What happens when partners in love join forces in business? They develop coping skills every couple can use. Rick Mari -- who works all day, every day, with his lovely wife, Ilene -- shares the wisdom. REDBOOK.
Know when to punch out
When you work together, the first thing to go is pillow talk. You're in bed, trying to power down for the night, but your mind inevitably races over the day's accomplishments, tomorrow's deadlines. The worst was when we lived in a two-bedroom apartment with no home office. The master bedroom was our office, so the last thing we saw before going to sleep at night was a whiteboard with a to-do list--an arrangement I'd put on your "to-don't" list. But you needn't be writing partners for nuts-and-bolts shop talk to creep into the bedroom when you should be relaxing. Or romancing. We made a rule: no business conversations in bed. Instead, we talk about funny things our boys said that day, or come up with ideas for dream family vacations. I'm not saying we haven't broken the rule, but Ilene can call me on it, and I'll stop. If we're lucky, we'll even get to what we should be doing in there (I've seen it in the movies).
Dress for work
I do. Ilene doesn't. When we started dating, she'd go off to her fancy office job in a fur-collared cashmere sweater and gold pumps. Okay, she worked at a beauty magazine, but still. Is that any excuse for the weird red wool cap she started wearing around once we started writing scripts together? Seriously. Just because I stopped working at a big building in midtown Manhattan didn't mean I stopped wearing pants. What I'm saying is, don't take your partner for granted. Lose the sweatpants. Dress for success. Ilene, are you reading this?
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Be professional (i.e. polite)
You know how hard it is to be civil to that idiot at the office who always says or does something annoying or really dumb? Imagine that idiot is your husband. Civility flies out the window. Which is terrible, right? It shouldn't be that the more comfortable you are with someone, the more comfortable you are saying something harsh, but it is. So we use a strategy we learned from working on TV shows. TV writers sit in a room together for hours coming up with story lines or punching up scripts. The mixture of long days, junk food, and bad lighting is a recipe for getting on each other's nerves. But if another writer pitches a moronic idea, rather than say, "You're a moron," you say, "Yes, and...." You build on the idea, rather than dissing it. There's nowhere to go from "No," but "Yes, and..." is a way to point the conversation in the direction you want it to take--before it turns into a fight. So when Ilene says she wants to spend $1,000 on avant-garde floral wallpaper to go over her desk, I don't say, "Are you outta your freakin' mind?" I say, "Yes, and maybe, until we can afford it, you should spruce things up with actual real flowers. I'll go buy some now!" And I'm off. Fight avoided. $975 saved.
I read a study that said kids did better on their homework if they changed up where they did it. Not just at the desk in their room, but the kitchen table, or outside. We do the same. Ilene and I will have a "meeting" (with each other) at the "conference table" (in our dining room) or do a "working dinner" (at a restaurant). So if you have to go over the monthly budget or talk about school choices for your kids, don't just sit there on the couch staring at each other. Make it a walk-and-talk in the park. Go to a coffee shop. Mixing up the venues helps you look at things differently. It may even make you smarter.
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Take turns cheerleading
If we've had a bad day at work, it's not like we can go home and complain to our spouse about it. It means we both had a bad day. If Ilene starts crying on my shoulder, it's only going to make me more depressed. So we take turns. Only one of us is allowed to be suicidal at a time. It's the other one's job to pep-talk you off the ledge, to bright-side the situation and tally the things that are going right. Basically, be supportive. Sounds obvious, but for those times when you're both going through a rough patch, or the relationship itself is going through a rough patch, trading off works. For better or worse doesn't necessarily mean at the same time.
Divide the labor
As writers, Ilene and I have different strengths. She's good at story, structure, and character, and I'm more like my favorite novelist, Kingsley Amis, who once said, "Narrative I always find rather painful. Dialogue is more fun." Same goes for our business. I set up our corporation, and because they ask you to assign titles to the principals when you incorporate, I made myself president and Ilene secretary. She has to live with that, because I also handle the business side of our two-person conglomerate. I don't even think she knows where the QuickBooks icon is! Ha ha. Just some accounting humor there. We all have our departments in life. Some of us are vacation planners. Some of us are vacation plan-ees. Don't make the other person do something he's bad at in the name of fairness, or you'll end up in a motel in Mexico with a view of a knife.
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Be each other's PR team
Speaking of strengths, I always make a point of touting Ilene's, whether we're in a meeting with a producer or just at dinner with friends. I'll talk about how she's got such an instinct for trends, or her great visual sense. Toot your partner's horn. It's acceptable bragging--another way of being generous, expressing what you value in the relationship. And it makes you seem like a better team.
Ilene and I both gave up solid careers to relocate our family to L.A. and try our hand in TV and movies. It was a massive risk, but it was our dream, and we felt like we had no choice but to follow it. Because if you don't, what kind of life--and what kind of love--is that?
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