Skip to content

Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue Unveil Celebrity Secrets to a Long, Happy Marriage

An intimate and surprising look at what keeps couples together

En español | Almost a year ago, we picked up the phone and heard the tearful voice of one of our dearest friends.

"We're getting a divorce,” she told us, and we nearly lost our breath. She and her husband had been married for 28 years. They were good friends and always good company. This earthquake in their lives shook us — and many of our friends, too.

"What happened?” we kept asking each other. “If it happened to them, could it happen to any of us?” Where did they go wrong, we wondered, and more to the point, where did we go right? This heartbreaking event prompted the two of us to talk about our own marriage. What did we like about us as a couple? What do we still not get right? How far have we traveled since that spring day in 1980 when we made our wedding vows, and what, exactly, has kept us going year after year?

marlo thomas and phil donahue are dancing in their living room

Jim Wright

“We often forget we're at our best when we're holding the hand — and having the back — of someone we care about.”

—Marlo Thomas

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 work on a project together. We'd write a book — one that pulled together the personal stories of many devoted couples — and uncover some of the mystery of marriage in a way that could be a source of information and inspiration for other couples, from newlyweds to long-married couples like us.

For nine months, we crisscrossed the country, sitting down on double dates with couples we admired who had been married 15 years or more. (We waived that requirement for the gay couples we interviewed, whose marriages were not legal nationwide until 2015.) 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.

How these couples stayed married so long

Gratitude, trust and occasional therapy are among the keys to success

Adapted from the book What Makes a Marriage Last: 40 Celebrated Couples Share with Us the Secrets to a Happy Life, by Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue. Copyright © 2020 by Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue. Reprinted by permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Thomas is an actress, producer and activist; Donahue is a writer, producer and talk show pioneer.