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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...

Where are you weak where the other is strong?
LouAnne: I can be impatient and stubborn. Ilene is a great sounding board and always deals with a situation without ego or personal agenda.

Ilene: LouAnne has a deep and intrinsic moral rudder - moral in the true and pure sense - not a judgmental morality, but an intuitive ethical guidepost. I'm more inclined to equivocate, and LouAnne helps me when I'm uncertain. I trust her on issues of conscience.

What drives the other nuts?
LouAnne: My biggest complaint is that we don't get enough time to talk. By the time we get to bed, we both pass out.

Ilene: LouAnne has many quirks, but I love them all.
- Elise Nersesian-Solé

Sima Baran, 30, and Paul Robertson, 47, sailors on their 41-foot yacht, Leander

It was a perfect day - crystal-clear water and sunny skies. But as we sailed through the Indian Ocean, Paul and I were stressed. We were entering a dangerous part of our voyage, "Pirate Alley," a stretch between Africa and the Middle East where armed fishermen hijack boats. If we were attacked, the plan was that one of us should stay behind. So for the month we navigated pirate territory, we made it look like I'd never lived on the boat.

We hid my clothes and jewelry, and back on deck, we searched for hiding spots where I could duck in and wait it out if pirates came aboard. We thought the sail cover might work, but when I climbed up the main sail and crammed myself into the canvas case, Paul could still see me. Next, I tried squeezing under our inflatable rubber dinghy, which was tied upside down on the deck. I wriggled under feet first, but it was too hot. Finally, we found it: the locker at the very tip of the boat where the anchor chain was stored. The opening was tiny; I just fit inside. We stocked it with water, food, a flashlight, hammer, and knife, and over the next few days, we made dry runs. These are safety precautions just in case, I thought as I closed the door behind me. The alternative was too scary to consider.

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.

"Wait," 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. "Well, let's think about this," Paul said.

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