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The New American Couple

In the age of commuter marriages and BlackBerry wars, what really makes it work? We asked five real couples how they bulletproof their relationship.

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

What's your morning routine? 
LouAnne: We typically wake up at 5 a.m. If I don't have to read a book or script, we go to the gym. By 6:30 a.m., we're home, and I make protein smoothies. Then we feed the dogs and talk about our days ahead. Often, it's the only time we get to talk the entire day!

Ilene: When we're in production on The Real L Word, I read story reports from our field producers about what they shot the night before. Then I talk with LouAnne while she's dressing, and our new puppy climbs all over me and makes us laugh.

Which one of you spends more on clothes?
LouAnne: Ilene loves to shop, and she has very exclusive tastes! I'm a country girl and spend my money on cars. I love American muscle cars and have two customized trucks. Before Ilene knew me, she had never been to Target, driven a Ford-150 pickup truck, or had a Chick-fil-A sandwich. All of that has changed.

Ilene: Me, I've done my best to corrupt LouAnne, and she's acquired a taste for some things that I cherish. I love clothes and shopping, and I am definitely the one with the habit. I once had an entire room lined with shelves to contain all of my shoes. I've since pared down, but I still have a considerable collection. As Pam Grier once said, "Shoes are my crack."

How do you handle finances? 
LouAnne: We share a lot.

Ilene: 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.

Who usually works later? 
LouAnne: I often have dinners, screenings, and events that keep me out until late. And although Ilene is usually home, she writes all night long.

Ilene: That's LouAnne - she has an executive life. When she doesn't have a screening or a dinner, she comes home between 7 and 8. I have a sporadic freelance life. When I'm writing, I usually start early in the morning, and normally I stop around 6 p.m. When I'm on a deadline and feeling inspired, I may get up in the middle of the night and go upstairs to write.

How do you prioritize your relationship with your demanding careers?
LouAnne: We both love what we do, but the workload is intense. I try to plan outings or date nights for us so we can exhale, hold hands, and enjoy the sunshine. This past weekend we hiked with our dogs, got massages, and had pizza at a café while people-watching.

Ilene: We don't distinguish between the two. We support each other's work - it's one of the most loving things we can do. We chose careers that are demanding, and although we miss one another when it's an intense work time, we accept that, and then make up for it.

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