Jennifer Lopez on She and Ben Affleck Now Knowing 'Who We Are as People and What Really Matters'

"We have even more of an appreciation because we know that life can take you in different directions," the Marry Me star tells PEOPLE

It may be tempting to look at Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck's rekindled love through the lens of their first romance, but a whole lot has changed in 18 years.

"We're older now, we're smarter, we have more experience, we're at different places in our lives, we have kids now, and we have to be very conscious of those things," the 52-year old Marry Me star tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story.

The superstar couple, who are parents to five kids between them, also have the benefit of life lessons gleaned along the way. "It's a beautiful outcome that this has happened in this way at this time in our lives where we can really appreciate and celebrate each other and respect each other," Lopez says. "We always did, but we have even more of an appreciation because we know that life can take you in different directions."

No longer distracted by the pomp and media circus that surrounded their relationship before they split in 2004, Lopez says, "I think we are strong enough now to know what's real and what's not, whereas when we were younger maybe some of those outside voices were a little bit tougher for us to reconcile and survive."

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez attend "The Last Duel" New York Premiere at Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Frederick P. Rose Hall on October 09, 2021 in New York City.
Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Arturo Holmes/Getty

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For one, Lopez gained invaluable perspective over the last two decades. Sustaining an A-list career as a multi-faceted artist — and becoming a mom to her now-13-year-old twins Max and Emme — naturally helped drown out unnecessary noise and let her focus on the life-enriching parts of her journey.

"We have been in the game in the public eye long enough to know who we are as people and what really matters and what doesn't matter," she says. "We have kids and we respect each other. ... We really live our lives in a way we can be proud of and our kids can be proud of you. We're just operating from a place of love and respect for everyone in our lives and that is very important to us. We know what the truth is [and] we hold it sacred."

Jennifer Lopez cover rollout

Affleck, 49, seems on the same page. "I feel like he's at a place in his life where — just like I feel about myself — it's been a journey of learning yourself and figuring yourself out, getting to a place where you feel really good on your own and who you are so you can be in a happy, healthy relationship," she says.

"Now," Lopez adds, "it's really up to the two of us what our life is going to be."

Marry Me is in theaters and on Peacock Feb. 11.

For the full, exclusive interview with Jennifer Lopez — and more extraordinary love stories — pick up a copy of PEOPLE's new Love Issue, on newsstands now.

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