Vanessa Williams has been in the spotlight since 1984, when she was crowned Miss America. In the decades since, she’s done it all: earned Grammy nominations as a singer, starred in beloved blockbusters and series, written a memoir, and even somehow found the time to fit in multiple stints on Broadway. A mom of four, she’s also been married three times: first to music manager Ramon Hervey II in 1987, then to NBA player Rick Fox in 1999, and currently to retired accountant Jim Skrip. (They wed in 2015.) Along the way, she’s collected plenty of wisdom about what it takes to make a marriage work—and what will send it off the rails.
I believe what you expect from marriage starts with how you’re raised—it’s the template for how you behave, what your comfort level is, and what you’re willing to tolerate. My parents got married in 1960, but they had a very modern approach to their relationship. My mother’s always been extremely independent, and my father never gave her ultimatums: She was always able to be who she wanted to be. My expectations for a relationship were modeled on what I learned from them.
I want to be clear: I’ve been married three times, and all my husbands are good men. I wouldn’t have married them if they weren’t decent people. I think men go through different phases of their lives, though. It’s great when that syncs up with what you want, but sometimes it might be later in your life when that happens.
I was 23 the first time I got married. My then-husband was 33. I was just starting getting started in my career when I became a mother: I had my first child at 24, my second at 26, and my third at 30. My husband was my manager, so we were working on my career together along with raising children. At this point, I’ve been a mother so long that it’s hard to remember what my life was like before then. But parenthood has never felt like a burden: It strengthened my outlook on life and made me more ambitious in my career.
I was always working my professional life and my life as a wife and mother simultaneously. That means you have to be independent and make decisions. The kids’ schedules always came first, and my career came second, even though I was always the main money-maker. Unfortunately, that meant the marriage came third. When I’d go away to promote albums, my husband came with as my manager, which was a good thing. I think it would have been the same if I was a lawyer or in some other profession: There were a lot of demands on my time, so you do the best you can. There’s no such thing as balance. When you’re working hard you’re feeling guilty. You hope your partner understands the kids have to come first a lot of times. When there’s a baby crying, you’ve got to attend to it.
You’re just not going to be 100% available, and the marriage—the relationship—does change. I think women marry expectations: They see the reality of someone, but they think they can change it. And I think men marry who the woman is at that moment—they don’t feel like she will ever change and can’t handle it when she evolves. My first marriage lasted 10 years. We had some issues with infidelity. I hung in there for awhile, until there came a time when I couldn’t anymore.
My second husband was six years younger than I was: When we got married, I was 36. At the time, I worried about being too old, even though I was still very young. He was in the NBA, which is basically another kind of show business and high profile in a way I hadn’t experienced before. We had a different set of issues than my first marriage, mostly because we weren’t on the same coast most of it: He was on the road or out in Los Angeles, and after our daughter was born I was on the East Coast, raising four children and flying across the country every two weeks.
Given our professions, proximity was a tremendous obstacle, so we had that issue on top of the age thing. But also, my expectations of a relationship had a really high benchmark because of my father. He was so good at everything: He could fix a car, he could do electrical work, he could build anything, he was a problem solver. He was also faithful, had incredible integrity, and was respected in his community. My father was my example of what I expected to find in a partner. And that’s impossible for anyone to live up to.