Olympia Dukakis On Love & Marriage

Olympia Dukakis
Contributor
Self

About ten years ago, on Valentine's Day, Louis and I did a talk show. We were one of three long-married showbiz couples, and the host was asking all of us how we made it work—marriage being difficult enough without adding two actors' egos and crazy schedules into the mix. The first couple said, "We take our marriage vows very seriously. We've never considered being unfaithful."

Louis and I looked at each other, and I knew he was thinking the same thing I was: "Uh-oh, we're in trouble."

Then it was the second couple's turn.

They said, "We've never spent a single night apart our whole marriage."

And I thought, “Oh my God, this is not going well. What are we going to say?”

Luckily, Louis was sitting closer to the host, so he had to go first. I was holding my breath,waiting to see what he would come up with. Then he said, "Olympia has always supported my dreams."

It was the perfect answer. And it's true.

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Louis and I decided at the very beginning that we would support each other's dreams, no matter what, even if we didn't agree with them. Since we got married, in 1962, even when I've done things that Louis considered crazy, he's always given me the room I need to figure out what I want to do, and helped structure our life so I've had the freedom to do it.

And vice versa. Louis has done things that I thought were crazy, but I supported him anyway, even when that meant taking total responsibility for the care of three kids, and doing everything myself—and I mean everything. Because when you work in the theater, it’s not like other jobs: You can't miss rehearsal, and you can’t miss a performance.

This philosophy, and the nature of our industry, also has meant that we've often been in very different places—Louis calls it "Otis Elevator Syndrome." Sometimes, over the years, he was flying high while I was in the dumps; sometimes it was the other way around. Every so often,we’d wind up on the same floor. But we had to learn early on how to be comfortable with that disparity; how to not just tolerate the other person going somewhere we’re not, but truly, ungrudgingly, give each other the space—emotional, intellectual, and physical—they need to get there.

Some people—maybe many people—will disagree with me on this, but I think the best way to stay happily married is to commit to trying (it's not always easy, I'll admit, but you have to try) to be OK with every kind of space your partner wants or needs. A lot of women hate Hillary Clinton because she took her husband back after what he did. If every man who did what Bill Clinton did got left by his wife, there wouldn’t be very many married people in America!

And this is not just some old-fashioned view that wives have to put up with philandering husbands because men are built that way. I think marriage is a big enough idea to contain two individuals and all their wants and needs, as long as you learn to keep it flexible, so it can bend and stretch, rather than shatter.

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One thing that worked for Louis and me was participating in group therapy in the 1960s. In the groups, married couples would confront their issues, learn how to fight, and get feedback from the others. Everyone made a commitment not to leave the room, no matter how difficult the discussion became. Louis and I still benefit from the things that therapy taught us about ourselves and each other. I think many young couples could benefit from groups, from learning how to fight and to come out the other side stronger—individually, and as partners. When we first got married,we slept together on a single cot. But, sooner or later, everyone hits that point where you want to spend time apart. Your initial instinct is to think it’s wrong—but it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you or your marriage. It just means that you’re still two individuals.

Now, 42 years later, there have been many times when we’ve spent two months, three months apart.We live in New York, and Louis used to spend several months a year in Los Angeles shooting the television series Mad About You. Lately, I’ve been the one doing most of the traveling: In the past few years I’ve done films, plays, and personal appearances in Borneo, South Africa, London, and San Francisco, and on Vancouver Island.

When I'm on the road, Louis sometimes joins me. When he's not there, we stay in close touch by phone, often talking late at night so I can vent to him about what happened that day on the set, and he can catch me up with what’s happening with the kids. Before I leave town, we make certain to celebrate all the upcoming birthdays at big family dinners. Another tradition we began about five years ago is to take everyone on a family vacation. We rent a great big house on the ocean and play games and cook and laugh until our sides hurt.

Louis Zorich has been my rock-solid friend with whom I've weathered many storms and shared profound joys and sorrows. Yes, there is love, but equally important is our deep mutual respect, trust, and admiration. I will never forget the look of pride on his face as I stood to accept the Oscar for Moonstruck. All of our years together, everything we’d shared,was in that look and in his tears, as he held my face in his hands.We were like two little kids. Life is richer and fuller because of Louis.

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