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A couple at home and the office? It can work

 Northeastern chemical engineering professors Abigail and Ryan Koppes work in the same lab.
Northeastern chemical engineering professors Abigail and Ryan Koppes work in the same lab.(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)

The idea of working with a spouse is unfathomable to some people.

Separating work from home is crucial to a happy marriage, they say: We’d get sick of each other. We’d be at each other’s throats.

Yet plenty of couples do it — and love it. Yes, it’s harder to leave work behind, but the “Honey, how was your day?” conversation is much more engaging.

Work is where many people find love, after all. More than a third of workers surveyed last year for the employment site CareerBuilder said they had dated a co-worker, and about a third of those relationships led to marriage.

But complications can arise.

Once, a husband and wife who work at Arbella Insurance in Quincy applied for the same position and the wife got it, said human resources director Ellen Mann. They are still married, she noted. Perhaps more telling: “They still have lunch together.”

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In honor of Valentine’s Day, the Globe tracked down happily co-employed couples to talk about intertwining their personal and professional lives.

Abigail and Ryan Koppes are married and have known each other since the age of 15.
Abigail and Ryan Koppes are married and have known each other since the age of 15.(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)

THE RIGHT CHEMISTRY

Ryan and Abigail Koppes have been inseparable since they were 15-year-olds in Western Massachusetts. They were on the ski team at a private high school in Gill, went to college and grad school together in Troy, N.Y., and had internships at the same company in Cleveland. Today they have offices next to each other at Northeastern University, where they are both chemical engineering professors and frequently collaborate on research to treat nervous system injuries.

They commute together from Charlestown on the Orange Line and walk to Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee a few times a day. Oh, they also run marathons together.

They say their closeness makes their work better. They can bounce ideas off each other, edit each other’s papers, keep each other on track.

“We can look across the couch and say, ‘Did you get my e-mail?’ ” said Abigail, 31.

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But they worry about what other people think. When they were working together in Cleveland, they changed their Facebook status so no one would know they were dating.

“We have this trepidation of how it will impact people’s professional views of us,” said Ryan, 30.

The only potential pitfall they see is tenure, which they will both be up for in a few years. If one of them doesn’t get it and has to look for a job elsewhere, they may both do something else entirely: Ryan dreams of making surfboards; Abigail could become a clay ceramics artist. They would still collaborate, of course — maybe on the ultimate surfboard design.

Valentine’s Day plans: Going to the Boston Wine Expo at the Seaport Hotel.

Ryan Lund and Maryellen Harrington are an engaged couple who both work for Arbella Insurance in Quincy.
Ryan Lund and Maryellen Harrington are an engaged couple who both work for Arbella Insurance in Quincy.(Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)

HAPPINESS INSURED

At Arbella Insurance, where there are about a half-dozen married couples and many more dating, Ryan Lund’s co-workers hounded him for years to propose to his girlfriend, who also works there. When he finally popped the question last year on Castle Island, news spread quickly. His fiancee, Maryellen Harrington, kept getting congratulated by people she barely knew.

The couple’s jobs only overlap when Harrington’s computer is on the fritz — he works in IT and she’s a business analyst. They don’t usually commute or eat lunch together. But when Ryan comes back from working at an agency, he’ll sometimes drop off a bagel or coffee at Maryellen’s desk.

If his co-workers hadn’t pressured him and he hadn’t been so stubborn, Ryan admits, he and Maryellen, 30, might have become engaged sooner. (The wedding is set for April 30.) “The more people brought it up, the more I would wait,” said Ryan, 29.

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But his colleagues, who know the value of personal property, helped him find just the right diamond. “She works in insurance,” he said. “You have to make sure it’s a good one.”

Valentine’s Day plans: Dinner and hitting the slots at Plainridge Park Casino.

Michael Kadra and Stephen Franklin, husbands and co-owners of Sydney's of Sudbury salon.
Michael Kadra and Stephen Franklin, husbands and co-owners of Sydney's of Sudbury salon.(Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff)

A STYLISH UNION

The 30-minute commute from Newton often turns into an impromptu business meeting for Michael Kadra and Stephen Franklin, who own the salon Sydney’s of Sudbury. “Our conversation tends to go, ‘Well, what do you think about Mary Jo’s color?’ ” said Stephen, 68, who handles the books. “ ‘Do you think it was too red? Do you think it should it be a little blonder?’ ”

Stephen and Michael, 72, the salon’s sole hairstylist, met in 1976 in a disco on Lansdowne Street and got married a few days after gay marriage was legalized in 2004. They live in Newton with their two shih tzus, Molly and Dudley, who also make the daily commute to the salon in the couple’s Cadillac.

Running a business can be stressful, and the duo doesn’t always see eye to eye. But whatever disagreements they may have get resolved quickly.

“I just give in, so it’s easy,” Michael quipped.

“That’s because I’m always right,” Stephen replied.

Despite their close proximity in the 1,200-square-foot salon, they said they truly enjoy being together 24/7 – unlike some of their married clients who go on separate vacations.

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Valentine’s Day plans: Going to Provincetown, where they own a home, and having dinner at Mac’s Seafood with longtime friends.

Brigham and Women's Hospital plastic surgeons E.J. Caterson and Stephanie Caterson are married and work together.
Brigham and Women's Hospital plastic surgeons E.J. Caterson and Stephanie Caterson are married and work together.(Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)

OPERATING ON TRUST

Plastic surgeons E.J. and Stephanie Caterson sometimes operate on patients side by side, moving quickly to transplant tissue and sew blood vessels after they have stopped the blood supply — called ischemia (is-KEE-mee-uh) time.

In 2008,the duo set the record for the fastest ischemia time (31 minutes) for microsurgical breast reconstruction at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, although colleagues good-naturedly complained they had an unfair advantage because they were married and attuned to each other’s rhythms. (Stephanie broke the record with another doctor — 27 minutes — a year later.)

The Catersons have separate specialties — hers is breast reconstruction, his is craniofacial. But they have done six face transplants together, including one on Valentine’s Day in 2013. They say working together is reassuring not only to each other, but to their patients, who feel they are in the hands of doctors who truly trust each other.

E.J., 41, and Stephanie, 43, have three sons age 5 and under. They get plenty of help from nannies — two full time and one part time — but they are grateful their jobs allow them to converse without the kids getting in the way. “We don’t spend enough adult time together because things are so crazy at home,” Stephanie said.

Valentine’s Day plans: Chocolate — a Reese’s peanut butter heart for E.J., chocolate-covered pretzels for Stephanie “if he’s smart.”

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Ziyad Elmoussa and Sonya Martin are married and work at Legal Sea Food's headquarters.
Ziyad Elmoussa and Sonya Martin are married and work at Legal Sea Food's headquarters.(Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)

WHEN BOOBOO MET BUBBA

Sonya Martin and Ziyad Elmoussa dated long distance at first — she was in Boston, working as the assistant director of mail order operations at Legal Sea Foods, and he was selling hand-beaded belly dance costumes in New York. Sonya, 39, persuaded Ziyad, 43, to move here, and then helped him get a job in the Legal warehouse. Seven years later, the couple have desks about 50 yards from each other — albeit on opposite sides of the warehouse door — at Legal headquarters in the Seaport District.

When holiday orders pile up, Ziyad puts in extra hours packing boxes, which he knows makes his wife’s life less stressful because it helps the orders get out on time.

“Honestly, I’m just happy to see her every day,” he said.

At home in Jamaica Plain, they refer to each other by nicknames. She’s Booboo; he’s Bubba. But at work, they stick to Sonya and Ziyad. “Obviously when people are around we would never call each other pet names,” Sonya said. “When no one’s looking, that’s different.”

Valentine’s Day plans: Dinner and a movie the weekend after the holiday, to avoid the crowds; a watch for him and — usually — a purse for her.


Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.