Spouses. Be it a wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, significant other or ‘new special friend,’ it’s a major element to your work environment.
First, remember it’s a job. You are not your clients’ best friend and soul mate. You are an employee. Even if think you’re the ‘Turtle’ to his ‘Vincent Chase’, when you’re on the clock, you’re not a friend but an employee who has a job to do. If there are issues between your boss and his spouse or family (I’m going keep using ‘his’ as a reference and let you, the reader fill in the appropriate title) you must remember, it’s your employer who’s paying your check. Often when new to a job, you will be welcomed with open arms by an employer’s spouse. Basically the motivation for the spouse is that if you are on their side, you will take care of them as well and make sure they have instant access to your boss. It’s a very fine line because by keeping your boss’s spouse happy, you will keep your boss happy. Upset the spouse and your boss now becomes a mediator, which I can promise you, they were not looking to have this be part of their job. During work hours, you have the ear of your boss. After hours, the spouse does. It goes without saying that you should NEVER speak poorly of your boss’s spouse. Whereas, your boss’s spouse can talk trash about you all they want. Seriously, who in the long run will win this battle?
Years ago, I had a boss who on the first day warned me that his spouse was ‘the jealous’ type. That even when he was on set, or in meetings, she would question if he really was where he or his past assistants said he was. It was a good heads up, and made me understand that he knew I was going to be challenged by her and there could be surprise calls from the gate saying ‘Mrs. X is here to see Mr. X.’ It will be ridiculous, and eyes will be rolled often, but this is an element of your boss and his spouse’s relationship and unless he tells you to contact a divorce lawyer, it is their dysfunctional relationship to endure and probably for some unknown reason, it works. Embrace that your boss at least sees the reality of the dysfunction and has made you privy to it.
Now, what to do when your boss actually does begin to ‘stray’ from his spouse? You may have come across an email, a voice mail, a personal note, or are noticing a ‘special friend’ calling the private line or spending a lot of time on the set or in the trailer. It may even become very obvious to everyone except your boss and the spouse. No matter what, take the (and I’m really dating myself here) Sgt. Schultz from ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ approach of “I hear nothing. I see nothing!” Granted, you are seeing and hearing the big-ass pink elephant in the room, but this is not your business. That said, if you know the ‘special friend’ is visiting your boss on the set and the gate just called you to say Mrs. X is at the gate, PROTECT YOUR BOSS! If your boss is really subconsciously looking to get caught, let him do it on his own time.
So what happens when the spouse begins to think you are “the special friend’ or becoming more important to your boss than the spouse? I suggest being very subtle about letting your boss know how great his spouse is. Take a pass when the boss invites you to a family outing. When the spouse comes to set or the home office re-create your boundaries and find a reason to let your boss and his spouse be alone or make sure the spouse is the center of attention. If your boss picks up on this explain that you are allowing him to have his “family time” which is a subtle way of saying you are resetting your boundaries. If you feel as though your boss is making your resetting of boundaries ridiculous and it’s now causing friction between the two of youtake a breath and choose your next words VERY carefully. Explain that you are sensing some tension from the spouse and you have no intention of causing any drama or bringing stress to your boss’s life.
If he “poo-poos” this (and I’ve always wanted to put that word to use in a blog) and feels YOU are being too sensitive and to get over it and come to the family dinner own that perhaps you may have been a bit sensitive but the intent was to protect him and avoid any drama. Then accept the invitation because you’ve now brought the situation to the front and if you keep distancing yourself from your boss and his family this will begin to reflect on you and that’s not going to get you anywhere except maybe in the unemployment line.
I’ve only touched the surface of how deep the relationship between you / your boss and his spouse can be. Every situation is going to be different. Try to tap into your own experiences when you’ve had a best friend who meets a new best friend or starts dating someone. It’s natural to feel a bit of rejection or a loss of grounding with your friend. What was the outcome? How could the outcome have been different? Part of being a great personal assistant is taking all your life experiences and making the achievements from your past work for you (and ultimately your boss) in the present.
I will admit it’s great when it feels like a love fest between you your boss and his spouse but at the end of the day you are just an employee. Never NEVER forget that.