it. I'm not kidding, by the way - the Sopranos mirrors "real" life so much, it isn't funny.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:45 PM on February 7, 2008

Yes, it possible for you to be friends with the staff's spouses. Synthetic, ersatz and specious friends.

I was a CEO of a small firm for a few years. My wife's experience mirrors wryly's. You become an attractor in every social setting, the hub of activity, the object of people's attention. Your jokes become funnier and your insights deepen; you're suddenly wiser and definitely more popular. And you get used to it pretty damn quick, come to expect it, and are changed by it.

The business hierarchy creates a social dynamic that doesn't lend itself to "normal" friendships.

If my wife were typing this reply, she would probably tell you to be very guarded, enjoy any pseudo-friendships for what they're worth, and generally keep your employee and employee spouse relationships at arms-length.
posted by F Mackenzie at 12:56 PM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

It depends on your husband's style at the office.

If he's open with staff and shares personal stuff, you will be OK with discussing home life. If he's very formal at the office, you will need to maintain a formal relationship.

You need to remember that whatever you say about your husband will make it to his employees.

You should never talk about his work or his comments about co-workers. It's just too much of a minefield to navigate.

The real issue if you become close with the spouse of an employee and the employee has some issue like termination or layoffs or other bad thing. That puts everyone in a bad way.

I'm an SVP in a F500 company. My wife hates the corporate spouse role. There are a few co-worker's wives she has drinks with, but not many. She doesn't like going to dinners or anything like that. She's OK when it means a trip to London or Amsterdam, but otherwise, she dislikes my 'work world'.
posted by Argyle at 1:21 PM on February 7, 2008

My mum is in the exact same situation (wife of a MD) and she's friends with all the wives (and the female employees) of the company. There's even a social club or two dedicated to the wives of the company. (OK, weird way to say it, but you get my drift.) I grew up amongst all these ladies and they all know me quite well. One of her closest work-related friends is the wife of my dad's boss.

The awkwardness is there, though I figure that's more because she and my dad come from a racial minority while everyone else is from a racial majority.
posted by divabat at 4:53 PM on February 7, 2008

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