He kept his arm tenderly around her back. She beamed as he told her “I love you” from the stage, and when the show was over, gently reminded him to take his jacket. For Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, the British Academy Film Awards in London on Feb. 10 was another successful date night-and a rare grown-ups’ weekend getaway, with their three kids staying home with Garner’s sister. Well, almost: “He’s just like a child!” Garner lovingly joked to a friend as she tugged her still-schmoozing husband-who won the night’s two biggest honors for his film Argo-toward the exit. Could an Oscar for Best Picture be his next stop? “This is a second act for me,” he said in his London acceptance speech. “I am so grateful and proud.” As he told PEOPLE recently, “I am very lucky. I have to knock on wood about my life.”
Especially about the woman who’s a lock for Best Supporting Spouse. After seven years of marriage and three kids-Violet, 7, Seraphina, 4, and Samuel, who turns 1 on Feb. 27-Affleck and Garner, both 40, seem to have struck that rarest of things for a Hollywood couple: balance. It’s an old-fashioned arrangement, with Garner handling most of the day-to-day responsibility for keeping the children’s schedules humming while Affleck rides his Argo hot streak-including Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe wins, despite a snub for the Oscar directing category. “I’ve got a great family; I’m really inspired by where my career is,” Affleck says. “I’ve seen a lot of different things rambling around in this business, and I’m just really, really happy to find myself where I am.”
Several sources who know the couple well say that both stars are at ease in their “quite traditional roles,” as a Garner friend puts it. Garner dialed back on her own career to commit herself to making the ballet-karate-playdate rounds. “She blows my mind,” says Affleck’s Argo costar Clea Duvall. “She’s such an amazing mom and such an amazing wife and so supportive of him. It’s just … they’re kind of the ideal.” Although Affleck has made his share of school runs during a busy awards season, in many ways he’s an old-fashioned dad. Says a source who knows the couple: “Have you ever seen Mad Men? That’s how he approaches [marriage and kids]-providing for your family is your priority, and raising the kids day-to-day is the wife’s priority.” But when he’s not working, he’s plenty hands-on, reading to the girls at bookstores and taking them to the farmers’ market. “His wife and family are the best things that ever happened to him,” says an Affleck pal. “They have always come first and always will.”
In Garner, Affleck has found a crucial support and stabilizing force. The two first met on the set of 2001’s Pearl Harbor, while she was married to actor Scott Foley and shortly before he began his romance with Jennifer Lopez. After he and Lopez called off their wedding just days before it was set to take place in ’03, Affleck (who went to rehab for alcohol problems in 2001) “was on a destructive path,” says a source. “Jen encouraged him to stay strong without being judgmental of his past.”
Affleck himself has simply acknowledged he had some growing up to do. “I got married, I got older,” he told Details in October. “I definitely reject the narrative that says, you know, Bad Guy Turns It Around. My life isn’t Behind the Music. I wasn’t a criminal!” Friends-including his Good Will Hunting brother from another mother, Matt Damon-have been thrilled to watch him mature. “He took a lot of unnecessary abuse, and some of it was self-inflicted-even he would tell you that,” says Damon. “People just had the wrong idea about him, and that was hard for me to watch for all those years. But I’m so happy [for him]. It feels like everything’s right with the world now.”
No marriage is without its tough patches, and Garner has said that her ability to speak her mind in the marriage has grown over the years. “Ben and I aren’t big fighters,” she told IN STYLE last year. “But there are times you have to have a hard talk. That’s a conversation I couldn’t have before. But now I can talk frankly in a way I couldn’t do-that’s pretty major.” An occasional source of friction: When under stress, Affleck sometimes “tends to pull away and focus on work,” says a source. “But they always find a way to get back into a good relationship again.” Adds the Affleck pal: “Sometimes work takes him away from home longer than he likes, but he knows that family comes before everything else.
Affleck is also supportive of his wife’s career, even as she has downshifted. When the actress filmed a small role in The Dallas Buyers Club in November, Affleck pitched in more with the kids. (The couple also have some limited help from nannies.) “We both know we couldn’t do what we do without each other,” she told IN STYLE.
They’re both devoted parents-in different ways. The kind of mom who purees her own organic baby food, Garner grew up the middle of three girls in a tight-knit West Virginia family. “My mom made our clothes and did the cooking, the cleaning and the sewing, and at the same time she managed to do magical things and have a sense of humor,” she has said. Affleck, on the other hand, “doesn’t want his kids to grow up like he did,” says the source who knows the couple. Affleck’s parents divorced when he was 12, and his often-distant father struggled with substance abuse. As Damon puts it, “Ben and I have the same priorities: We want to be good husbands and fathers and make good movies.”
For Affleck, achieving that balance has made his current success all the sweeter. “Family is a wonderful thing,” he says. “It doesn’t mean that you can’t do other stuff in your life. In fact, having a family makes things you have that much richer. It’s much nicer to share it with people you love.”