‘If You Guys Only Knew’: Celeb Relationships vs. Reality — in Their Own Words
They may feel pressure to look perfect, but celeb couples have their ups and downs too
Every couple, famous or not, likely feels some amount of pressure to be the picture of perfection, particularly in the age of social media, in which everyone's getting an edited view of each other's life.
But whether they’re appearing on your Instagram feed or on the cover of a magazine, the relationship that a couple portrays to the outside world is usually just a facet of the full picture.
"We all want to put our best foot forward for the world to see and present ourselves as having it all together," says Kelly Houseman, MS, LLPC and host of the podcast Kelly’s Reality. "But the real problem is that we are all humans and, despite what social media may sometimes try to tell us, at the end of the day we are mere mortals and no one is ever able to measure up to that perfect bar."
And for celebrity couples, there’s the added element of public scrutiny thrown into the mix. Since even A-listers are human (crazy, right?), their relationships go through the same ups and downs as anyone else’s — even if their date nights are decidedly fancier.
"Celebrities are not immune to the struggles, challenges and realities in relationships despite all of the glitz and glam they may experience as part of their career," says Houseman. "In many cases it is their job to portray an aspirational lifestyle, [and that includes] a relationship that people watching wish they were in."
Still, every couple will always face challenges. "At the end of the day just because someone is famous doesn’t make being a human being in a relationship with another human being any less complex or work," she says.
For a look at the good, the bad and the brutally honest, here are some of the most candid relationship revelations, straight from the stars themselves.
Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith
What it looks like: The Hollywood power couple has been married since 1997, and share son Jaden, 22, and daughter Willow, 19 (Will also has a son, Trey, from a previous marriage). Seemingly one the secrets to making it last: They’ve always done things their own way.
“It’s more of a life partnership… I don’t own him. He doesn’t own me. He has to be his own person first, and vice versa… Love is freedom,” Jada told PEOPLE in 2019.
The reality: In the Red Table Talk episode heard ‘round the world, Jada admitted to an extramarital affair with singer August Alsina while briefly separated from Will.
"We broke up," Jada said, clarifying, "We decided that we were going to separate for a period of time."
Jada also addressed allegations that the affair took place with Will’s “permission," as Alsina suggested. "One thing I want to clean up… about [Smith] giving 'permission'," she said. "The only person that can give permission in that circumstance is myself,."
Still, the couple eventually found their way back to each other. "We have really gotten to that new place of unconditional love,” she said.
Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon
What it looks like: The duo has been married for 32(!) years and share two children, son Travis, 31, and daughter Sosie, 28. Even their “dumb couple fights” are adorable.
The reality: Believe it or not, the couple is actually as solid as they appear, although they’ve had their share of obstacles. The pair faced a “scary” time in 2008, when they lost their savings following the arrest of Bernie Madoff, but, they say, their marriage emerged stronger than ever. “The first thing I thought was, Holy s---. Let’s — I don’t know — let’s have sex or something. It’s free!” Bacon recalled of learning the news. “But no, it didn’t challenge the marriage. In fact, the marriage was what made it easy. The money was gone, but we still had each other.”
Their bond is so strong, Sedgwick even admitted colleagues ask her for relationship advice. “I joke that the secret to a successful marriage is to not take marriage advice from celebrities,” she told PEOPLE earlier this year.
Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard
What it looks like: The famously funny couple have been married for seven years, work together (they launched a baby care company, Hello Bello, in 2019) and share two daughters, Lincoln, 7, and Delta, 5. They're so in sync, Shepard got her the world's greatest gift: a visit from a sloth.
The reality: As Bell told Justin Long on his podcast, Life Is Short with Justin Long, she and Shepard have their ups and downs, but most importantly, they are honest about them.
“Something happened with Dax and I early on where we decided we were never going to not be asked about our relationship,” Bell told Long. “So if we were going to talk about it, let’s make sure we show the good, the bad and the ugly and how we handle it. We really try hard to not make it saccharine, and we talk about the fact that we do fight, we do go to therapy, we dislike each other a lot sometimes.”
She then explained that she and her husband “had this pretty incredible fight recently. Incredible. I mean like top-of-the-lungs screaming.” After an argument about household chores, “I grabbed my pillow and stomped down the hall and I sleep in the front room and I’m crying. We don’t talk for three days,” she explained. (Not to worry: They made up, with the help of a dog cafe and a rescue dog named Frank.)
Kristin Cavallari and Jay Cutler
What it looked like: After seven years of marriage, Cavallari and Cutler appeared to have a tight, if imperfect, bond, which they showed to fans on their E! show Very Cavallari. They had three children — sons Camden, 7, and Jaxon, 5, and daughter Saylor, 5 — who did not appear on the show to protect their privacy.
The reality: In April, the couple announced the shocking news that they would be divorcing. The Uncommon James founder says behind the scenes, the couple faced serious marriage woes. "I always thought it was interesting when people would refer to us as 'couple goals,'" Cavallari, 33, told PEOPLE in September. "I was like, 'If you guys only knew.'"
Although things hit a fever pitch while filming the third season of Very Cavallari, "we definitely kept a lot of stuff private," she added. "Producers saw stuff, but they didn't put it in the show — which is good, because I don't want my kids to ever [see that]."
Busy Philipps and Mark Silverstein
What it looks like: Philipps and her writer-producer husband — who often makes cameos on her popular Instagram Stories — have been married 13 years and share two daughters, Birdie, 12, and Cricket, 7.
The reality: The couple went through a rough patch after welcoming their first daughter, to the point that Philipps considered divorce. “I was fully out the door,” Philipps told Harper’s Bazaar in 2019. “I wasn’t expecting anything from him, but what we ended up doing was creating our own system.”
Things turned around when Silverstein took more responsibility in parenting: “He made the call: He should be the one to stay home with the kids,” she told the publication. “He now loves his mornings with the girls. He’ll make my Bulletproof coffee and bring it into the bedroom while I’m still sleeping, and then leave to take the kids to school. He has conversations with them that I’m jealous of. The closeness he now has with these girls, it’s really special.”
Oprah Winfrey and Stedman Graham
What it looks like: Winfrey may be known as an independent woman, but she’s been with her longtime love since 1986, though they never married. And they’re still together: Graham even quarantined in her guest house at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (you know, standard couples stuff).
The reality: Marriage may be the norm, but as these two prove, it’s not for everyone. In fact, Winfrey wrote in an essay in her magazine O, The Oprah Magazine that had the pair tied the knot, “we would not still be together.”
Though Graham once proposed, in 1993, him asking was all the commitment Winfrey wanted. “I realized I didn’t actually want a marriage,” Winfrey wrote. “I wanted to be asked. I wanted to know he felt I was worthy of being his missus, but I didn’t want the sacrifices, the compromises, the day-in-day-out commitment required to make a marriage work. My life with the show was my priority, and we both knew it.”