Marlo Thomas—award-winning actress, author, activist, producer, philanthropist, and social media maven, and Phil Donahue—pioneering television talk-show host, Emmy Award-winner, and writer, put a whole new spin on “meeting cute” when Thomas was a guest on The Phil Donahue Show in 1977. Romantic sparks flew, and wedding bells ensued three years later. It was Thomas’ first marriage and Donahue’s second, effectively making her a midlife second wife. Thirty-one years later, they are still married. What are their secrets for a happy marriage?
Thomas, who has emerged as a formidable presence on the social media scene with a website on the Huffington Post, a Facebook fan page, and more than 19,000 followers on Twitter, recently interviewed her husband for Huff Post’s “Mondays With Marlo.” The premise for the live webcast is brilliant: Several days before a guest is to appear, Thomas invites people to submit questions via her social media sites and then, during the webcast, via a live comment stream. She curates and moderates the questions, presenting them to her guest. To my surprise, she read mine:
Marriage, especially remarriage, represents many things: the renaissance of romantic love, the renewal of hope, the reinvention of each partner. Phil, when you and Marlo got married, how do you think you influenced her reinvention? How did she influence yours?
Charmingly discomfited by this and other personal questions—Donahue is clearly far more comfortable fielding queries about his career, politics, and the Occupy Wall Street movement, for example—he nevertheless attempted a game answer. And Thomas joined in:
Phil: Well, Marlo wants this marriage to succeed. That is very obvious. …It’s really impressive. This is her first marriage, and she’s very proud of that.
Marlo: It’s my last marriage, too. And so how did we reinvent each other? Part of my reinvention was that I wanted to get married to someone. That was new.
Phil: Well, I’ve reinvented. I no longer leave the towel on the floor. I call at night if we’re separated: ‘Hi. You good? Okay.’ That was part of my rehabilitation.
So that’s easy enough to do, wouldn’t you say? Stay connected when apart, and don’t leave the dirty towels on the floor. And I love that Thomas said that her marriage to Donahue is her last marriage. But the secret to a long and happy marriage? That question came from a viewer named Florence. Here’s what they had to say in response:
Phil: Don’t think the worst of your spouse. In other words, I think we go to war not for what is true, but for what we think is true.…Don’t go to war for what you think your spouse is going to do.
Marlo: That’s such good advice, and I have to take it, too.Whenever I think I know exactly what you’re thinking I’m completely wrong. I do think that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.
“Don’t think the worst of your spouse.” It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But is it simple to implement? It is so easy for us to jump to conclusions, or to allow old insecurities and fears to surface, and with them, old ways of interpreting information. Remember the baggage post from last month?
Let’s have someone else weigh in on this.
TIME magazine has called Byron Katie “a spiritual innovator for the new millennium.” A friend told me about her books several years ago. In Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, Katie writes:
It’s not the problem that causes our suffering; it’s our thinking about the problem.
Our thinking. Thinking the worst of our spouse. Thinking that can spiral into problems greater than whatever is at hand. Turning that thinking around is the key to a long, happy, and successful marriage. That, staying connected, and not leaving the wet towels on the bathroom floor.
To view Marlo Thomas’ interview with her husband, Phil Donahue—her special guest on “Mondays With Marlo,” click here.