Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard sat down exclusively with PEOPLE for its latest cover story and opened up about marriage, parenting and more
“We definitely had to work really hard at being a couple because we’re both incredibly, painfully stubborn, and we’re pretty much opposites,” Shepard, 44, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s cover story, on stands Friday.
After crossing paths briefly at a dinner party in 2007, the couple — who wed in 2013 and have two daughters, Lincoln, 5, and Delta, 4 — reconnected weeks later at a hockey game where “the sparks were flying,” says The Ranch star. Adds Bell, 38: “Big time.”
Though they had undeniable chemistry, both say their road to marriage was certainly rocky. Not quite ready to settle down at the time, Shepard broke up with Bell months into their relationship.
“I was like, ‘That’s the best personality I’ve ever seen on a woman. I need to be around it,” recalls Shepard. “I want to be around it when I’m 80, but how?”
The answer was trust and honesty plus “a little couple’s therapy” — and a very meaningful compromise.
- For much more on Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell’s marriage, parenting philosophies and new baby product line, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Knowing Shepard didn’t believe in marriage, the Bad Moms actress had accepted she would never be his wife.
“He has a great argument that the state having a piece of paper doesn’t mean he’s going to be nice to me and by my side for the rest of my life. [Rather], that is going to be evidenced by how we treat each other and the commitment that we make,” says Bell. “I had surrendered, like ‘Okay, well, I’m never going to get any sort of traditional marriage out of this, and that’s okay because I trust him.’ I really, really trusted him and believed that we were going to go the long haul.”
But Shepard knew how much marriage meant to Bell, and “ultimately, I was like, ‘Well, I’m doing it because my partner wants that,” he explains about proposing in 2009. “Forget the tradition or history of marriage as a concept, you knowing I was doing something that I didn’t want to do because I loved you was a big sign for you.”
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“It just felt more normal. We do a lot of things differently, but there’s a couple things where I’m just like, ‘God, can we not just fall inside the lines once in a while? I want to wear a pretty piece of jewelry. It’s fun!'” explains Bell. “It felt nice afterwards.”
Celebrating 12 years together this year, Shepard and Bell are taking stock on the incredible life and family they’ve built together.
“All these movies from the ’80s taught us that it’s love at first sight, and it is supposed to be easy and [that] all you have to do is find that person,” says Bell. “It took me a while to realize, ‘Oh, that was such a lie,’ because things that you work really, really, really hard for always yield the best results.”