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Same-Career Couples: The Joys and the Challenges of Working Together

December 15, 1986|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | Gray lives in Van Nuys. and

Imagine overhearing a fellow police officer's call for emergency help over the car radio, something officers say is one of the most frightening parts of the job. Now consider what it would be like if the fellow officer were your spouse.

When Nick MacArthur, a police officer at the 77th Street Division in Watts, was investigating a possible stolen car, he heard a help call issued by his wife, Sandy, who works out of the same division. He had no idea what circumstances caused her to request help so urgently (it turned out she had been shot at by someone who mistook her for a prowler), but he couldn't leave the car he had discovered. He could only wait, and listen.

Few same-career couples undergo that degree of suspense in their daily work lives, but, as more and more women are joining the work force, it's increasingly common to find husband and wife sharing both home and work.

Couples are everywhere: in a squad car, in a doctor's office, or starting a business together. National support groups such as Dual Doctor Families, based in New Jersey, are springing up to offer assistance to specific types of same-career couples with common interests and problems.

No National Statistics

Kathleen Cottrell, a senior associate at Catalyst, a national New York-based nonprofit organization that researches career and family developments and options, said that the number of same-career couples nationally is not available, but believes it is on the increase.

Catalyst has found that companies are facing challenges caused by the rising number of couples working in the same types of jobs. It has developed a paper on "Nepotism Policies and Company Couples," and wonders how firms will handle the new situations that same-career couples cause. For example, what will happen when a corporate takeover creates a company couple, or when two spouses employed in the same company reach the same level on the corporate ladder, forcing them to work together?

Same-career couples aren't a new phenomenon. Marion Solomon, a Westside psychotherapist in private practice, said that the situation is only new to 20th-Century America. "From the guilds in the Middle Ages to the farmers who worked together on everything, the concept of the same-career couple is not new. The industrial society made the same-career couple an anomaly, for a while. Now I see more and more such couples all the time," she said.

Solomon said that there are all kinds of same-career couples, everything from "mom-and-pop couples who run a corner store to the lawyer whose wife goes back to law school because she decides it might be interesting." Some couples, by the nature of their work, are set up for competition and fault finding, she said, while others succeed largely because they share a mutual goal and many interests.

Like Sandy and Nick MacArthur, some couples get attention not just because they're a same-career duo, but also because it's unusual for a woman to be in the field at all. Pam Powell, co-pastor with her husband, John, of the First Presbyterian Church of Sherman Oaks, said that in their case, "first there's the female pastor issue, and then there's the clergy couple issue."

The Powells both attended Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena at different times, and met through a mutual friend. When they came to their Sherman Oaks church, they shared one job and one salary for two years.

Church membership has increased 25% since they started their co-ministry 3 1/2 years ago, they said. "If they (the church members) want a traditional figure they have a man, if they want a non-traditional model, they have a woman," John said. "We do weddings together and funerals, although Pam has been singled out by one of the children as a 'sticker evangelist'; she gives the kids stickers as they leave church on Sunday," he said.

The couple doesn't do marriage counseling together, however. They tried it one or two times and didn't like it.

"We function as any multiple staff would, but the final decisions are made as a partnership," Pam said. They alternate turns at preaching, and they equally share responsibility for their three children, ages 17, 12, and 7.

"One of the tough parts (of being co-pastors and husband and wife) is that our differences have to remain totally between us. Any show of any discord causes ripples in the church," Pam said.

One of the things common to same-career couples who work together is that the work and the relationship become one.

That's true also for Kevan and Debbie Hall, co-owners of Couture, a Los Angeles-based firm that designs and produces women's special occasion and evening wear geared for the younger, affluent customer. Their 4-year-old firm sells to Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman-Marcus and other department and specialty stores.

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