Prepare for the breakup
The first thing to do if you're going to roleplay with your partner is to make sure that everything is in place for when the two of you split up. When you're trying to piece your life and several of your dishes back together, you're probably going to spend several weekends knee-deep in your favorite MMO, so you want to make sure that everything is in the clear to do precisely that.
I'm not saying that you and your significant other will break up here. Statistics say that. I'm saying that you need to be able to enjoy the game and roleplaying within the game without being wholly reliant on one another.
This ties back into my article earlier this week about girlfriend syndrome -- no one wants to feel like a tagalong. It might be that you and your significant other both like MMOs and roleplaying but not the same MMOs. That's all right, but it means that making one of you miserable to please the other is going to produce all sorts of issues. Better to be playing a game you both enjoy the same amount. Similarly, don't try to make your characters satellites to one another, which ties in to my next point...
Your characters do not have to be romantically linked
Snark about splitting up aside, odds are good that if you want to be roleplaying with one another, you like one another. And so there's a definite bit of a nudge to have your characters hook up with one another, even if you have to fudge it a bit and alter some details about whom your character finds attractive. While this can work to good effect if you're planning to role a linked couple ahead of time, it's also a case of shoehorning elements in that don't need to be there.
If you're both creating new characters whom you want to start out as a couple, great. But you might run into issues when one of you doesn't care for the character. And if you're both playing pre-existing characters that wind up getting mashed together, you're not just skipping over a potentially interesting plot about how that hook-up happened -- you're also forcing the characters to have a relationship to mirror your real-world relationship.
There is absolutely no need for that. If it feels like a natural outgrowth of character development, fine, but trying to force your characters to be a couple just because you're accustomed to being one is a great way to shoehorn the worst parts of your relationship into a video game. With that having been said...
Make use of trust and stable planning
Probably the worst things that my characters have done have been to characters controlled by Ms. Lady. Similarly, she's probably paid me back double in the same fashion. I haven't had anyone else stab one of my characters through the throat with a screwdriver, for instance. And there's a reason for that -- I don't live with anyone else.
Seriously. After knowing one another for more than a decade, we know one another well enough that there's never even the slightest hint of a question about whether or not something we're doing reflects on our personal feelings. Our characters can swear eternal vengeance on one another without any fear that there's a hint of real feeling there because we know each other better than that.
There's also a serious advantage of being able to plan things out in advance and react to things in real-time. You don't have to wait until a scene is over -- you can turn to one another in person and keep up-to-date on what's going through your partner's head. And that's useful because there's one very important thing that you can address with roleplaying that just doesn't happen if you're not roleplaying with someone you care about...
Some issues really do work best externalized
I don't mean to suggest that playing Star Trek Online will solve your marital woes. I do, however, mean to suggest that playing it and talking about certain aspects of roleplaying -- and steering character development appropriately -- can help you and your other half in dealing with certain issues that are hard to tackle head-on.
There are always little issues that crop up in relationships, things like fear of abandonment and unresolved parental issues and disagreements that one person feels strongly about but the other isn't concerned about. Putting some similar situations in roleplaying, with a gentle hand, can help you see the whole problem from another angle.
Or, done hamhandedly, it can lead to a 40-minute argument about what your elf meant by the comment "useless dwarf." So, you know, baby steps.
We won't have to have an argument if you send me feedback on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org or just leave your thoughts in the comment field. Next week, I'm going to take a break from the bigger philosophical issues and focus instead one something very concrete: coming up with hooks.
Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did.