Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas wrote the book on marriage. In their novel, What Makes a Marriage Las: 40 Celebrated Couples Share with Us the Secrets, the long-married couple opens up about their relationship.

Despite being married to Phil for over 40 years, Marlo most interestingly reveals that she grew up wanting nothing to do with marriage...


Wikipedia Commons / Alan Light

In the book, the star expressed her previously grim outlook on the institution: “Marriage is like a vacuum cleaner: you stick it to your ear, and it sucks out all your energy and ambition.”

Thomas likens marriage to living with a jailer that one has to please, making her feelings very clear at various times. That is until she met Donahue. 

Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue both found each other after Phil’s first marriage failed and now they have created a bond that has lasted a lifetime.

Phil Donahue rose to fame in the public eye with his show, “The Phil Donahue Show,” which was later rebranded as just “Donahue.” The show ran for 29 years and was the first of its kind to feature audience participation. And there was one guest on his show who changed the trajectory of his life; Marlo Thomas.

The couple met in Chicago in 1977, according to the book, and Phil came with four boys attached to him. His fifth child, a daughter, lived with his ex-wife and her mother elsewhere. 

Marlo and Phil dated for three years before tying the knot in 1980 in an intimate 35-person ceremony. 

Unsurprisingly, Marlo’s friends and family were shocked by the actress’s change of heart. The couple’s book recounts a hilarious anecdote about friends at Marlo’s bridal shower hanging quotes up from the soon-to-be bride who expressed her previous views on marriage. 

According to the novel, Marlo’s mom was more surprised than anyone, asking Donahue “How did you get her to do this?” throughout the couple’s wedding.

Reportedly, even strangers expressed shock, among other emotions, about the star and social activist’s decision to settle down. A woman on the plane the couple took on their honeymoon in Greece expressed disappointment to Marlo while Phil was in the bathroom, clearly bothered that she abandoned her previous independent streak.

Thomas is honest in the book, explaining that a seed of doubt crept in at this interaction. If she spent so much of her life expressing criticism about marriage, was she now a hypocrite for getting married? Had she let down fans who saw her as a pinnacle of independence?

Donahue and Thomas make their marriage work to this day, despite the typical ups-and-downs they refer to in the book when covering their lengthy marriage. They cite these issues as learning experiences that helped them to strengthen their bond.

Even early in their marriage, the couple spent time apart while Phil taped his show in Chicago and Marlo traveled for her acting career.

Thomas’s aunt pointed out that the couple’s marriage was not a marriage simply because the couple was not fully living together, and this helped Thomas to see that different individuals define marriage differently. 

Despite the distance, Thomas and Donahue made their marriage work. Importantly, Marlo gained children when she gained her husband as well. 

In a 2012 interview with AARP, Thomas reflected on what it was like to help raise Phil’s children, explaining that she went into it understanding that they already had a traditional mother and that would not be her role.

Marlo instead explains that she became more of a friend to Phil’s children to mirror her own mother’s parenting. She continues to say that her relationship with them today is even stronger than it was at the start of the marriage. 

In the book, Donahue emphasizes that Thomas did spend as much time as she could getting to know his sons through the conversation, attempting to understand the boys.

Other than her strong relationship with his children, Phil and Marlo believe that their long marriage is thanks to the trust they have in each other. Marlo explains, “You build trust when you realize that this person always has your back.”

Marlo Thomas’ spouse was a virgin before his first marriage which led to 5 kids and anger at church

Even with over 40 years of marriage under their belt, they still have more memories to make.

Phil adds that people in a marriage have to want it to last for it to do so. Marlo echoes him and adds that when she reflects today, she never would have it any other way than to be married to her partner. She explains that Donohue has supported her in “every way possible.”

Marriage is truly a beautiful bond and it becomes all the better when two people commit to it truly.

This couple is truly an inspiration and example to all of us. We should all hope to have as successful a relationship as them!