Your 15 Favorite Celebrity Couples Reveal the Secrets to Their Long-lasting Marriages

Hollywood's most solid duos offer up their advice in a new book. We vowed to comb through it and offer the choices tidbits for you to have and to hold from this day forward.

By Alli Rosenbloom, Sarah Grossbart Dec 25, 2020 12:00 PMTags
Long-Lasting Marriages, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, Elton John, David Furnish, Mariska Hargitay and PeterGetty Images; Melissa Herwitt/E! Illustration

For as fickle as Hollywood can seem about love (sorry, Demi Lovato and Max Ehrich) there are some epic love stories that almost seem as if they were dreamt up in a writer's room. 

We're not just talking about the Chrissy Teigen-John Legend and Blake Lively-Ryan Reynolds pairings of the world, though we appreciate their ability to poke fun at their #couplesgoals status without taking away from the genuine connection that earned them that distinction in the first place. But sitting just one rung above them on the celebrity marriage hierarchy are the duos that have sailed past silver anniversaries with purported ease, almost shocked that others see it as an achievement. 

Asked the secret to her 31-year marriage with Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson told E! News, "I like what my friend said: 'Not getting divorced.' That's how you stay together for a long time." Her husband agreed: "You wake up in the morning and say, 'How can we stay together today? Oh, I know, I'll make you coffee and we'll talk a little bit and we'll get on with it and when we come back to each other at the end of the day, we're happy to see each other.'"

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Because sometimes with the right person in the right partnership at the right time, it really is that straightforward. "They say it must be hard work. No it's not," Hanks told People in 2015. "Every now and again you know, you gotta get over some stuff but life is one damn thing after another and it's actually more pleasant to be able to go home with someone you like to spend time with in order to get with it."

So choosing someone you actually want to be around seems like a solid start, but surely there's more to it than that. 

Watch: Tom Hanks Is Rita Wilson's Biggest Cheerleader at HWOF

Enter actress Marlo Thomas and talk show host Phil Donahue. Celebrating their 40th anniversary earlier this year, the power couple were curious about how other duos tick, chatting up everyone from Judges Judy Sheindlin and Jerry Sheindlin to Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka to fill the pages of their book, What Makes a Marriage Last: 40 Celebrated Couples Share with Us the Secrets to a Happy Life

We vowed to read through their anecdotes and advice from a combined 1,240-plus years of marriage and offer up the choicest bits for you to have and to hold from this day forward. Will you do us the honor of reading what they said? 

Mariska Hargitay & Peter Hermann

"I never thought that I would laugh this much in my marriage. That is such a fundamental ingredient of who you are, this insistence on joy," Hermann detailed to his bride of their 16-year partnership in Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue's 2020 book What Makes a Marriage Last. "And I think what sustains our marriage is that I know you love me in spite of who I am, and that is the definition of grace."

Seeking out that happiness is key. Even after a particularly robust argument, "One of us will test the waters with a joke—about the very thing we were fighting about," Herman shared of life with the Law & Order: SVU star. "It's like one of us says, 'I'm not saying I was wrong, and I'm not still insisting I was entirely right, but can we at least inch our way back toward the place where we caught at stuff together?' Once that happens, it's a pretty good sign that things are on their way to getting patched up."

Chip Gaines & Joanna Gaines

They've avoided need for any major renovation by sticking to the same advice they got in premarital counseling ahead of their 2003 vows. Even five kids in, Tuesday date nights are a must and they've held off on purchasing a TV, instead finding other ways to connect. 

But if Chip were to offer any tip to follow, it'd be to pursue the person you love "like a hornet." Some two decades in, he said, he still feels like the guy hoping to get a second date. "I'm not saying she'd never cheat on me," he explained, "but it's not going to be because I never told her I loved her or because I didn't send her flowers or I forgot our anniversary." 

Kyra Sedgwick & Kevin Bacon

"My first piece of advice is not to take advice from celebrities," Bacon joked of his 32-year union. It's as succinct as their other go-to, "Keep the fights clean and the sex dirty," a phrase developed specifically to end any further chatter about their marriage. 

Truthfully, though, they make it a point not to let arguments linger, rarely digging in for the sake of the victory. "Honestly, we don't like to fight, so when we actually are in an argument, we're both looking for a solution," The Closer actress explained to Thomas and Donahue. "For the most part we're struggling to get back to everything being okay, because it sucks to fight." Because, when it comes down to it, she continued, "There is no Plan B. No matter what, we want to work it out."

Michael J. Fox & Tracy Pollan

Nearly 33 years into marriage, the actors have mastered the art of fighting fair. "Tracy and I don't pick scabs," explained the Family Ties alum. "In some marriages, people look at their partner and see vulnerability and they just can't help but go after that vulnerability, like it's a sport or something. We don't do that." 

That's not to say they don't have arguments. "If I've said something stupid, I have the tendency to want to take it back and make it all okay," he said. "But that doesn't really work." Instead, he follows her lead and tries to give her space. She, in turn, offers up understanding: "Sometimes you just have to say to yourself, 'You know what? He said something schmucky and it made me feel bad. But he's a good person and I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn't realize that what he said hurt my feelings.'" 

Jamie Lee Curtis & Christopher Guest

Little surprise that the actress considers humor "foundational" in her marriage to the man behind faux documentaries Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. More than 36 years since their Christmas Eve vows, she said, "There's no fight we have ever had, even in my ragiest rage, that he can't drop me to the ground making me laugh."

Should a disagreement drag on (generally a few days, at most) they know just how to resolve it. "There's always just a moment when there's a gesture. It's silent, the physical act of touching each other. I swear, it's nothing more than just a silent contact," she said, a joint acknowledgement that they're past the issue. "Within an hour from that moment," she continued, "the whole thing is over." 

Neil Patrick Harris & David Burtka

"I think one of the things that has kept us together all of these years is that we both define relationships as something that's relatively indefinable," the How I Met Your Mother alum said. Through 18 years of career shifts (actor-chef Burtka released his cookbook Life Is a Party in 2019), parenting 10-year-old twins Gideon and Harper and dealing with tough times, "Marriage never stays the same," explained Harris. "When you have sex with the same person over and over, it gets redundant, and so you try different things. Then one day you don't like each other, and suddenly you're not attracted to each other, so you have to figure out how to be reattracted to them—but in a different way because you're aging."

Eventually, he continued, you find yourself more attracted to their soul. And then their body again. "It all keeps morphing," he noted. "So in a weird way, we keep falling in love with each other in different ways, over and over."

Melissa McCarthy & Ben Falcone

Appropriately, the comic actors believe their funniness gives them life. And not just in their 15-year union itself. "Whenever we have a good laugh," noted the Can You Ever Forgive Me? actress, "especially a crazy one, when you're like, Oh, my God, and you're almost dizzy—we always assign it a specific amount of time that it added to our lives. And I'm always adding it up. I'll say, 'Okay, that was like two months—I just got two more months to live!'"

They put a time limit on disagreements as well. Citing the oft-repeated don't go to bed angry rule, Falcone, said, "I tried it once, and I realized that in the morning I had forgotten what I was mad about. You're not getting any answers if you're parsing out an argument when everybody is tired and possibly had a drink or two. I've never had the thing where you're having an argument at ten o'clock at night, and then you say, 'Well, that was good. I'm glad we got to the bottom of that. We agree. Truce signed.'"

Ted Danson & Mary Steenburgen

Each having wed before they found their way to the other in 1995, they not only had to navigate a marriage, but life as step-parents to two children apiece. "There is no book that tells you how to do it, so the one thing I figured out right away is that they already have a mom—and it's not me. So what did they need from me?" the Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist actor recalled. "That's when I realized that everybody needs a cheerleader, right? There's never too many of those in your life, so that's what I'll be. I never set their boundaries, disciplined them, or tried to teach them right from wrong. They have parents who do that."

The Cheers alum agreed with her stance wholeheartedly. "I think that's really wise, to offer yourself as a friend," he said. "‘I'm not going to discipline you and I'm not going to judge you. What I'm going to do is hang out with you and be there for you.' And that's what you have to do: absolutely, genuinely be there." 

Elton John & David Furnish

The moment same-sex civil unions were legalized in Britain, the music icon and the Canadian ad exec were joined together in a Dec. 21, 2005 ceremony. They repeated the process on the exact same day nine years later once they were able to legally wed. And yet the anniversary they recognize is their unexpected meeting during a 1993 weekend dinner party at the singer's Windsor, England flat, his friend having set the guest list.

Every Saturday, no matter where they are in the world, together or apart, the two pen a handwritten note to each other, by the authors' count, some 1,352 letters in all. "There's something very spiritual and real about handwriting," explains Furnish, "and the cards are a chance to reflect on the week that's passed and talk about the week that's coming up." Agreed the five-time Grammy winner, "It's part of the success, I think, of a lasting relationship. Communication is the most important thing." 

Dr. Mehmet Oz & Lisa Oz

Having literally Secreted their 35-year marriage into existence ("Six months before I met him, I had these recurring dreams about this person I was going to marry,") they make sure their union has remained front-and-center even as their entire existence has shifted. 

"Marriage is a priority for both of us. And that means that we act on that and refocus when we've lost sight of the ball," she said. If the surgeon could prescribe one piece of advice, it would be to place that bond above all else. "The bottom line is this: I would do anything for her. Climb any mountain, take any bullet—in the chest, too, by the way. I might do things that justifiably make her really angry at me, but I would never let anything block me from delivering my love to her," he swore.

If you appreciate how valuable marriage is to your long-term happiness, he continued, "You will never let anyone touch it." 

Al Roker & Deborah Roberts

ABC News reporter Roberts isn't always one for chit-chat. "I don't like the check-in," she explaind. "If you're calling just to say, 'So, what's up?' no, I do not like that." Everyone's favorite TV weatherman, however, is a phone guy. And after years of chafing against his frequent calls, a pal proposed something that changed her stance. "

One friend said to me, 'Did you ever think that maybe he just feels comfortable when he hears your voice, because that tells him that all is right in the world?'" she recounted. "And I thought, 'That's very sweet. I'd never thought about it in that way. And if it means something to him, then it should mean something to me.'"

Now, she said, "I have learned to take a breath and say, 'Sweetie, I've got some stuff going on, but what's going on with you? Great. I'm glad to hear from you. Got to go. Talk to you later. Love you.' That makes all the difference in the world to him, and it doesn't kill me for two minutes to be nice and sweet." They celebrated their 25th anniversary in September.  

Kelly Ripa & Mark Consuelos

The building blocks for their nearly 25-year union began back in their newlywed days, when any fight—one involved the Riverdale actor throwing the talk show host's ring out the window—felt like it could be it. "Early in a marriage, it's easy to let little things become big things—whether it's financial strain or career strain or you have kids and you're sleep-deprived," espoused the LIVE With Kelly and Ryan star. "But Mark taught me to walk away and take a breath. That's when you figure out that it's not a marriage-defining moment."

Some hard-earned wisdom, to be sure, but now the parents of three are reaping the benefits. "Anytime you see a couple who seems truly happy, you can bet they've gone through some crazy, crazy stuff together and they've survived," he stated. "That's something to be proud of."

Viola Davis & Julius Tennon

She's an introvert, she said, "maybe a step away from being a straight-up loner"; he's the ultimate extrovert "the mayor of everywhere," as he put it. She's a touch messy; he's "a little OCD" noted the Oscar winner. But, wed since 2003, they've long since learned to let the other do their thing.

That's the advice the How to Get Away With Murder lead said she gives to all her soon-to-be-wed friends. "Marriage does not start when you walk down the aisle," she shared. "Your marriage starts when you look over at a person who you love more than anything, and there's something about him—just one character trait that makes you say to yourself, 'Oh man, that's going to drive me crazy. I don't know if I can deal with this.' And then the next minute you say, 'But you know what? I love him.' That's when your marriage starts." 

Lily Tomlin & Jane Wagner

You don't reach the 50-year mark in any relationship by letting disagreements drag on. Any time there's a blowup, noted the Grace and Frankie star, "Usually, I'm the one who apologizes. It's not hard because I love her and can't bear for her to feel lonely for even five minutes." 

Even better is when she can avoid saying she's sorry to the writer altogether. Her top takeaway, she shared, "Remember, when you're angry at your partner and say something hurtful, you will be more angry at yourself later for having said hurtful things to the person you love. You'll feel angry twice. Not good for your blood pressure, and certainly not good for your relationship."

Judges Judy Sheindlin & Jerry Sheindlin

Few things are more on brand than former New York State Supreme Court judge Jerry declaring their decades-long union works because he usually lets the Judge Judy icon win. But for his bride it's more about knowing you're not always going to like the final verdict. Their 12-year marriage dissolved in 1990 when he couldn't be the caretaker she needed following her father's death. Yet, when they got back together one year later and quickly remarried, she had no delusions that he was suddenly going to be the type to run the household or take the lead on birthday plans. 

"Every relationship is different, but there is a common thread of unhappiness, and that unhappiness comes from trying to make another person different from who they are. You can try, but they're always going to resent it," she explained matter-of-factly. "I don't think you should marry anyone with the expectation of changing who they are."

This story was originally published on Monday, May 11, 2020 at 12 a.m. PT.