Geena Davis and Dr. Reza Jarrahy's pairing was unlikely from the start

Geena Davis and Dr. Reza Jarrahy’s pairing was unlikely from the start.

The couple, who wed September 1, 2001, have split after 20 years together — first separating on November 15 before Jarrahy filed for divorce on Tuesday, citing irreconcilable differences in court documents obtained by PEOPLE.

An Iranian-American neurosurgeon 15 years her junior, Jarrahy was 27 when Davis, then 42, met him at a party.

The age difference was an initial stumbling block for Davis. “A relationship with him seemed a little far-fetched,” she told Good Housekeeping in 2006, while recalling her initial attraction to Jarrahy. “I remember thinking, This guy is cute — and ridiculously young.”

Reza Jarrahy and Geena Davis in December 2015
| Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty

Want to keep up on the latest from PEOPLE? Sign up for our daily newsletter to get our best stories of the day delivered straight to your inbox.

There was also the fact that Davis was in the midst of “a long, arduous journey of self-discovery.” Having previously been married to Finnish film director Renny Harlin (1993–98), actor Jeff Goldblum (1987–90) and restaurateur Richard Emmolo (1982–83), she was addressing some of the problems in her past relationships — and realizing that she had only found herself attracted to guys she could change in the past.

“I was always in the type of relationship where everything was about the other person,” Davis said. “I’d find my worth through sacrificing everything for his sake. And that had everything to do with my own feelings about myself; the guys I was with felt pretty great about themselves all on their own — they didn’t need me to fix them because they weren’t damaged. But I sure was.”

4th Annual Bentonville Film Festival - Day 1
Credit: Phillip Faraone/Getty

Meeting Jarrahy helped her realize she could break those bad habits.

“I finally managed to change myself, and that changed what seemed attractive to me,” she said. “Reza is so different from the kind of men I used to be with.”

That didn’t mean she was looking to walk down the aisle with him immediately. As they first started dating, Davis was keeping things light.

“At first, to be honest, I was just approaching it like something that would be fun,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking too far ahead of the game.”

RELATED VIDEO: Geena Davis Stuns in Ruby Ball Gown at The Nice Guys Premiere

The more time they spent in one another’s company, the more comfortable she felt.

“The amazing thing is, when we started to spend more and more time together, there wasn’t anything about our age difference that stuck out,” she said. “It wasn’t like I was sitting there saying, ‘What do you mean, you don’t know who the Beatles are?’ It doesn’t feel like we’re from different generations, and now we barely notice it at all.”

As PEOPLE reported in 2000, Davis was then shooting an episode of her now-defunct ABC sitcom, The Geena Davis Show. On their Burbank set, Davis and her costars, Peter Horton and Mimi Rogers, were trading Thanksgiving stories over coffee and bagels. “And then,” recalled Horton, “Geena lifted her left hand from under the table, and I gasped.” The star was flashing a square-shaped diamond engagement ring that Jarrahy had given her over the weekend at their new L.A. house, still under construction. “Geena was just beaming,” said Horton. “We had no inkling this was going to happen.”

Davis told Good Housekeeping she “wasn’t nervous at all” about entering a fourth marriage. “I really did feel that I had turned a corner, that I had pulled off changes that were real and permanent.”

Reza Jarrahy and Geena Davis in May 2017

They tied the knot in September 2001 during a small private ceremony in New York’s Hamptons. “We are very happy and we look forward to spending the rest of our lives together,” they announced their union in a joint statement at the time.

A family would follow, including 16-year-old daughter Alizeh Keshvar and 13-year-old twin sons Kaiis Steven and Kian William.

The pair were last photographed together at a Los Angeles charity event, UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital presents Kaleidoscope 5, in May 2017.

In the court documents for their divorce, which were filed under the names Rob Doe vs. Veronica Doe, Jarrahy is asking for spousal support and joint legal and physical custody of their children. He is also asking the judge to deny any request by Davis for spousal support.