Voices: My sympathies lie with Holly and Phil – I broke up with my ‘Work Wife’ and it broke my heart

·4-min read

Everyone needs a “work spouse”.

You start out as friends but pretty soon you are sharing pointed looks, finishing each other’s sandwiches and are, from the moment you walk through that office door in the morning, joined at the hip.

Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield have co-hosted ITV’s This Morning for 14 years — they are the textbook definition of a “work wife” and “work husband”. Which is why it stings that their relationship has reportedly hit a rough patch.

After The Sun reported that the two “barely speak” off camera and that issues have “rumbled for some time”, Schofield shared a statement saying that while “the last few weeks haven’t been easy for either of us”, he views Willoughby as his “rock”.

Oh dear. There are few things more painful in life than the loss of a work spouse.

I know. I used to have a work wife.

For six years, I worked with a colleague in academia who quickly became my BFF. Let’s call her Claudia. Claudia and I wrote together, taught together and socialised after work. If Claudia and I weren’t together in person, then we were probably messaging each other. Claudia kept me (relatively) sane; she made me laugh, and she both aided and abetted my sugar addiction. If ever I was having a bad day, I’d go to her office and she’d serve me gallons of tea, empty her secret snack drawer and plonk the lot in front of me to work through. What’s not to love? I’m getting teary-eyed simply writing in the past tense.

You see more of your work wives and/or husbands than your actual partners. She was the Morecambe to my Wise; the Ant to my Dec; the French to my Saunders. She was my North, my South, my East and West, my working week – she was the best. Until she wasn’t – on the day I left.

I left my job and that also meant leaving my work wife. It was painful. I knew she felt that my resignation was a betrayal. I knew she felt hurt and abandoned. I knew that she felt left in lurch, after we’d worked so closely together for so many years.

The thing is, I didn’t want to leave her. She was the best thing, sometimes the only good thing, about turning up for work. What’s certain is that my resignation would have come years earlier if she hadn’t turned up and turned my 9-to-5 around.

As the poet said, doesn’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you've got until it’s gone? There’s always the fevered promise that you’ll both “keep in touch”, and we have, but it’s not the same. It can’t be the same because you’re no longer in the trenches together. You’re no longer a team. A work wife/husband is an extraordinary relationship. It’s geographically and temporally situated. The dynamics shift irrevocably once one of you leaves. It feels, frankly, like a heartbreak.

That’s why I feel sad for Phil and Holly – if the rumours of a feud turn out to be true. It might not seem like a big deal to many of you but for the two of them, for a while at least, it will probably feel like a bereavement. And to the viewers of the show, who’ve allowed the pair into their homes every weekday for well over decade, who laughed along while the hosts collapsed in fits of giggles at the antics of celebrity chef Gino D'Acampo, a break-up will likely feel poignant for them too.

Our work spouse witnesses us in situations that our family and friends never would. They make us happier, more productive, more content in the workplace. In fact, managers should actively encourage work spousal arrangements – it would probably help with staff retention. Work wives and husbands know what our lives are like in and out of the home. They understand when we moan or rejoice about work, especially when family and friends are bored to tears.

A work wife/husband is a precious thing. In fact, I’m going to message my ex right now.