“She put hot sauce on her fries,” Rodney Peete says of the moment he knew Holly Robinson Peete was the woman for him. It was the early 1990’s and they were out for the first time with mutual friends at an L.A. supper club. “I knew she felt comfortable around me as she stuffed her face with food,” he says. Close to 25 years later, the former NFL player and the actress are still making each other smile.
A 20-year marriage in Hollywood with four children that both spouses describe as “happy” is something to celebrate—and study. Here the Peetes share the habits that keep them connected.
Get Professional Support
“From the beginning Rodney was willing to sit down with a counselor,” Holly says. “Most brothers I know and that I dated would never do that. We sat down with an objective third party, and that was crucial in the early days of our relationship, with our busy schedules. We still have our counselor in our lives.” Rodney also credits those sessions with helping start their marriage strong: “We laid it all out on what we expected and what the guidelines were. And we followed it.”
Befriend Strong Couples
On the premiere of For Peete’s Sake, Rodney surprises Holly with a couples’ night out to celebrate their twentieth anniversary. They are joined by their lovers’ tribe, including Duane Martin and Tisha Campbell-Martin. “I can get on the phone with Tisha or any of our friends circle and not feel like I’m gossiping about my husband. Sometimes you just need to vent,” Holly says. “We’ve tried to build a community of people that have integrity. We are not perfect but we are supported.”
Hold Him Close
The Peetes’ 20-year union has been filled with regular 20-second hugs. “If we hug each other for 20 seconds, there’s something hormonal that connects us,” Holly says. “We do those hugs even when we’re mad at each other. And, girl, sometimes those 20-second hugs feel like 20 years. But it works.” Rodney agrees, and in fact was the one who brought home the hug rule. “It seemed so trivial at first,” he admits. “But after doing it, I see the benefit. We may get bad news or may be disagreeing and decide to hug. It reminds me I have a partner in everything. You can’t turn it down. That’s the rule.”
Fight Storms Together
No relationship is without its trials. The Peetes have been at the forefront of autism awareness since their oldest son, Rodney Jackson, now 18, was diagnosed as a toddler. “When we got that news, I curled up for almost two weeks with the curtains down. In those days they gave you no hope,” Holly recalls. Rodney adds: “I reacted like a typical man. It was a blow to my manhood.” After the initial devastation, Holly went to work learning everything she could about autism. “I was still stuck on, “I’m going to fix my son,”” Rodney says. “That caused a lot of tension and made me distant. Finally, she gave me an ultimatum: Get on board or get out of the way, which means leave. My family was most important, so I got on board. Once I understood that I didn’t have to change him, everything was going to be okay. She deserves all the credit for that. That was the biggest obstacle we had to overcome and it brought us closer.”
Work as a Team
The number of women leaning on men for financial security is shrinking, and the Peetes are proud to be a part of that progression. “What made me most comfortable with Rodney was that he was not threatened by the fact that I had my own life and money,” she recalls. “Many guys, certainly in sports, are threatened by that. But he liked that.” Decades later, the Peetes still shake off traditional gender roles: “Society tells us you’re less of a man if your wife is more successful. I don’t buy into any of that,” Rodney says. “If I’ve got to take the kids to practice or a concert because she’s on the road filming, I have no problem with that, because it’s a partnership and a family.”