Too Close for Comfort? : Some couples enjoy sharing the same career and office, but there may be such a thing as too much togetherness, says one clinical psychologist.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Maryann Hammers writes regularly for The Times</i>

Unlike most couples who gulp down coffee and peck each other on the cheek before setting out for separate work sites, Vickie Cardoza and Jeff Hall of Glendale not only live, eat and sleep together, but also work in the same cramped office where they share a single desk.

“We fight over the desk all the time,” said Hall, 37, who along with Cardoza, also 37, has for the past year owned and operated Properties Unlimited, a home-finding business for renters.

Kathi and Bob McLean, Westlake Village real estate agents, also spend virtually every waking and sleeping hour at each other’s side.


The McLeans use the same home and business offices, share property listings and show homes jointly.

“We are joined at the hip, personally and professionally,” said Kathi McLean, 47. “The advantage,” said Bob McLean, 42, “is that I can spend time with the one I love.”

But there may be such a thing as too much togetherness, cautions Burbank clinical psychologist Karen Weinstein.

“Couples who share the same profession, same office and same experiences have to be wary of losing their individual identities,” she said. “They may be quite successful in working together, but their business often invades and takes over their relationship.”

Cardoza concedes that work dominates her home life.

“Our business is with us 24 hours a day because we are with each other 24 hours a day,” she said. “We’ll say, ‘OK, we are not going to talk about work.’ Then a half-hour later we are talking about it.”

Work even tags along on family outings. On the drive home from a recent Sea World excursion, the two were so involved in conversations about the business that Cardoza’s 11-year-old daughter exasperatedly piped up, “Why don’t we talk about otters?”


One advantage of working together, according to Hall, is that he and Cardoza share the stress of running a company.

“If I have a problem, Vickie helps me handle it,” he said. “She knows about management and how to set up a business, and she will have insights I never would have thought of.”

Same-career spouses are more likely to share work goals and philosophies than those with separate professions, according to Weinstein.

“They have the advantage that they understand where the other is coming from,” she said.

Kathi McLean, for instance, worked as a real estate agent for 14 years before her husband joined her two years ago.

“Now that Bob also gets phone calls and interruptions while we are having dinner, he understands how encompassing the real estate business is,” she said.

Same-career couples do not always see eye-to-eye. Personal squabbles follow them to work and clashing professional viewpoints lead to fights at home.


But Richard and Kimberly Brehme of North Hollywood, who work in the emergency department at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, say such quarrels are very likely to blow over rapidly.

“Other couples leave the house angry, and they stew the whole day,” said Richard Brehme, 36, who works as a licensed vocational nurse 20 steps away from the office of his wife, who is an auditor. “We have the opportunity to work it out, face-to-face, and reconcile, which is my favorite part. Then there’s the hug. That’s another positive side to working together: You can’t hug over the phone.”

“We also don’t want co-workers knowing that we are having a problem,” said Kimberly Brehme, 28. “Richard likes to be the peacemaker, so he will come to me and say he is sorry.”

Despite the inherent difficulties of their constant closeness, Hall believes his relationship with Cardoza has strengthened.

“Most couples go off to work in the morning, come home in the evening, say, ‘How was your day?’ and let it drop,” he said. “But when you work and live together, you learn everything about the person. You know their every habit--good and bad. Sometimes we get on each other’s nerves, but if we can make it through this, our relationship must be pretty strong.”