Working Together

Not everyone can (or would want to) spend endless hours with their significant other working on a huge, challenging project — besides, you know, buying a house or having a kid. But when these devoted duos signed up for a "partner," they didn't mean just for cuddling on lazy Sunday mornings. Whether it's building an eco-lodge, playing in a band, or running an exercise boot camp, they go for their goals side by side — day in and day out. If their relationships weren't built on such solid foundations, they wouldn't have lasted a week without cracking under the intensity of so much together time. Which is exactly why we think they're a prime source of advice. We pelted them with questions to find out what the rest of us could learn about staying hot and heavy in love and lust -- under any circumstances.

Love Muscle: Patricia and Brian

30 and 32 Forest Hills, NY Married since 2003 Train for and compete in triathlons, marathons, and adventure races, and teach fitness classes together

How it all started
Equally badass fitness buffs, Patricia, a personal trainer and events consultant (and former competitive boxer), and Brian, who works in home furnishing/textile design, met at an exercise boot camp he was teaching in Central Park in June 2001. The day Patricia showed up, "she was wearing a Waterfront Boxing cap," Brian recalls. "The same place where I took boxing lessons." They struck up a conversation about the gym -- and about the marathon Brian was training for. "Pushing others has always been rewarding for me," Patricia says. "I offered to help Brian put in extra miles so he could run a personal best." It was a match made in heaven. "I ran my fastest marathon that year," he says. "And we eventually got married."

These two fitness freaks work out as much as 6 hours a day together. "It's amazing to have your partner, lover, and best friend right next to you when you train," Brian says. "Helping each other accomplish our goals is incredibly stimulating." To make themselves work that much harder, 6 years ago Patricia suggested they write down and exchange a list of goals that December. "When someone is holding you accountable, it's hard to walk away," Brian says. How do they deal with competition? "It's a way to push each other," Patricia says. "We have an agreement that one of us must help the other when we need encouragement. If we're running a tough race and having a hard time, we'll push each other along with our favorite battle cries, like 'Scooby and Shaggy forever!' and 'We're going to get through this no matter what.'"

Fight-less strategy
"All differences are resolved by putting on a pair of boxing gloves," Brian jokes. The fact that he's always kidding around helps the couple duck genuine slugfests. "Brian will tickle me if I'm too serious, or start dancing or goofing around," Patricia says. "The minute he can make me smile or laugh, we know we'll get over any problem." When that doesn't work, Brian says, "there's no better couples therapy than a long run together or a good weight session. It lets us blow off steam and get rid of aggression -- and we're more likely to see and face the issue for what it is." More often than not, it makes them realize the disagreement is not so monumental. "When we're finished, I'm sometimes so tired that I don't have the energy to continue the argument," Patricia says. "But mostly we talk it through during or after the workout and things seem to make more sense then."

Stoking the fires
Of course working out together is hot ("Brian thinks it's sexy when I sweat," Patricia says), but to make sure they keep their blood pumping outside the gym, they put couple time on their calendar. "At least once a week we come home early enough to have a nice dinner," Brian says. "We're more connected when we slow down and can focus on what's going on with the other person." Patricia also credits little things for making their relationship work. One in particular: "We e-mail each other a love note during the day. It shows we're thinking about the other person during time away."


It's In The Cards: Minhee and Truman

33 and 32 Brooklyn, NY Married since 2006 Founded Paper + Cup, a graphic design firm

How it all started
When Minhee got frustrated with her corporate job 4 years ago, Truman urged her to hang up her own shingle. "I've always believed in Minhee's talents," he says. And if it weren't for Truman's kick in the butt, she might never have had the guts to go for it. Still, designing and selling stationery was a huge financial risk that could have collapsed like a literal house of cards. But they gave it a go. "I believed in her all along," Truman says. "I knew at the very least, she would have an artistic outlet and enjoy her work rather than loathe it."

Fight-less strategy
Although Truman still works as an engineer at his day job, he and Minhee spend nearly 30 hours a week together toiling over Paper + Cup. Constant proximity has taught them to avoid saying or doing anything disrespectful when they don't see eye to eye, like flinging stupid insults. "There will always be disagreements, but there is never any reason to be unkind," Truman says. They admit they're not the best at handling direct confrontation. "I get really quiet," Minhee says. "I'd rather think about things before saying something I'll regret later." They try to sidestep fights by recognizing when conditions are ripe for a brawl. "Our frustrations happen more when we're tired or hungry," Minhee says. The only standing beef between the two is Minhee's BlackBerry obsession. "Truman is secretly jealous of my BlackBerry. He gives me the evil eye when we're relaxing and I look at it."

Stoking the fires
At night, Truman has no trouble dumping his workday mindset. "There's a time for work and a time for play," he says. Minhee? Not so much -- especially since she's in charge of day-to-day operations. "I have to physically shut down my computer so that work is not an option," she says, adding that she'd rather take projects home than blow a deadline. The harder and later they work, the less time there is for sex, but it's rarely neglected. "Maybe it's because we're newlyweds, but it's not something I intend to change," Truman says. "I view sex as a sacred act in our marriage. I value it for the sake of unity between husband and wife." And he likes lots of unity. "Truman is always in the mood for sex!" Minhee laughs. What gets her going when she's wiped out? "When we finally get into bed and reflect on the day or just joke around, that's when I feel close to my husband," she says. When Truman is hungry for couple time, he drags Minhee away from her desk. "It can even be a quick stroll around the neighborhood for an ice cream." And there's one thing Truman does that gets her every time. "I have this favorite Japanese cheesecake I just can't get enough of," Minhee says. "Truman always surprises me with it, and I find his thoughtfulness so attractive."

Rock Solid: Sarah and Tom

Both 31 Walnut Creek, CA Married since 1998 Formed the Americana indie folk duo Diablo's Dust in 2006

How it all started
Sarah and Tom were attached at the hip almost as soon as they started dating at New York's Ithaca College in 1995, even trekking through Africa, India, Nepal, and Tibet during their junior and senior years. But they didn't hit their high notes until nearly a decade later.

Music had always been in their blood -- Sarah started singing as soon as she could talk, and Tom banged his first drum at age 6. But in college, "we were busy with other things, like putting ourselves through school, and we both lost inspiration," Sarah explains. All that changed when Sarah developed a thyroid disorder a year and a half after they had daughter Indra, now 5. "Being sick made me want to do things I really love. Tom encouraged me to buy a stand-up bass, and I fell in love with it, which made me fall in love with music again." Actually forming the band was Tom's idea. "I grew up in Ithaca, where there was a thriving music scene," he recalls. "There were always husband-and-wife duos, and I dreamed about having my own family band."

Working on Diablo's Dust has helped them steer clear of the how-was-your-day-we're-out-of-toilet-paper rut so many couples fall into. "It's a layer beyond being husband and wife, parents, and all the other roles we take on. Making music together is something else we admire and love about each other," Sarah says.

Fight-less strategy
The business of making music isn't anywhere near as fun as it sounds. Tom sums it up in three words: "We argue intensely." About what? "Anything -- dishes, finances, harmonies, whether Bono is really changing the world," Tom admits. But Sarah likes that they throw everything on the table and hash it out. "We're big emotional processors. If we didn't talk and argue often, then our relationship -- and the music -- would suffer and we'd lose our connection." And they've established a "no festering" rule: "We check in with each other regularly," Sarah says. "It's in each of our best interests to answer honestly."

Stroking the fire
"The band is great for our sex life," Sarah says. It acts like a generator, pumping new energy into their mutual attraction. Just seeing each other in the spotlight gets their juices flowing. "It turns me on when Sarah dresses sharp and sexy onstage and is up there with her instrument," Tom says. And the fact that they respect each other's contributions to the band is an even more powerful aphrodisiac. "Sarah isn't my Yoko that fans tolerate, but an integral part of the whole music process -- the sound, voice, look," Tom says.

"When we get back from a show, we're definitely charged up, which translates into some very hot nights," Sarah says. Tom agrees, with one caveat: "We usually have sex after a show. But every now and then, no matter how passionate we are, we both remember -- like it or not, our 5-year-old will be up at 6 a.m."

From The Ground Up: Wendy and Mikey

39 and 30 Truth or Consequences, NM Together since 2002 Building Green Acre, an eco-lodge/community center

How it all started
At a 2002 costume party in Brooklyn, Wendy was dressed as a broken heart and Mikey as a Band-Aid. They've been together ever since and have stuck with their fix-it mentality. In 2006, they relocated from New York to rural New Mexico so they could do stuff like grow their own food and rely on natural resources for power. When a dilapidated trailer park hit the market shortly after they arrived, they snatched it up so they could transform it into a hub for other people who shared their earth-friendly mindset. "We wanted a place for people to gather, do yoga, and learn to become more self-sustaining," Wendy says. They had zero building experience, but that didn't hold them back. They've been playing co-contractors/builders/architects since hammering in the first nail in August 2006. "We knew we could work faster than local contractors," Mikey says. "And it would cost a lot less." Of course, living the DIY life could demolish a relationship faster than a wrecking ball on an RV. So what keeps the project -- and their love -- from collapsing in a heap of rubble? Sticking to the roles that come naturally to each of them. "Mikey's an excellent project manager," Wendy explains. "I deal more with the aesthetics."

Fight-less strategy
"Mikey's a 'get it done fast' guy, and I'm a 'look at the details' person," Wendy says. Their different work styles, combined with spending every waking minute working in tandem, can lead to conflict -- but they rarely have full-blown fights. They avoid complete meltdowns by defusing arguments as quickly as possible. "Sometimes we literally drop everything, sit down, and say, 'This is how I feel,'" Wendy says. "Other times we'll have an open-ended discussion about something we can't resolve." If they still can't decide who's right, someone will throw up their hands and give in. "It's more important to have peace than get hung up on doing something one way or another," Wendy says. "I'd rather put good energy into our project than tension and anger. And we both know we get the best results when we merge our ideas."

Stoking the fires
Getting their hands dirty all day can take away from getting dirty after hours. "It's easy to just pass out," Wendy says. But it's a surprisingly nonsexual focus that keeps the spark alive. "Mikey and I both agree that when a relationship is based on sex, when that's what brings two people together, it's bound to fail," Wendy says. "Ours is based on making things and changing the world so that people can depend on themselves and live in harmony with nature." All of which leads to an intense emotional connection. "But sex doesn't happen every night," Wendy says. And that's just fine. "We make a point to keep our evenings clear from work and social obligations so we can relax with each other," Mikey says. "We cook, watch a movie, or go online. We're usually asleep by 10 p.m." Wendy adds: "But at least we fall asleep in each other's arms."
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