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8 relationship lessons you can learn from 'The Office,' according to a therapist

Meghan Cook , Business Insider US
 Oct 03, 2019, 06:53 PM
"The Office" depicted both healthy and unhealthy relationships throughout its run.
  • NBC's comedy "The Office" contains a lot of healthy and unhealthy relationships that viewers can learn from in many ways.
  • Insider spoke to a therapist to figure out what practical information viewers and their partners can learn from the sitcom.
  • Being friends first can lead to a healthy romantic relationship.
  • Not regularly communicating with your partner can create an irreparable divide between the two of you.
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NBC's "The Office" is known for its hilarious pranks, memorable lines, and, of course, its unforgettable relationships.

To see what practical information viewers can glean from the various couples on the comedy series, Insider spoke to Matt Lundquist, a New York City-based therapist.

Here are eight valuable relationship lessons we can learn from "The Office."

Being friends first can sometimes lead to a strong and healthy romantic relationship.


Lundquist said even though these two have their quirks, Jim and Pam "are a solid example of a healthy couple" - and the two famously started out as close friends.

He explained that even though the characters were attracted to each other early on, their friendship allowed them to cultivate a meaningful relationship based on much more than appearances.

As Lundquist told Insider, their close friendship led to a stronger relationship down the road, as it gave them time to create the building blocks of a lasting partnership.

For example, being friends first allowed Jim and Pam to prove to one another that they will have each other's backs when things get tough and that they can have fun together.

When a relationship is kept hidden, it can be really difficult for a couple to thrive in a healthy way.


Although the series finale ended with Dwight and Angela happily married, the characters' relationship was most turbulent when they were keeping it hidden.

Early on, the pair kept their romantic connection secret from everyone in their lives, which stifled their ability to grow as a couple.

Ultimately, even though they eventually worked things out, Lundquist said he believes Angela and Dwight could have been happy as a couple much sooner if they had just been open about their relationship from the start.

"Private relationships are incredibly problematic," Lundquist told Insider. "Relationships need friends to help reality test what's safe and not safe [and] nurture the relationship. Private relationships, by definition, can't have that."

Dating a coworker can sometimes be complicated and unhealthy, especially if there is a major power imbalance at play.


Michael and Jan have one of the most unhealthy relationships on the show, largely due to the fact that Jan is Michael's corporate supervisor and she often held this power over him, even in their personal life.

"Jan wasn't shy about using her authority as a boss to manipulate Michael in the relationship," Lundquist told Insider. "That just doesn't work. On the show, we openly saw Michael making decisions about his relationship for reasons that have to do with job security. That's, by definition, coercive."

Ultimately, when dating a coworker, it's important to establish boundaries and discuss how a power imbalance could potentially impact the relationship early on.

That said, it is possible to have a healthy relationship with a coworker.


During later seasons, a more mature Michael developed feelings for an employee - but Lundquist said that Michael's relationship with Holly is entirely different from his relationship with Jan, even though similar power dynamics were still at play.

Michael and Holly are the healthy exception, not the rule, when it comes to work romances, said Lundquist.

Importantly, Michael and Holly's relationship had a lot of open communication and was not hidden. Plus, Michael did not use his power as Holly's boss to coerce her or make her feel small.

"The 'boss' in this case is quite safe; he doesn't use his power coercively. And, notably, unlike with Dwight and Angela, the relationship is not a secret," Lundquist said.

Not regularly communicating with your partner can create an irreparable divide between the two of you.

The Office / NBC

Erin and Andy's relationship was pretty strong for a while, but after Andy chose to go on a trip for three weeks, which turned into three months, things began to sour - especially because Erin had no way of communicating with Andy during this time.

Essentially, this major, sudden, and unwelcome lack of communication marked the end of the pair's relationship.

"At times, I've said to patients in this situation: 'If you're never together and never communicating, where's the relationship? Communication is the currency of the relationship,'" Lundquist said. "Without it, there's simply an idea of another person."

Plus, Andy chose to leave Erin and not keep in touch with her, which made the situation worse, as he could've made an effort to communicate with his partner.

"It's worth noting that Andy's absence wasn't beyond his control," Lundquist told Insider. "He made a decision to leave and stay away that wasn't respectful of Erin's needs, and it cost him the relationship."

Getting over an ex can be hard, but it's important to reflect on any underlying personal issues you may be dealing with if you want to move forward.


Coworkers drawn to drama, Kelly and Ryan both had bad relationship habits that often became worse when they dated each other.

Despite breaking up several times, they always found a way back into each other's lives. At one point, Ryan even says: "Maybe we weren't right together - but it's weird, I'd rather she be alone than with somebody. Is that love?"

That's not a healthy kind of love - and Kelly and Ryan's on-again-off-again flings showed how hard it can be to move on from an ex, especially if you're not focused on your own underlying issues.

Instead, to avoid repeating their past mistakes, Ryan and Kelly should have both looked inward.

"Both Kelly and Ryan are troubled characters, clearly grappling with heavy neuroses. If you don't work that out, even if you don't get together again with one bad ex, you'll find another relationship and repeat the same issues," he said.

Lundquist told Insider that when trying to get past an ex-partner, you have to work on fixing any underlying emotional issues you may have, which may require a bit of self-reflection.

In some cases, you may even want to speak to a professional.

Cheating can be incredibly painful for and harmful to everyone involved.


During season eight, Angela marries Robert Lipton. On the following season, Robert has a full-blown affair with Oscar, much to Angela's devastation.

Simply put, although it is not the only instance of cheating on the series, Oscar's affair with Robert shows that cheating rarely ever ends well and it always comes with a lot of consequences.

"There are many reasons why [affairs] end poorly, the two most common of which is that the cheaters get 'caught' and one or both of their lives are upended," Lundquist said. "The other, of course, is that the relationship stalls or ends in disappointment when the married partner elects not to leave his or her spouse, not allowing the affair to grow into a more serious relationship."

In this case, Oscar broke up with Robert and Angela asked Robert for a divorce.

Couples therapy can be beneficial to many, even those who are in fairly healthy, stable relationships.


During season nine, Jim and Pam's fairly stable relationship is impacted by Jim's career shift and the stress of an impending move to a new city.

When the changes start to cause arguments and resentment between the two, the Halperts start seeing a marriage counselor, which shows how therapy can help even those who are in a fairly healthy relationship.

"While couples certainly come to us in crisis, most of the couples we see for marriage counseling have, overall, healthy marriages, but are stuck in some ways, often very painful ways," Lundquist told Insider. "Good couples therapists work deftly to find and build on a couple's strengths."

Through therapy, Jim and Pam learn how to value each other more and communicate their needs. It also helps them see one another in a new light.

"Marriage is really several relationships all at the same time: sexual partner, roommate, co-parent - and in Jim and Pam's case, they were also carpool buddies and coworkers," Lundquist said.

He said navigating all of these roles can make it tough for couples to really listen to and talk to one another on a deeper level. And, in cases like this one, a skilled therapist can help couples break out of these bad habits.

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