Last month, a new book was released and I immediately purchased multiple copies for upcoming weddings and anniversaries because it is so readable, joyful and honest. “What Makes a Marriage Last: 40 Celebrated Couples Share with Us Secrets to a Happy Life” by Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue highlights well-known couples, and because of their own 40-year union, the question they asked was, “What makes a marriage last?”
The authors, of course, bring their own special cache to the interviews. Marlo Thomas, 82, activist, author, and actress (“That Girl”) who was inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014 by President Obama is joined by her husband Phil Donahue, 84, writer, producer, and media pioneer who forever changed the talk show format and brought forward a new era of broadcast TV. Winner of multiple awards and inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, he and Thomas live in New York City.
This well-known couple traveled across America for nine months to interview 40 couples they admired and garnered some pretty insightful answers while revealing their own secrets to a lasting union. To accomplish this, they, for the first time, broke their own rule of marriage and worked on a project together. Even though each story they heard was different, they knew that two people had stepped up to one of life’s greatest challenges of making a marriage work over a lengthy period of time.
How did this marriage begin?
Thomas and Donahue met in 1977 when she was a guest on his show. They reveal that their own secret to marital success was communication and the resolve that nothing could ever really break them up, so they wanted to know if that resolve and commitment was shared by others. They included actors, athletes, writers, newsmakers, musicians, and a former First Lady and President so many of us hold dear, the Carters. The interviews reveal practical, heartfelt, and useful advice for couples of all ages, and Marlo and Phil’s funny, touching, and engaging conversations cover the complete marital journey from new love to the ceremony, from children to elder care, from keeping the spark alive to dealing with illness as people age, from coping with hard times to celebrating success, and from balancing careers and relationships as couples grow stronger, better and older together.
Most surprising is how honest, funny, personal, intimate, and instructive the resulting interviews are. It’s a feat to get seasoned pros like Bob Woodward and Elsa Walsh, Judy Woodruff and Al Hunt, George Stepanopoulos and Ali Wentworth and Judges Judy and Jerry Sheindlin to bare their souls but they do. And when gay couples like Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner, Elton John and David Furnish and Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka offer their takes on life together, you know that magic between lovers can span the spectrum.
And who wouldn’t want some serious insight from comedians like Billy and Janice Crystal, superstars like LLCoolJ and Simone I. Smith, Sting and Trudie Styler, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, and icons like Jesse and Jacqueline Jackson and Chesley “Sully” and Lorrie Sullenberger?
How do the rest of us stack up?
And what really old married couples like me who have reached the half century mark of married life together want to know is how do our own married lives stack up to these rich, powerful and famous lovers? We’ve endured as well but because of their stature, has theirs been better, more fulfilling, more exciting and more notable?
After reading this book, one can’t help but feel that lasting relationships in today’s world are indeed one of life’s greatest blessings and an accomplishment, no matter our race, income or profession. It’s also comforting to know that these celebrities faced the same challenges, joys, and heartaches the rest of us have. The authors found that the common thread was that couples wanted to have long marriages but my husband was also curious if any agreed with his favorite actress Bette Davis who proclaimed after four marriages, “Marriage takes three things—communication, separate bedrooms and separate baths.”
I only hope that any sequel to this book by Thomas and Donahue will be to juxtapose these long-term celebrity marriages to ones like mine, unknowns like us who have our own advice for lengthy love affairs and who are just as committed to the length of our shared lives, the understanding, and the intimacy that’s still the professed stated goal at every wedding ceremony.