Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue fell for each other when she was a guest on his show in 1977
Actress and activist Marlo Thomas has been married to TV host Phil Donahue since 1980.
The couple first met in 1977 when she was a guest on his talk show and wed just a few years later. About 40 years after saying "I do," the couple were prompted to look back at their marriage and started speaking to other couples about all that goes into a successful relationship.
In 2020, they released their first joint project, a book called What Makes a Marriage Last: 40 Celebrated Couples Share with Us the Secrets to a Happy Life. They also hosted a podcast together called Double Date with Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue, where they spoke to couples about their keys to lasting marital bliss.
"If there's any common theme to the [interviews] we had, it's that you have to want to have a long marriage," Donahue told AARP the Magazine in 2020.
When the couple celebrated 43 years of marriage in 2023, Thomas told PEOPLE about the "three L's" they've followed throughout their romance: "Love, listening and lust."
"Those are the three L's," she explained."You have to listen and then you'll know what the other person is really thinking and going through. You have to love each other. And without lust, you don't have anything."
Here's everything to know about Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue's long-lasting marriage.
They met in 1977 when she was a guest on Donahue's show
The couple first met in the late 1970s when Thomas appeared as a guest on Donahue's eponymous talk show. It was clear from the start that they had chemistry.
Near the end of the interview, Donahue grabbed Thomas' hand and said, "You are really fascinating." She responded by saying, "You are wonderful! I said it when we were off the air, but I want to say you are loving and generous, and you like women, and it's a pleasure! Whoever is the woman in your life is very lucky."
In a 2021 interview on The Drew Barrymore Show, Thomas shared, "We just clicked ... I just loved his confidence."
They had a long-distance relationship early on
Though they had an immediate connection, they lived across the country from each other. During their courtship, Thomas was based in Los Angeles while Donahue lived in Winnetka, Illinois. As they moved toward marriage, they had to decide where to live together.
"Phil told me, 'I can't live in L.A. I don't want to spend the rest of my life interviewing John Wayne. I can live in New York or Washington,' " Thomas told The New York Times in 2023. "And I told him, 'Well, I can live in New York or L.A.' So New York it was."
Thomas initially had some doubts about marriage
Speaking with PEOPLE in 1977, Thomas shared that while she was happy in her new relationship with Donahue, she was getting over some old reservations she held about marriage.
"I was always scared of marriage," she said. "I thought that I would have to become another person, that I wouldn't be able to be me, that I would sort of be living a lie. My impression was that you had this jailer that you have to please."
She later found this idea "foolish," seeing that it was possible to have both a career and a marriage. Thomas told PEOPLE she might be open to marriage with Donahue if it could be a union of "two whole people, not one and a half."
They married in 1980
The couple wed on May 21, 1980. It was Thomas' first marriage and Donahue's second.
Thomas opted for a simple off-the-shoulder tea-length white gown and white satin heels. Donahue wore a black suit and striped tie.
Donahue had five children with his first wife
Donahue was first married to his college sweetheart, Margaret Cooney, for 17 years and had five children with her, per the Washington Post. When Thomas and Donahue married, the actress became a stepparent overnight.
In 2011, Thomas told AARP the Magazine she took a relaxed approach to being a stepmom.
"From the very first day, I decided that I was not going to try to be a 'mother' to Phil's children in the traditional sense — they already had a mom — but, instead, to be their friend," she said. "I'm proud to say that the friendships I established with them are as strong today as they were 30 years ago — even stronger."
Thomas threw Donahue a surprise party for his 50th birthday
For Donahue's 50th birthday in 1986, Thomas threw a surprise party on a yacht on the Hudson River. PEOPLE reported that Thomas sang a funny song for her husband, which included the lyrics, "He's just my Phil, with 20 pounds of hair" and "An Irish hunk, so full of spunk."
The couple and their 150 guests enjoyed salmon, veal and tortellini and danced to the Denny La Rue Band. Thomas told PEOPLE, "He's a pretty good sport about turning 50."
They've said communication is the secret to their marriage
In the past few years, Thomas and Donahue have spent much of their time speaking to famous couples about their marriages during the writing and promotion of their book, What Makes a Marriage Last: 40 Celebrated Couples Share with Us the Secrets to a Happy Life. They've also done some thinking about their own relationship.
In 2020, Thomas said in a YouTube video for AARP, "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.' "
"The secret of good communication? Screaming helps," Donahue 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 10."
He also shared, "A little humor certainly in a marriage goes a long way."
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