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Page 2 / IDEAS, TRENDS, STYLE AND BUZZ | Birds and
Bees

Partnering in Both Love and Work Can Be Thorny--and Seductive

February 26, 2001|KATHLEEN KELLEHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There is such a thing as too much togetherness. Or so goes the thinking behind the adage "familiarity breeds contempt."

For many couples, overexposure to each other leads to boredom, conversational voids and the death of romance and mystery. But the flip side is that rare breed of relationship in which a pair is partners both in love and in business. These couples somehow forge a bond that infuses the union with passion rather than diminishing it. For these couples, there simply is no such thing as too much togetherness.

"We actually have to force ourselves to be apart," said Bill Bush, who, with his wife, Inez, owns and runs Bush Communications Inc., a Marina del Rey-based marketing firm. "We really like each other. We have an appreciation for each other's strengths and weaknesses. While we don't always agree with each other, I don't respect anyone close to the level I do Inez. We are both really intense and intensely involved."

Besides running a business together, the Bushes, married for 17 years, volunteer for Project Angel Food (an organization that delivers food to housebound AIDS patients), do volunteer work at their two sons' Culver City schools and travel together for business and pleasure.

"We are both very powerful and controlling people," said Inez Bush, 42, who added that the couple sees a marriage counselor every other week to keep things running smoothly. "I could see how working together would break a relationship. We have a rule that we don't talk about work in the morning before going to the office so we don't have conflict. If we start getting into a conflict, we stop."

It can be difficult to separate one's work persona (vice president) from one's home persona (wife-lover), said Pepper Schwartz, a University of Washington sociologist and author of a 1994 book about egalitarian marriages, "Love Between Equals" (Free Press). "What happens when a person lost a sale or stepped on your toes, that is when it can get really dicey," said Schwartz. "That is where what happens during the day can determine what happens in the bedroom at night."

How things go in the bedroom often depends upon how a well a couple is able to separate work from home, said Schwartz.

Schwartz, who based her book on a study of 100 couples, said that couples who worked together had difficulty coming home from the office with enough energy for intimacy. "The couples who did really well at overcoming this issue were able to take on different personas in bed," she said, adding that one dot-com couple engaged in role playing. (She was a sex kitten to his dominator man.)

"This provoked me to ask the question to the couples 'Do you consciously create a sexual world that is different from work life?' Couples who were pretty successful sexually often did that. That is something that I think people in general should do to enliven their sex lives."

The work-love partnership is a complex one, said Schwartz, but it offers enormous chances for solidarity and passion. Suzzy Canny started working with her husband of six years, Thomas Canny, in his West Hollywood photo retouching studio seven years ago. Although she has since taken another job, the Van Nuys couple still work together part time, which allows them to be connected in something they both feel passionate about.

"We just love being together," said Suzzy Canny, 50. "It did take an adjustment. In the beginning, I took everything personally. My whole relationship was based at any given time on the tone of voice he used at work. He would say, 'This isn't about you. I am just frustrated at work.' We have had to work on that."

Thomas Canny, 52, overcame his fears that working with his wife was not a good idea. "She is just really affable and a great communicator," he said. "I really like being with her, and I always call her my partner in every way." But, he added, "it's a challenge sometimes the same way it is for any two people working together."

Couples who are able to work together, said Schwartz, do so because the fit is good at home and at work and, ultimately, the mutual respect is seductive. "Couples working together as a team really need each other, and their connection is synergistic," said Schwartz. "Each gains traction from the other. They admire one another. Admiration is a sexy thing." And you can always try a little office sex after hours.

Kathleen Kelleher can be reached at kellehr@gte.net.

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