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March 20, 2011

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.

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

Recently, while dining with his wife and some friends, Jesse Itzler, cofounder of Marquis Jet, a firm that rents private planes to celebs and execs, was puzzled when one of his friends asked him about the La Jolla, California, home he'd put on the market. "Oh, I forgot to tell you, I decided to sell the house," his wife, Sara Blakely, founder of the ultrasuccessful Spanx body-shaper empire, said nonchalantly. Itzler was unfazed. It was hardly the first time his wife had made an executive decision about their finances without him green-lighting it. Only a year earlier he'd pulled into the driveway of their Connecticut home to find a new Lexus she'd bought. "I trust her to do whatever she wants," says Itzler.

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. The deal: Both must be home in time for dinner every night. "Home" is defined loosely — they own three residences and have just rented another for a monthlong getaway in San Diego. 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, who routinely travels the country giving motivational speeches.

Not surprisingly, to make their warp-speed, frequent-flying lifestyle work, they rely on a team of minders: personal assistants, drivers, chefs, a 24-hour nanny on call, and "house managers" who ensure that, at any given time, there's Diet Coke in the fridge, gas in the tanks, and clean sheets on the bed. "It's really a full-time job to manage our lives," says Blakely. "We don't have the luxury of time. We spend more because of how we live, but it's important to be with our family and friends."

Freed from the financial worries that have undone many marriages, the pair argue over small issues: He eats standing up, which drives her batty. (She recently warned him that if he does it again, she'll exile him to the nearest hotel. "The Four Seasons?" he quipped.) While Itzler is an involved parent, their nanny, while always on call, isn't full-time, and Blakely, like many working moms, is in charge. "Sara's assistant put Lazer's doctors' contact info" — he has pediatricians in two states — "in my phone, but it would take me a while to find it," Itzler confesses.

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. Tiffs over where to order dinner or what movie to rent are settled with a rock-paper-scissors shootout. Full-blown arguments, while rare, typically erupt about Itzler's BlackBerry use. These disputes are resolved when he extends his hand and the pair slow dance. Seriously. "It's really helpful," Blakely chirps. "We respect that each of us moves at a fast pace. That might bother some, but we get it."

— Lea Goldman


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