These days, Dwayne Johnson takes pride in the battles he doesn't win.
Asked to share his stay-sane quarantine strategy in the early months of the pandemic, the eminently bankable movie star—previously known as 17-time WWE champ, The Rock—revealed that staying home has actually had "a really positive effect on my relationship with my wife" as he makes efforts to disentangle himself from unnecessary arguments.
That's not to say he and singer Lauren Hashian haven't found themselves locked in a few tiffs. They're human, after all. "We realized kinda quickly how critical it was for us to be ultra considerate, caring and empathetic of one another," he shared in an Instagram video last April, so they've each put in extra effort toward being conscientious partners.
"You're gonna get snippy, short tempered and you guys may erupt at each other over some silly s--t like we did," he allowed, before launching into his best tip: "When that happens, grab your partner by the shoulders, like I grabbed Lauren. Look them directly in the eyes and say with full 100 [percent] conviction, 'baby, you're not wrong....you're just not used to being right' and then count the seconds it takes for you both to belly laugh your assess[sic] off."
Turns out laughter is, in fact, Johnson's best medicine.
Though the former University of Miami defensive tackle may have been jokingly referring to himself as Dr. Rock, cracking "I have a degree in experience, certainly not my doctorate," he's not not an expert in matters of the heart.
Because while it was just 20 months ago that he and his bride, 36, were pledging forever on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in front of just a handful of guests, including daughters Jasmine Johnson, 5, and Tiana Johnson, 3, their love story is actually some 14 years in the making.
A second shot at a forever partnership came along just as Johnson's first marriage to producer and body builder Dany Garcia was unraveling. "I was so fortunate to have fallen in love once," the actor told People in 2012. "To fall in love again? That's a hard thing to do twice in the position I'm in. I'm one lucky son of a bitch."
No arguments here.
Johnson, celebrating his 49th birthday May 2, and Massachusetts-bred Hashian initially crisscrossed on the set of the 2007 Disney comedy The Game Plan. A dozen or so credits into the film career that would make him the world's highest paid actor two years running, the athlete was facing an upheaval in his own life blueprint as he and college sweetheart Garcia, parents to 19-year-old WWE star Simone Johnson, came to terms with the fact that their marriage was over.
So he wasn't even thinking about looking for romance when he spied Hashian. "Within 30 seconds, I thought, 'Wow, this girl's stunning,'" Johnson revealed to WSJ Magazine in 2019. "At the time, I was going through my breakup with Dany, and she was just coming off a big breakup too."
And yet the growing spark between them was undeniable: "Ironically, when you're not looking for something," he continued, "the power of the universe kind of takes over."
The universe did good work, Hashian quickly becoming his steadying force as he dealt with the tough times brought on by depression ("Everything was in a very bad and challenging place," he told Rolling Stone of the darkness that stretched through 2008 and 2009) and the sudden November 2013 death of his close friend, Fast & Furious castmate Paul Walker.
"I was driving with Lauren when she immediately turned very quiet and was looking at me, studying, wondering if I knew," he recounted to The Hollywood Reporter seven months later. "I pulled over and looked at my messages and had a moment where I just caught my breath. We said a prayer right then to give his daughter strength—because we had talked about our daughters. That's what we would talk about. Both of us were divorced, and we talked about the power of being a dad and the strong connection of a dad and his girl. Then once we got home, we started bawling."
A source of comfort, Hashian was also a wellspring of joy, Johnson crediting the musician for always being able to illicit a laugh. "First of all, she teases me about everything. Everything," he told People in 2016, the same year he was crowned their Sexiest Man Alive. She held back her taunts about that title, because, naturally, she was in full agreement ("She already thinks I'm the Sexiest Man Alive," he quipped) but anything else was fair game. "Nothing is off limits in our house," he noted to the mag. "And it's the beauty of it. And I tease her with everything."
And to hear Garcia—who continued on as Johnson's manager and then the cofounder of their Seven Bucks Production company—tell it, Hashian was a welcome addition to their group. "He has a strong sense of family," Garcia told People in 2012 of their tight-knit unit that grew to include her husband Dave Rienzi. "We have that extra layer of trust that can only come from family. We are just a different family, and we keep adding new people."
Yet, even under these dreamiest of conscious uncoupling scenarios, Johnson wasn't certain he wanted to legally cement his bond.
"My divorce did a number on me," he reflected to WSJ Magazine. "I wasn't fearful of getting married again, there was just some hesitancy." A bit of trepidation that Hashian never once took personally. "Lauren was incredibly patient: 'I love you, you love me, we have this amazing life together—no presh.'"
After all, they were already partners in every sense beyond the sign-here-on-the-dotted-line. "I just refer to her as my wife all the time," he explained to ET in 2018. "So a lot of people are like, 'Oh, did you get married?' I'm like, 'No. Easy. Don't rush big daddy.'"
By that point, though, having watched in awe as she welcomed their first daughter together, Jasmine, into the world just ahead of Christmas 2015 ("As men, it's a miracle we should witness because it'll give you a whole new respect for the strength and beauty of a woman," he wrote in the Instagram announcement) their nuptials were already an inevitability.
"Watching Lauren be a mom has been one of the most enlightening things I've ever seen," Johnson noted to People in 2016. "You see as a man, you see your lady, your partner, your woman, your one, you see them in a certain light and then when they become Mom, it's a whole other perspective that if you open your eyes wide enough, it's like a kaleidoscope. You click it a couple of times and it just changes everything."
There was just one growing snag.
"We got pregnant," he told Rolling Stone, at the time mere weeks ahead of Tiana's April 2018 birth. "And Mama don't wanna take wedding pictures with a big belly—Mama wanna look good."
He was fine to postpone, considering he held himself mainly responsible for the current situation. They'd been batting around the idea of having another baby, "And then all of a sudden I get a text from her with a [picture of a] pregnancy test," he shared. "All I did was look at her. Guess what. You're pregnant. Baby in you now."
Tiana's arrival added to Johnson's ever growing reverence.
"I'm in constant respect and grateful awe of all the things this incredible mama accomplishes on a daily basis," he wrote in a 2018 Mother's Day tribute, detailing how Hashian juggles an active and opinionated toddler, a newborn "and moving to multiple locations AROUND THE WORLD, throughout the year because of my filming and production schedule. All while continuing to build an amazing career as a music and song writer/producer."
He was impressed by her talents as a "lyrically gifted" storyteller, he continued, and her ability to multitask, but what stunned him the most: "Lauren does it all with a big genuine smile and is truly the kindest and sweetest soul you'll ever meet...Of all the human beings on this earth she could have as her partner—she chose me. One big, brown, bald, tattooed, very lucky SOB."
Which is precisely how he felt in August 2019 as the vows they had taken pains to keep quiet were pulled off without a hitch, thanks to dedicated, careful work from the staff at their Hawaiian venue. "To carry out my #1 goal of complete privacy, no wedding planners or outside resources were hired," the groom shared on Instagram. "Everything you see was created by hand, by staff and family only. The end results were spectacular."
Including the song Hashian co-wrote and performed for her groom. "A reflection of experiencing our family, our love and our life together," she explained of "Step Into a Love Like This", released Aug. 18 to mark their first anniversary, "I wanted him to feel how much that day and our entire life together has meant to me. It was emotional for me to reflect on the amazing years we've spent together with so much gratitude and to also think about our new future we get to build. Sharing it with Dwayne and his heartfelt reaction was one of the many moments of our unforgettable day and celebration that I'll hold onto forever."
Johnson remains blown away that no one had caught wind of their intentions before they could share it on their own terms. "We had a full security detail in case there were helicopters," he told WSJ Magazine of their prep. "But there was no press, no paparazzi. No one knew. I was shocked but so grateful. My life is so loud and noisy; the fact that it was quiet was a big win."
Though he would have felt like a victor either way, marrying a person so entirely perfect for him that she didn't even balk when he cut their honeymoon short, to fly back to L.A. and fill in for injured friend and Jumanji: The Next Level costar Kevin Hart as a guest on the premiere episode of The Kelly Clarkson Show. "Lauren approved cos she LOVES Kelly," Johnson explained in a tweet and, perhaps, getting an in with the inaugural American Idol victor, his new "best friend," as he put it, was a fine enough consolation for Hashian.
It doesn't hurt, of course, that Johnson, whose Instagram vids with his daughters are must-sees, continues to be vocal about just how good he has it. Asked at the end of an extensive 2015 Esquire profile if there was anything he'd like to add, he made certain to name check the women who made everything else worthwhile.
"We do these stories and we talk so much about the business end, the success end," he shared, at the time promoting his HBO dramedy Ballers, which ended its five-season run in 2019, "but then Lauren isn't mentioned and my daughter isn't mentioned. I always like making sure we find the balance and my home life is in there and Lauren Hashian is in there and my daughter is in there."
After all, he continued, "With all the cool s--t and success that I've been lucky enough to get? That doesn't happen unless the home life is solid."
Spoken like a real winner.
(Originally published Aug. 18, 2020, at 12 a.m. PT)