Shawn Johnson and Andrew East Want You to Know Their Marriage Isn't a Perfect 10

Shawn Johnson and Andrew East may have stuck the landing, so to speak, when it comes to their marriage. But the hosts of Couple Things tell E! News they put in the work to remain on top.

By Sarah Grossbart Dec 14, 2023 6:30 PMTags
Watch: See Pregnant Shawn Johnson's Growing Baby Bump at ESPYS 2023

Not long after their second date, Shawn Johnson realized she'd struck gold with NFL long snapper Andrew East

Sure, it took nine long months after his older brother Guy East, a cyclist on the U.S. national team, first arranged a 2012 set-up in Los Angeles—where the Olympic gymnast was cha-cha-ing her way to second place on the all-star edition of Dancing With the Stars—to see each other again.

But once Johnson agreed to fly to Nashville to visit the Vanderbilt University standout for what turned into a four-day second date, "I fell head over heels," the 31-year-old admitted in an exclusive interview with E! News. "I was like, 'Yeah, I could see myself with this guy.'" 

As for East, 32, he'd sent multiple follow-up texts after that first blind date for a reason. "I probably fell in love before she did," he said.

They both credit at least part of their success with making the intentional decision to just be themselves.

Celebrity Couples We Admire

"We were in relationships where we found ourselves morphing to become the person that the other person wanted," Johnson explained. "And it got exhausting. So we just cut straight through it. We were like, we're going to give it our best shot and if either of us don't vibe to it, that's fine."

John Salangsang/Shutterstock

Spoiler alert: The vibes were good.

Four months after the impromptu marathon date, Johnson was relocating to Tennessee, where the married pair of seven years now live with daughter Drew, 4, son Jett, 2, and their newest Dec. 12 arrival. East said he was drawn to her thoughtfulness, her humble nature and the smile that "gets me every time." For Johnson, it was the fact that she could let her ponytail down, so to speak.

"I was such a perfectionist people-pleaser, I felt like I couldn't be myself out in the world," she recalled. "And Andrew was so full of life and couldn't care less and I felt like I could truly be myself around him." 

Continued the athlete, "He made me feel like I could be more confident and I loved that. And so many things."

And yet every time another fan breathlessly declares them #couplesgoals, the Olympic gold medalist worries she's made their marriage appear as effortless as her standing tuck on a four-inch beam. 

Because don't get it (whip-triple) twisted, both require a great deal of dedication. 

"I feel like the world tries to portray relationships as if it's not perfect, it's not meant to be," Johnson said of wanting to normalize the struggles that can come with a partnership. "Marriage is really hard. It's work and it's fun and it's beautiful." 

Which is why the pair decided to add the relationship-focused podcast Couple Things (a People's Choice Award nominee!) to their growing content empire.

Well, actually, East made the executive decision "five days after I had Drew," Johnson recalled. "He started it without me knowing and he told the whole world that we had launched it and we didn't even have an episode. And it charted to No. 2 without even having an episode."

She added, turning to her husband, "I mean, I almost punched you in the nuts. I was like, 'Are you kidding me? Now we actually have to do it.' And that's what started the first episode."

But after they got past that little marital hiccup, "I love it," she admitted, "because we get to meet such cool couples."

Jessica Steddom

Together they've interviewed celeb pairs (a still-engaged Kaitlyn Bristowe and Jason TartickGlennon Doyle and Abby Wambach), relationship experts and parenting pros—and navigated their way through at least one on-air quarrel, recording a September 2022 episode titled "most common things we argue about" mid-fight.

And along the way they've amassed a tool-box-worth of strategies to strengthen their union. 

"I think that's one of my favorite things about this is we take away different little tips and tricks for our marriage after every single interview," said Johnson. "So there's a laundry list."


Among the most useful information they've gleaned is about the art of fighting fair. 

Chatting with friends and He Knows Your Name Ministry founders Steve and Linda Znachko, "They basically said whenever you have an argument, if you're both on the same page in understanding that you're going to be married no matter what, with every argument you know how it's going to end," Johnson explained. "It changes the perspective, so you don't feel like something's on the line."

Agreed East, "The ending is us still being married, and how do we just get to that point through this argument?"

That's just one of "so many" takeaways, Johnson said, but they've also cobbled together a few of their own in a decade of dating. 

Like, that the most important thing you can do in the lead-up to your wedding has nothing to do with seating arrangements or menu tastings. Attending premarital counseling ahead of their 2016 vows "changed our entire relationship," she stressed. "Not to be dramatic." 

Their crash course included a series of personality tests and endless discussions about household expectations, communication styles and potential arguments that lay ahead. "It strips away the naïve childlike love that you're feeling in that moment," Johnson explained. "It's like, 'Okay, listen, marriage is going to be hard and here's what's going to be some of your hardest points. Let's get ahead of it so you know how to get through it when it happens.'"

Ali Miller

Among the landmines they discussed: The particularly tricky transition into early parenthood

"Are we thriving or surviving at the moment?" joked Johnson. "Always just drowning." But they've put a series of practices to help them tread water. Evening debriefs are a must, noted East, even on those days "I just want to lay in bed and turn on the TV or be on my phone." Thursday date night is also a non-negotiable. "Some days you're going to be in an argument when you go to date night, some days you're going to be so excited, but you're going on date night," he explained. "And that way it really just pushes you toward figuring it out, continuing to communicate through an argument."

With such a large portion of their lives devoted to the logistics of getting kids fed, cleaned and to-and-from school, "It is so hard right now in the middle of toddlers," admitted Johnson. "Because you're so tired and you're irritable and you don't really get to eat and it's a good mixture that causes arguments." So their standing date is "our time to catch up and have partner time where we get to be like, 'How are you doing? What book are you reading? What happened in the last seven days?'"

They Dated? Surprising Star Couples

Asked about their list of dream Couple Things guests, the Easts will tick off Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher, Hailey and Justin Bieber, Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard and recent first couples George W. and Laura Bush and Barack and Michelle Obama

But at the tippy top are their respective celebrity crushes Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively. "We would love to have them on," shared Johnson. "But I also think that might be very awkward. How do you start that interview? 'We both have massive crushes on you'?" 

If nothing else, it'd make for great date night fodder. 

"We always debrief," said East. "Any time we have it on date night, the whole conversation between Shawn and I that night is just about what we learned that day." 

Jessica Steddom

Asked to name a favorite lesson, East points to a January 2021 episode with musician Drew Holcomb and his wife Ellie in which they spoke about "the fact that joy and pain go hand-in-hand a lot of times." 

"In our marriage, it's not always fun," East allowed. "But working through the not fun parts is what gets you to the best parts. That's such a better way to look at difficult times: This is for a purpose and that's to get us to a better place. We're going through the valley to get to the peak of the mountain." 

Because once you've made it to the top of the podium, who really cares about the deductions you took along the way? 

(This story was originally published on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023 at 3 a.m. PT.)