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Celebrity couple Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue share the secrets to their long-lasting marriage

In 2020, celebrated couple Marlo Thomas, 84, and Phil Donahue, 86, shared the secret to their 40-year marriage in the book “What Makes a Marriage Last: 40 Celebrated Couples Share with Us the Secrets to a Happy Life”.

The two reflected on their marital success and shared the advice of other couples in long-lasting unions. Rightfully so, the couple is very proud of this joint project, and they are certainly experts on the subject. 

For the book, the actress and the talk show host spent nine months interviewing other celebrity couples in long-lasting marriages, to find out what worked for them.

They said, “We started to wonder if there really is a secret sauce to a successful marriage. And that’s when we decided to break an ironclad rule of our marriage – for the first time, ever – and decided to work on a project together.”

The book includes stories and tips from long-lasting celebrity couples such as Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, Chip and Joanna Gaines, and Viola Davis and Julius Tennon.

Thomas and Donahue added, “As different as these couples’ stories are, they share a common plotline: that of two people joining hands and stepping up to the most challenging, invigorating, inspiring, infuriating, thrilling, terrifying, delightful and heavenly job on earth — making a marriage last.”

Thomas and Donahue also shared their own secrets to a long-lasting partnership: communication. There was also the simple idea that nothing could break them apart.

Thomas said, “Through the years you learn that everything is not that big a deal, and this isn’t going to break us up no matter what, so you get used to saying, Ok, let’s just talk it out.”


Donahue shared that humor crucial to a long-lasting marriage. “The secret of good communication? Screaming helps,” he joked. “At least then you know if whether the person you’re screaming at is listening. Then go in the other room and count to ten.”

The couple first met when Thomas guested on Donahue’s talk show in 1977. On the show, Thomas actually told Donahue that she found him “loving” and “generous” and stated, “Whoever is the woman in your life is very lucky.

To them, it was love at first sight, and the two married in 1980. It was the first marriage for Thomas, then 40, and she became the stepmother to Donahue’s five children from his first marriage.

During their research for the book, Donahue found that, “If there’s any common theme to the [interviews] we had, it’s that you have to want to have a long marriage.”

Thomas added that long-lasting couples also proved their strength in the way that they handled what could have been breaking points in relationships, such as deaths of loves ones, infidelity, and loss of money, among others.

She said, “What makes a marriage last is what you do when you’re confronted with the really big stuff.”

Another piece of the advice that the two stressed was ensuring the trust and support of your partner. It sounds simple, but it’s not simple to do in practice.

And in a marriage, you gotta know that person has your back. This is the safest place I can be, he is going to be my everything — my cushion of life,” said Thomas.

Ensuring long-lasting success in marriage is certainly a challenge, but Thomas and Donahue certainly pulled it off. It’s important to remember though that long-lasting marriages require sacrifices and plenty of hard work.

Thomas and Donahue are more than happy to share their secrets to long-lasting happiness. Their best advice? Be with someone who’ll help you overcome things you can’t by yourself. And be that someone for them too.

Buy the book HERE.

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