Well, that was fun while it lasted.
With their undeniable talent, Barbie-and-Ken-doll good looks and unbridled support for each other's dreams and ambitions Julianne Hough and Brooks Laich seemed to have one of those love stories that was destined for "...and they lived happily ever after" territory.
Even after reports began to emerge that the star athlete and his triple threat bride were navigating a bit of a rough patch as they approached their third wedding anniversary this summer, we assumed we'd be eating up their impossibly photogenic Instagrams for years to come. So sincere about how much they care for each other, we figured they'd be able to work through whatever growing pains they'd encountered and resume the quest Laich had set forth last year, telling E! News, "We say this: We want to have the best f--king relationship ever."
Turns out that relationship is more of the "better off as friends" variety.
A platitude that generally translates to actually, I'd rather not have you in my life at all, the 32-year-old dancer from Orem, Utah and the 37-year-old Wawota, Canada-born former hockey pro truly meant it when they announced their split in May, insisting in a statement, "We share an abundance of love and respect for one another and will continue to lead with our hearts from that place."
Because they reallllllly tried to make it work, even reuniting for a stretch this fall when all the coronavirus-induced time at home "forced both of them to do some serious soul searching," as a source put it to E! News. "Julianne realized that she misses Brooks' steadfast companionship. Julianne knows she has a good man in Brooks, and willing partner in resolving things between them."
And yet, sometimes, all the good intentions and all the open and honest conversations can't put a marriage together again. And on Nov. 2, Hough made the heartbreaking decision to officially file for divorce. "She decided that at this point in her life, she wants too much freedom to be married," a source told E! News. "She couldn't make a commitment to move forward and it wasn't fair to Brooks. He wants a family and to move ahead with his life."
Though he'll hold tight to a piece of his former existence.
Because most exes don't get to retain custody of their brother-in-law bromance. But there was the retired Washington, Capitals center in June documenting his hang with the Kingry founder's brother Derek Hough on his Instagram stories. And a source says there will be more friendly ping-pong matches to come. "Even though Julianne and Brooks' marriage ended, Brooks' relationships with Julianne's friends and family have not," the insider tells E! News. "Jules and Brooks were a family, her friends became his friends, her family became his family."
Derek has always been unequivocally Team Brooks. "I love that man. He's an amazing, amazing guy," the World of Dance judge told Us Weekly in March. "Heart of gold. Loyal. Just a dude, man. He's just a dude. Great guy."
At the time, Brooks' future with his bride was uncertain, the pair spending chunks of time apart and the How Men Think podcast host admitting he's been "re-assessing many things in my life." Derek's positioning, however, wasn't in question. "The love between Brooks and Derek hasn't wavered," the insider tells E! News. "They have a very close bond and still consider each other to be brothers. Julianne would not want that change."
Because their relationship hurdles weren't laced with animosity. Heck, if it were just a matter of maintaining a friendship, they'd likely still be going strong. But building a life together requires truly being on the same page. And in the three years since they exchanged vows on the shores of Idaho's Lake Coeur d'Alene, Julianne has started a whole new chapter.
Opening up about her sexuality was part of it, but as she explained to Women's Health last August, her journey of self-discovery, of becoming what she called "the woman inside that doesn't need anything" has been all-encompassing. Now "a deeply different person," a source told People, "She is proud of those differences and changes she's made and she doesn't want to go back." But she also isn't expecting Brooks to shift course: "He is the man he is and he shouldn't change a thing. But they shouldn't spend the rest of their lives together—not as spouses, anyway."
Knowing that to be true hasn't made this acceptance phase all that much easier, the insider telling E! News "the closeness between Brooks and Julianne's friends and family" made the decision to officially separate all that more difficult.
That's often the case when there's six years of history to untangle.
Hough was some eight months removed from her romance with Ryan Seacrest in November 2013 when she had what she calls an epiphany. Her family—she's the youngest of Marianne and Bruce Hough's five children—had dragged her to a six-day seminar "about creating your own destiny," she shared with Redbook that year. "I was not into it at first," she admitted, "but I learned so much about myself and why my relationships didn't work that by the end I was on a high."
Cell phone in hand, she reached out to the people she'd recently been on dates with, she continued, writing, "You are nice, but this is going nowhere." So she was ready when Teddy Sears, her costar on the 2015 thriller Curve, approached her on set the next day.
"Apparently, he was talking with Julianne...and asked her if she'd been seeing anyone, and she said no or whatever, and I guess he was watching our hockey game at the time," Laich shared in a 2014 interview on radio station 106.7 FM The Fan. "He always watches the game on Game Center on his iPad. I guess he just showed her the iPad and said, 'Well, I've got a guy for you,' or something."
Hough was, well, game: "It couldn't have been a better time," she told Redbook. "We've been open and honest from day one."
Perhaps it helped that their initial face-to-face meeting was delayed, what with the left-handed center based in Washington, D.C. with the Capitals and Hough in L.A., the distance allowing them to build up a rapport over the phone.
"We talked on the phone and FaceTime for two months before we physically met each other," Laich recalled to E! News last July. "The first time we physically met was at the airport and so we had built a strong connection and friendship before even meeting and then when we physically met, it just exploded from there."
Being in the same place simply confirmed what they'd each been suspecting: this very well could be it. "When I met him it was kind of like, Yeah, I knew and I think he knew too," she told E! News in September 2015. "We kind of knew it was going to happen."
It was the proposal that had taken place earlier that summer at her grandparents' place in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho—a moment that had reduced Hough to a mess of emotions, eagerly flashing her new oval stunner to pals. "I never thought I'd be the girl sticking her hand out to her friends and screaming in unison," she wrote on her blog, "but here I am, shrieking all over Los Angeles."
It wasn't just the 7-carat diamond, as spectacular as it was, but the man who came with it, one she'd confidently declared as her great love to Redbook. "Every relationship, there was nothing wrong or bad, but there was nothing right," she explained. "I had one foot out because I didn't want to get hurt. And I didn't say what was on my mind because I didn't want to ruffle any feathers. I needed to be perfect. Now I'm not holding anything back because I'd rather get my heart broken than never know what it is to be completely, madly in love."
Which is perhaps what Laich meant when he described those heady early months to E! News, explaining, "I thought I had my life figured out and then Julianne walked into my life and completely changed it and I'm so grateful for that."
But just as they were officially beginning their future together, Hough found herself yearning for a transformation of her own.
Connecting to her more mature self, "versus the little girl that looked to him to protect me," she explained to Women's Health. "I was like, 'Is he going to love this version of me?' But the more I dropped into my most authentic self, the more attracted he was to me. Now we have a more intimate relationship."
That meant sharing new revelations—"I [told him], 'You know I'm not straight, right?' And he was like, 'I'm sorry, what?'" she recalled to the mag. "I was like, 'I'm not. But I choose to be with you,'"—and getting very honest about what did and didn't cut it in the bedroom, swapping answers from the sexology quiz they took together.
"By almost learning each other's language...it was almost like a menu of how we could please each other sexually, but also intimately," Hough noted on his podcast. Agreed Laich, "It allows me to understand my wife more and what's important to her."
But at the end of those months of enlightenment and open conversations and doing all the work people are always talking about a marriage requiring came a painful revelation.
"It's over, it's been over for a while, and it's time to just call it what it is—and it is over," a source noted to People as the spouses announced their separation in late May. "There is honestly no ill will. He loves her. She loves him. I can truly say they always will. But they both understand they are not meant to go through their lives as husband and wife to each other."
After months in limbo, it took a global pandemic to really solidify that harsh truth. So eager to give each other what they wanted, Julianne was happy to let Brooks ride out the coronavirus wave at their Idaho home while she social distanced some 900 miles away in Los Angeles.
"I always wanted to spend more time here. I bought this place in 2014 and I've never spent enough time here. I come here like a week a year and it's my dream property," the natural introvert explained on his podcast of filling his days roaming the 10-and-a-half-acre spread with husky Koda . "I wanted to spend more time here. The place also needed an overhaul. It really needed a cleaning."
And as the weeks stretched on, each leaning into their disparate existences, they realized the separation hadn't led to their hearts growing all that much fonder. They were just...fine, actually pretty okay, without each other. "She wants him to be happy and he wants her to be happy, an insider explained to E! News. "If this is what it looks like, so be it."
So their future doesn't look exactly as they envisioned that July day in Idaho in front of all their friends and family.
"She loves him dearly and really wanted it to work," an insider told E! News, "but she always ends up back in the same place, which is realizing she doesn't want to be married at this time in her life." Ultimately, the insider continued, Hough "decided her heart wasn't in the marriage anymore and wanted to give herself the freedom and independence to experience new things."
Even amid the sadness, she shared a glimmer of excitement for the possibility the unknown can hold, describing this stay-at-home period as "a magical time" in an April Instagram Live with O, The Oprah Magazine. "I'm really enjoying this time where I can really…connect to what's really important in my life," she continued, "and how, when we get out of this, who do I want to step into and the person that I want to arrive in this new world as."
She's still working out the exact choreography, but it's sure to be a masterpiece.
(Originally published June 23, 2020, at 12 a.m. PT)