When talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw and his wife, Robin, celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary on Aug. 14, they did what they do most nights: had dinner and then cuddled under comforters in their home theater with their beloved Korean Jindo dog Maggie beside them. “It’s the best night we can have—home alone,” says Robin, 54. But outside their sprawling Beverly Hills home, the couple have faced a barrage of tabloid rumors—completely false, they say—that their marriage is collapsing. Why? “It sells papers—we get that,” says Phil, 58. “Some people enjoy gossip and other people’s misery.” The two (parents to sons Jay, 28, and Jordan, 21) sat down with PEOPLE’s Maureen Harrington to set the record straight—and talk about how they work out their disagreements.
Is any part of the rumors about your marriage being on the rocks true?
PHIL: These rumors are absolutely, unequivocally, blatantly false.
Why respond? You never have before.
PHIL: It got to the point that someone went up to my 83-year-old mother at church and said, “Oh, Mrs. McGraw, I’m so sorry to hear about Dr. Phil and Robin.” People are asking our friends.
ROBIN: Strangers are coming to the house with cameras and asking questions of the workmen.
Some of the trouble started with pictures of a moving truck outside your home.
ROBIN: That’s right. One of my passions in life is to redecorate. We never leave our home. It’s our safe haven …
PHIL: … She remodels this house so much sometimes I think I must have gone in the neighbors’ door, because it didn’t look like this when I left this morning! I’m proud of what she’s done, but I don’t like living in a construction zone.
ROBIN: Our compromise is that I have work done on the house while we’re out of town. That’s when the tabloids got the picture of the moving truck. While we were in Europe I had things put in storage while the house was repainted.
PHIL: So they get from that picture that we’re splitting. Then they took a picture of me carrying my tennis bag—something I carry every day—and said I’m packed up and leaving.
ROBIN: They ran a picture of me at American Idol and said that I’m “starting my own life.”
PHIL: It’s the same story. They just rotate the reason.
So how do you cope?
ROBIN: You just have to remember that at the end of the night, the truth is that you’re cuddled up together, no matter what they print.
Don’t you ever fight?
PHIL: We never yell, if that’s what you mean. I grew up around a lot of discord, lots of fussing and fighting and yelling and screaming. My father was a terrible alcoholic. I don’t want any part of it.
ROBIN: My parents didn’t raise their voices, so neither of us are yellers.
PHIL: I think the real reason [we don’t fight] is that we’re both assertive. We’re not Stepford husband and wife. We have different views on lots of things. When the boys were growing up she thought I was too hard on them. And I thought she coddled them and let them get away with everything. But we worked it out.
ROBIN: I do say “Listen, buddy” a lot.
PHIL: I can tell how I’m doing at home by the number of sentences that start “Listen.” I know I’m doing something wrong when I hear that and get that finger pointed at me.
ROBIN: It’s usually a man thing when he gets that reaction. Like tracking in mud.
Aren’t you missing out on one of the great joys of married life—makeup sex?
ROBIN: Well, there’s happy sex too.
PHIL: No problem with that.
ROBIN: That’s a myth about makeup sex, I think. I don’t think it’s as good as happy sex.
You have said that you will never divorce. How can you be sure of that?
PHIL: The day Robin buried her mother she said, “I’m an orphan. I’ve got no people.” I said, “That’s not true because I will never leave you.”
ROBIN: And I never doubted him for a moment.