Laughs, Therapy and "Lady Lincoln": Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard's Subtly Epic Love Story

In their super-cute way, the actors, frequent co-stars and parents of two are also a study in self-awareness

By Natalie Finn Jun 01, 2018 10:00 AMTags
Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard, InstagramInstagram

Separately, Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard seem like a couple of cool people, the type of celebrities you would totally want to hang out with, should that opportunity somehow arise.

Together, however, they're a force to be reckoned with when it comes to self-awareness, mutual support and being emotionally tuned into each other. They also find each other hilarious. Most of the time.

"See how he hesitated? Not as much," Bell pointed out on The View last year when Shepard was asked if his wife kept him laughing all day. "I have a real commitment to the truth!" Shepard exclaimed. "Not all day. You're not Jim Carrey."

If they're saving their best material for the cameras, then we thank them wholeheartedly, but we're pretty convinced by now that they're kinda like this as much as is humanly possible while also taking care of two young children.

Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard: Romance Rewind

They've also been open about going to couples counseling, the "incredibly toxic" pattern of fighting they engaged in early on, the things they still bicker about and the times they almost broke up (as well as the one time they did), and also about all the work that goes into keeping their marriage healthy, lest anyone think that their now 11-year relationship runs on wisecracks alone.

But first, the scene of the crime.

AP Photo/Matt Sayles

Actor Michael Rosenbaum, who was in 2012's Hit and Run with the couple, is the one who introduced Bell and Shepard. She had met Rosenbaum at a party, then in 2007 the actor brought Shepard with him to a Kings-Red Wings game, where a newly single Bell also was. And while Rosenbaum was busy talking about hockey, Bell chided him last week on his podcast, Inside of You With Michael RosenbaumShepard started talking to her—and then offered Bell his hand when she needed a receptacle for her gum.

She still gave Rosenbaum her number—"I wanted to keep all options on the table"—but the Veronica Mars star was instantly smitten (and Rosenbaum was fully under the impression that she only gave him her number to pass on to his friend, even though he was welcome at the time to call her up).

But after about two months of dating, Shepard broke up with her. "We were on the road to something serious," Bell recalled, "and he said, 'I want to be very responsible with you because I really respect you. I'm still dating other people,'" etc. "In retrospect I realize how respectful that was, even though it broke my heart at the time. He wasn't going to continue to sort of date me like a real relationship and then have other dates on the side." She was "devastated," but woke up determined the next day to resume having a good time as a single gal.

Four days later, however, Shepard called and said he'd made a mistake.

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But Bell still had her reservations since Shepard had a lot of stories about his more reckless days—and he loved to tell them. 

"First of all, he's infinitely charming and he kept me laughing," Bell said about those unsure early days. "I had a lot of fears when we first started dating because he had a very wild past—and the difference between an addict and someone who just enjoys drugs and alcohol is that the moment any one of those things enters their system, they no longer have the ability to make decisions correctly.

"If he has one sip of beer, there is a different person behind the wheel of his brain. So I didn't necessarily understand that but also he talked about [all sorts of things involving drugs and alcohol], and he told them like he's telling a fun story about a cool dinner with his parents, and it scared the s--t out of me because there was no 'that's crazy, I'd never do that again.'"

Therapy—"you know we love therapy"—helped them realize that Bell needed an addendum after each story, an acknowledgement that all that "fun" was firmly in the past. Which Shepard was then able to provide.


Talking to Harry Connick Jr. on Harry last September, Bell admitted that her fighting style when they did have arguments used to be suspect. "When we first met, we fell madly in love and I love the dramatic exit. There is nothing I crave more," she said.

"We'd get in a fight because we'd fight a lot, and I'd yell something and then slam the bedroom door, then I'd slam the front door, then I'd get in my car and then I'd skid out the driveway and I would sit around the corner in my car and it felt so good and I realized how incredibly toxic it was only after he pointed it out.

"Three months into our relationship he was like, 'You can't leave anymore during fights. I'm not going to do that.' I was like, 'What?' He's like you can't do that, I'm not going to have a relationship, he has a very high standard and a strong code of ethics. He was like, 'No, I have more respect for myself, I love you but I'm not going to do that my whole life.'"

Bell also had to come to terms with sharing their journey with the other love of Shepard's life—his 1967 Lincoln Continental.

"Lady Lincoln," Bell said in an interview with Clever Movies while promoting their 2012 movie Hit and Run. "She's been in Dax's life for 12 years. I have respect for the females that are my alphas, and ahead of me. I love her." "She's your sister wife," Shepard interjected. "She is my sister wife," Bell agreed. "And I'm fine being a sister wife. We have a great relationship. She's a little loud sometimes, but I'm fine playing a supporting role to her."

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Bell estimated recently that they've logged between 15,000 and 20,000 miles together on road trips, something they've loved to do since the beginning—but their respective travel styles was also something they had to hash out early on in the relationship. For instance, Shepard inevitably wants to tow his RZR with them everywhere they go, even if he has no plans to use it.

"My one daughter has a Lambie, my other daughter has a blanket, my husband has a thousand-pound off-road vehicle and know, have my vape pen," Bell explained on Jimmy Kimmel Live in January.

Bell talked about riding from New York to Detroit on Dax's motorcycle not long after shooting When In Rome in 2008, the first of the many projects they've done together, to visit their respective families. When they stopped at a gas station, she switched out the iPods and put on her show tunes, and "he was not happy," Bell said. 

"We're both control freaks, [it's the] beginning of our relationship. That fight got bigger and bigger as we're on the road, which morphed into a fight about helmet laws," she continued. Basically, Shepard doesn't like wearing one if the state law doesn't dictate he must. So he agreed to wear one on the highway but then purposely took surface streets, then it started raining, she got so mad she refused to even hold onto him and gripped the back of the bike instead...

By the time they got to Bell's mother's house, the first time Shepard was meeting her, they were on the verge of breaking up. So, it was a perfect time for Mom to come out with a camcorder to record the moment for posterity and then usher them into the den to watch Bell's old favorite show, A.L.F., on VHS. She told Kimmel, Dax said he had "an out-of-body experience. 'I hate this girl I'm sitting next to, her mom is crazy,'" and there they were watching A.L.F. Shepard eventually excused himself and left for his dad's house after a few episodes.

"We took a break, but we continued dating, Jimmy, and that's the moral of this story," Bell said sweetly. "Because we worked through it. It's about compromise. It's about understanding the other person's wants and needs. We weren't listening to each other back then, but now we listen."

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And they've been through plenty of trying experiences over the years—such as when an apparently unstable character standing in the middle of the street threw his Big Gulp at Dax's windshield when they were driving on Sunset Boulevard one day, and things devolved to the point where they were scuffling on the side of the road and Shepard kicked the guy in the head.

"It's all in defense of someone else, so it's difficult for me to talk about because I don't condone any of it," Bell told Rosenbaum, "but then when I see his reasons it's like, I guess you do need people to fight for the underdog." The man tried to sue Shepard for assault and battery but Dax said he'd report the guy to the police, as throwing a solid object at a moving vehicle could result in a felony charge. And that ended that. 


Kevin Winter/Getty Images

"Thinking about my boyfriend beating a bully up, yes, I'll say that's slightly sexual," Bell said. But watching it happen in real life was another story. When they got home that night, "I didn't say a goddamn thing. We were going to dinner with our agents," a once in a blue moon experience. "He got in the car, I didn't say a thing, because he knew. He knew how I felt...I didn't need to say anything. We got to the restaurant."

Shepard was limping from hurting his shin against the guy's head and his hands hurt from grappling. Bell didn't say a word, but two minutes into the meal she went to the kitchen to get him a bag of ice, which she quietly placed on his knee under the table.

"I wasn't going to get anywhere with words, so I knew I needed an action," Bell said. "And the ice action said 'I will take care of you, always,' but don't you ever f--king beat anyone up in front of me, or not in front of me, again. This is the last time."

And it really was. (Though he did kinda want to beat up their neighbor when they first moved into their current house, Bell confirmed, but they didn't get past a verbal altercation.) That being said, he doesn't fight with everyone, Bell insisted. Rather, "he has stimulating arguments, a lot."


They first got engaged in 2009, but soon after announced their intent to marry only after same-sex marriage was legal in the U.S. Proposition 8, rescinding the right in California, had just passed in 2008, angering many, and Shepard noted that they had many gay friends and "it would not be nice to dunk on our friends."

"We're not going to have a party when half of our friends…can't do that thing we're doing," Bell also told CNN. "We're not going to ask them to come celebrate a right they don't have. That's just tacky!"

So the couple enjoyed a long engagement, welcoming daughter Lincoln Bell Shepard (you can guess her namesake) on March 23, 2013. Happily, three months later, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, paving the way for legal same-sex marriage in all 50 states—and Bell re-proposed that day.


They still didn't make a big splashy deal of their nuptials, instead memorably tying the knot without fanfare at a courthouse, with only a few witnesses in attendance.

On Conan in April, Shepard claimed they didn't have a prenuptial agreement—but that had worked out in his favor.

"When we first started dating I had more money than her and I owned the house that I lived in, and she said to me at one point, would you like a prenup?," Dax said. "And I said," in a small voice, 'No, I don't want a prenup.' But I really wanted a prenup, really bad. I really wanted a prenup. But I said, 'no I don't want one.'

"Something good came over me for once and I made the right decision," he cracked. "But the joke is now on her because she's become much more successful than me and has much more money than me—or does she?!"

Daughter Delta Bell Shepard arrived on Dec. 19, 2014—Dax having paved the way for her name when he surprised Kristen one night by coming home with a bell inked on his ring finger with a "K," an "L" and a "D," even though Delta hadn't even been born yet.

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Meanwhile, in the actors' first movie together, When in Rome, they did not play meant-to-be love interests, and in fact Bell's leading man was Josh Duhamel—whom they both liked so much they brought him on board when Dax directed his wife in last year's CHiPs.

"We knew we needed a babe. Josh is the No. 1 babe we know," Bell told Moviefone. "We just called him out of the blue and said, 'Would you do a day on CHiPs? Can we write you in? Because we need a hunk.' He said, 'Of course!' We were very grateful." Asked if she ever tried to mess with her husband during her makeout scene with Duhamel, Bell cracked, "I know for a fact I would never get a reaction. I could have put my hands down Josh's pants, and the only person I would have surprised—or offended—is Josh."


In 2010, the actress told Collider that she was indeed a workaholic, like her character in When in Rome, "but I think your significant other should be way more important than your work."

Of course, there's no shame in loving your work a whole lot, so perhaps that's why she and Shepard have collaborated so many times, giving her best of both worlds. In addition to the five films they've both appeared in, two of them directed by Shepard, they've done Samsung commercials together; he's been on her current show, The Good Place; Bell was the first guest on Shepard's podcast, Armchair Expert; and they've made a host of hilarious videos together, ranging in production quality.

"I would do everything together," Bell told Moviefone in March 2017. "I'm not sitting in the audience of my life. I'm not watching how I'm being perceived, I'm not tracking how I'm being perceived. I don't really care. I care if I wake up happy and I go to bed happy. So I could try to keep tabs on this idea of who people think I am, or where they think I fit, but it's all so meaningless, and it changes with the wind. I just care much more about being happy on a day-to-day basis, so I want to be with and work with my husband."

The idiosyncrasies persist, of course, but they've become pros at diagnosing what could turn into a contentious situation themselves.

Talking about how he thought Bell's appearance on his podcast in February would be a slam-dunk easy interview, considering how many interviews they've sat through together, Shepard quipped on Conan that "it was a disaster right out of the gate"—apparently in part because Bell had been looking forward to going to the crafts store that day and was impatient with him. (She loves doing crafts with the kids.)

Listening to it later, "I thought I was a little controlling, but it was vomitous how controlling I was," Shepard said. "And I really thought I should hide this from the public and then I later thought, no, this is the whole thing. Sometimes we're in Samsung commercials canoodling at Christmas time, and sometimes we're screaming at each other about Michael's. That's just how it is."

And that's why they've become the reigning #goals couple of their generation in Hollywood. They don't put on airs about marriage being something you need to tend to, and are the first to acknowledge that they're riddled with issues.

Playing a game on The View testing how well they knew each other, both correctly guessed that Kristen was the one who picks more fights, that Dax was the one more likely to send the other nude pictures, that Dax was better at keeping secrets, and that they had each changed 50 percent of their daughters' diapers, as per their agreement. 

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This past Valentine's Day, meanwhile, Bell offered up a handwritten primer (which she posted on Instagram) that, as "an old married woman," she felt it might be beneficial to share.

Remaining vulnerable with your partner, appreciating the privilege of having a partner, remembering to take time for yourself and remaining open to new ways of addressing problems when they inevitably crop up are some of the imperatives she listed that have worked for her and Shepard. 

And because Bell knows that she and Shepard are in the spotlight, both as celebrities and as a long-devoted couple, she admits that she does feel pressure at times to not let anyone who's rooting for them down.

"It is a lot of pressure," she told E! News' Carissa Culiner in April, good-naturedly agreeing to hold down the marital fort in the wake of Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan's shocking breakup.

"Well, I'll tell you this," Bell continued, "I highly doubt we will ever break up because we're just in too deep and I like him too much. Even when he's annoying I really like him. I'm still like, 'I still want to be on the porch with you when I'm 80, but I really need you to get out of my face right now,' and we have a good, healthy back-and-forth about that."

While they've been honest about marriage not always being a barrel of laughs, Bell told E! News' Zuri Hall in October that, indeed, "the funny keeps it spicy for us a lot. He keeps me laughing all the time. I try to make him laugh and every now and again I get there."

"But," she added, "really it's just being aware of the other person's needs."