Here’s your predicament: Your partner hates your boss. They met once at the Christmas party, where your boss spent the entire night talking about his vision for the future of staple guns, and why he’s the only person that could possibly take the company to full staple gun synergy, and ever since then, your partner has been wondering why the heck you work for this staple gun-obsessed, conceited jerk.
This was basically the story at the heart of Sue Shellenbarger’s 2002 article in The Wall Street Journal (except for the staple gun part), where she referred to this proverbial pickle, as, “a whole new love triangle”:
“One of life’s trickiest relationships is your spouse’s relationship with your boss. Managers’ attitudes and demands have a huge impact on home life. Yet unlike the days of the Organisation Man, when entertaining the boss was a favourite sitcom gambit, spouses and managers in today’s churn-and-burn corporate cultures seldom get to know one another well. The result: Household tensions, hidden agendas at work and sometimes blow-ups that can damage your marriage or career.”
To her point, it’s true that these days, the traditional sitcom trope of invite-your-boss-over-to-dinner has all but been abandoned. Nowadays, there are relatively few opportunities — annual office parties, the occasional happy hour outing — where your partner and your boss will have to sit across from one another and actually attempt a conversation.
“I can almost not imagine a spouse or partner having that loud of a reaction to their partner’s boss because generally, time with that person is limited to a few work-related events or parties annually,” says Susan Heathfield, an HR expert with more than 30 years of experience.
With this in mind, she recommends adopting everyone’s favourite and most utilised conflict-resolution tactic: Avoidance. “In general, I’d recommend limiting the amount of time they spend together,” explains Heathfield. “Even at a company event, they don’t have to sit with the boss or spend any time past courteous greetings. I’d also seriously limit the individual showing up at the office to encounter the boss, too.”
Heathfield admits, however, that the problem with this tactic is that employers view these company events as a chance to encourage teamwork, so not going isn’t a sustainable tactic, unless you want your boss to think that you’re not a team player.
Beyond your spouse’s in-person interactions with your boss, it’s also worth looking at how to balance your work life with your home life, especially in these days of nanny state startup culture, where companies are essentially trying to make your colleagues feel like a second family (insert two hours of gagging and vomiting noises here). The two are so closely intertwined that, never mind the amount of time you spend at your treadmill desk, time spent with your boss now also eats into the supposed free time that your spouse wants to share with you.
In order to not fuel that resentment, Heathfield says to be wary of complaining about your boss to your spouse. “If the situation is that [you come] home and complain about the individual every day, then the reporting spouse needs to take some responsibility for creating the hate environment,” explains Heathfield. “They need to consider changing jobs, or if their treatment by the boss really warrants intense dislike, they need to get themselves out of the situation before it tears them down and adversely affects the spousal relationship.”
In other words, don’t whine about your boss to your partner, then expect them to want to hang out with them. To Heathfield’s point, let’s look at the flip side of the problem — in 2015, The Evil HR Lady responded to someone asking what they should do when their boss’s wife hated him: “Bad bosses let their family members influence their business decisions. Good bosses control the family members. I don’t know which kind of boss you have, but you need to find out.”
Though the scenario is slightly different, the Evil HR Lady’s advice is worth mentioning because it touches on a similar notion put forward by Heathfield. As difficult as it may be to shield your home life from influencing your work life and vice versa, doing so is what could separate a good employee from a bad one — or a good partner from a bad one.
Overall, though, the goal is to make sure things don’t get so dreadful that you end up like this redditor who claimed that both his wife and his boss are making his life a living hell. Yes, you could consider seeking out your company’s own HR department as a way to cope with your boss, as per another redditor’s suggestion. But unless startups begin offering a spousal support department, that really only solves half the problem.