“New American Couples” Fulfilling Their Lives Together

Yesterday I did a post on how important it is to maintain your own life in a relationship. A few months back Marie Claire magazine did an article on how today’s “New” American couples do just that. The article featured 5 high-powered couples who keep it together despite highly independent lives. Many of their strategies to maintain their individuality but stay connected mirror the experiences of 40-something women I’ve interviewed. You don’t have to be a high-powered couple to make it work as these 40-something women show.  Let’s see how they compare:


1. On staying connected…

New American Couple:

“Such is the laid-back, you-do-your-thing-I’ll-do-mine approach Itzler and Blakely bring to their marriage. Both made their fortunes before marrying in 2008. They preside over their businesses from different cities: Blakely runs Spanx from Atlanta (their 21-month-old son, Lazer, typically travels with her); Itzler is based in Manhattan. “Home” is defined loosely — they own three residences. The deal: Both must be home in time for dinner every night. They rarely talk shop in their off-hours. “We’re both past the PowerPoint stage of our businesses. We’re older now and have other things we’re interested in,” explains Blakely.”

– Sara Blakely, 40, founder of Spanx, and Jesse Itzler, 42, cofounder of Marquis Jet and principal investor in Zico Water

40:20 Vision

“My husband travels a lot at certain times. It’s really, really easy to get disconnected if one of the two is travelling around a lot with children on top of that. You have to be aware that you need time to reconnect and you need to make the time. It could be as trivial as sitting on the couch after the kids go to bed and having a conversation. So many spouses I know do their own thing at night. Checking emails, working on a project. I would say 98% of the time, once our kids are in bed, we are together. It’s our time.”

– 40-something, former banker, married, 2 kids, Detroit

2. On the little things…small compromises and small indulgences…

New American Couple

“On weekends, she’ll watch Lazer, while Itzler, a marathoner, goes for a run. Every morning, she must get Starbucks (Grande Soy Chai Tea Misto, no foam, splash of water), no exceptions.”

– Sara Blakely and Jesse Itzler

40:20 Vision

“I would have to say, he has certain things that he needs to do that make him a feel good and be a better person. He needs to work out. He does that as much as he possibly can but over and above, his #1 commitment is to me and my kids. I think he has a really good set of priorities.  If he needs to get up at 6 in the morning and go running, I’m like “Fabulous! Go running. Just bring me a cup of coffee when you get back.”

– 40-something, former banker, married, 2 kids, Detroit


3. On both people doing what they do well…

Yesterday I wrote about a man who commented that when both parts of a couple do “what they do well” it means they are able to be less dependent on each other and therefore more supportive. These couples bear that out.

New American Couple

“I knew that he was a former basketball player, and I assumed he was just this NBA figurehead who didn’t do any actual work and wasn’t really engaged. It was astonishing to learn that he was running this organization — he was passionate about education reform and a very hard worker.

[The attraction was] definitely the work ethic. He had e-mailed, asking me to get involved with his school. I e-mailed back and said I couldn’t do it. It was 2 a.m. when I sent the e-mail, and just a few seconds later, I heard the ding! on my computer. He’d e-mailed back one word: “Nope.” I was impressed that he was working so late. And I loved the fact that he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

– Michelle Rhee, 41, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools System and founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, an advocacy group for children in public education, and Kevin Johnson, 45, former NBA player and current mayor of Sacramento, California


40:20 Vision

“We are both intellectually curious. I am not necessarily passionate about his [the music] industry, but I am fascinated by the business aspect. He doesn’t care about the nuances of my business [internet] but he is interested in the overall growth.  We are both very focused on our careers and independent. Maybe that is why we are both successful. “

– 40-something, business owner, mom


4. On growing in different directions but still being together….

New American Couple

“The ambition and independence that made them successful professionals were working against them. They sat down and agreed they’d been leading separate lives [and] agreed to try therapy. Now when Ling travels, she and Song Skype or video chat so they can see each other’s eyes (a therapist recommendation). They’ve pledged to get away together one weekend a month to see something new. Ling reconfigured her travel schedule to be home more. They’re opting out of social engagements and ramping up the lazy time together, pigging out on Chex mix, talking politics, going for runs, or cooking gumbo or vegetarian lasagna together.”

– Lisa Ling, 37, host of Our America, and Dr. Paul Song, 45, president and chief medical officer of CytoTech

40:20 Vision

“I think you can grow in different directions and still be together. What does “still be together” mean for us? It depends on the day. It could be just we’re watching a comedy or movie together that we like or we’re going to dinner the two of us. We do a date one night a weekend when we have time. We just go out just the two of us and try to not talk about the kids. Basically having something outside of raising your kids together or talking about the business of running the house and all that stuff.”

– 40-something, married, 3 kids, Chicago, IL

On joint and separate finances too…

New American Couple

“There are many things that we share and some that we keep separate — I have teenage daughters in private school and the associated responsibilities. I’ve never been good at finances. LouAnne is helping me to become better at it. She’s more organized than me. She’s helped me to plan. I feel less compulsive with her in my life and don’t really need the things that I once believed essential.

-Louanne Brickhouse (left), 40, VP of production at The Walt Disney Company, and Ilene Chaiken, 53, cocreator, writer, and executive producer of the TV series The L Word

40:20 Vision

“Maintain your own life but also start and maintain a new life with your spouse. Financially, you need to have a joint account and your own account. You need a joint account as well that you have some understanding of your situation and can sit down and discuss your life and your finances. You need your own account to maintain your own sense of self.

– 40-something, entrepreneur, married, mom of 2, Los Angeles, CA


5. On setting your own course…

New American Couple

This from a couple who decided to skip out on civilization and sail around the world…an unusual path that taught them many things in the first few years of marriage on dealing with the ebbs and flows of marriage and being equal partners.  So many 20-somethings tell me they feel like they have to fit all their travel and adventure in before marraige and baby…this couple shows you don’t have to. They even had their baby on board!

“We first had the idea for this trip in the spring of 2005. I was exhausted from my strategy consulting job, and one day I was complaining to Paul on the phone. He interrupted. ‘If you could be anywhere right now, where would it be?’ ‘Sailing around the world.’ It just popped out. Neither of us had ever sailed, and the idea sounded expensive. After that phone call, we began sailing every weekend. We bought our boat in May 2007, for $150,000. It sounds like a lot, but the boat would be our home. At first, we called the trip an extended honeymoon — we left soon after our wedding. We thought we’d only be gone a year. Now it’s been three years.

At first, I didn’t want Paul to see me get really seasick, but we’ve become more comfortable around each other. Now getting sick is like having a runny nose: It’s no big deal. But just because we’ve seen each other at our worst doesn’t mean we aren’t romantic. On Valentine’s Day 2010, we were in Malaysia, and Paul surprised me with local pancakes from a street vendor and a bouquet. Our relationship has become more passionate. We don’t have the “I’m too tired to fool around after work” dilemma. We have time on our hands, which is fun.Sure, we’ve had torn sails, engine failure, and dead autopilots, but nothing we couldn’t handle. And when we sail, our decision-making is fairly equal.”

40:20 Vision

“He was younger and always thought he wanted to sail around the world before getting married. I was turning 40 and knew I wanted to have a child. So I said fine. Let’s sail around the world. We quit our jobs and got married. A month later we bought a boat and sailed half way around the world. The deal was just towards the tail end of the trip I would get pregnant. We both got our dreams. I never thought I wanted to live on a boat … but I did it. It was an amazing experience to have our first year of marriage sequestered on a 42 foot boat in the middle of nowhere.”

– 40-something, San Francisco


Read more: How American Couples Maintain Their Relationships – Modern Relationships – Marie Claire. In the age of commuter marriages and BlackBerry wars, what really makes it work? We asked five real couples how they bulletproof their relationship.

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