Inside Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue’s love story

The marital manual was literally written by Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas. The long-married pair discusses their union in their book, What Makes a Marriage Las: 40 Celebrated Couples Share with Us the Secrets.

Marlo most curiously confesses that she grew up desiring nothing to do with marriage while being married to Phil for more than 40 years.

Wikipedia Commons / Alan Light

In the book, the celebrity shared her formerly pessimistic viewpoint on the institution: “Marriage is like a hoover: you stick it to your ear, and it sucks out all your energy and ambition.”

Thomas expresses her sentiments often, comparing marriage to being a prisoner that one must appease. Until she met Donahue, that is.

After Phil Donahue’s first marriage ended in divorce, they both found Marlo Thomas, and the two have since developed a lifelong connection.

The “Phil Donahue Show,” which was later known simply as “Donahue,” was the vehicle through which Phil Donahue first gained notoriety with the general public. The programme featured audience participation for the first time and ran for 29 years. Marlo Thomas was one of the guests on his show who completely altered the course of his life.

According to the book, the pair first met in Chicago in 1977, and Phil brought four youngsters with him. A daughter, his fifth kid, resided somewhere else with his ex-wife and her mother.

Prior to getting married in 1980 in front of a small wedding party of 35 guests, Marlo and Phil dated for three years.

Unsurprisingly, the actress’s change of heart startled Marlo’s friends and family. In the couple’s book, a comical incident is told about Marlo’s bridal shower, where guests hung comments from the future bride that revealed her former opinions on marriage.

The novel claims that Marlo’s mother was the most shocked and questioned Donahue throughout the ceremony, “How did you get her to do this?”.

According to reports, even complete strangers expressed disbelief, among other feelings, at the celebrity and social activist’s choice to get married. While Phil was in the toilet on the plane the couple flew to their honeymoon in Greece, a woman expressed dissatisfaction to Marlo, evidently upset that she had given up her former independent streak.

In the book, Thomas is forthright and admits that a seed of uncertainty was planted during this exchange. Was she now a hypocrite for getting married if she had spent so much of her life criticising marriage? Had she disappointed those who looked up to her as the epitome of independence?

Despite the regular ups and downs they mention in the book when discussing their protracted marriage, Donahue and Thomas are nevertheless able to maintain their marriage. They describe these problems as teaching moments that made their relationship stronger.

Even in their early years of marriage, the couple had to spend time apart while Marlo travelled for her acting career and Phil taped his programme in Chicago.

Thomas’ aunt made the observation that the couple’s union was invalid because they were not really residing together, and this made Thomas see that various people interpret marriage differently.

Thomas and Donahue were able to maintain their marriage despite their separation. Importantly, Marlo also gained children when she married.

Thomas reminisced on what it was like to assist Phil in raising his children in a 2012 interview with AARP, saying she went into it knowing that they already had a traditional mother and that would not be her role.

Instead, Marlo says that in attempt to emulate her own mother’s parenting, she started to treat Phil’s kids more like friends. She goes on to claim that she feels closer to them now than she did when the marriage first began.


Donahue emphasises that Thomas did in fact spend as much time as she could in the conversation getting to know his sons and trying to comprehend the boys in the book.

Phil and Marlo think their lengthy marriage is due to their faith in one another, in addition to her close relationship with his children. You develop trust when you realise that someone always has your back, Marlo says.

They still have more memories to create after having been married for more than 40 years.

Phil continues by saying that for a marriage to endure, both partners must want it to. Marlo agrees with him and adds that she would never want to be anything other than wedded to her boyfriend. According to her, Donohue has helped her in “every way possible.”

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