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Nicole Richie and Joel Madden’s 10-Year Marriage Shows Opposites Really Do Attract

Nicole Richie and Joel Madden may seem like an unlikely match — “Joel and I are complete polar opposites,” The Simple Life alum once admitted — but their 15-year relationship proves that opposites really do attract. It also highlights the importance of giving people a chance to show their true selves and of trusting the power of connection. If Richie had been quick to judge Madden, she wouldn’t have discovered that the public’s “perception is the polar opposite of what he actually is.”

And if Madden hadn’t pushed Richie to give him a chance because he felt there was something between them, he wouldn’t have married his “best friend” and “the only person I’ve ever met that’s as influential on my life as my brother, Benj.”

Here’s what we can learn from Nicole Richie and Joel Madden’s sweet love story: 

(Photo by Jamie McCarthy/WireImage)

When Nicole Richie and Joel Madden first met, the Good Charlotte rocker was instantly smitten. As he shared with 60 Minutes Australia: “Meeting Nicole was […] like a religious experience. That’s like a life-changing, cathartic event,” he said of “meeting the person you know is going to be your wife.”

Worried that she’d judge him based on his public persona, the musician got to work. “I’m not for every woman, you know,” he told 60 Minutes Australia, saying that’s because “he’s not like the tall, dark, handsome guy.” Stressing the importance of looking beneath the surface — “I think that it’s once you get to know me [that the perception changes]” — Madden admitted to telling Richie, “‘Just give me a shot. Just give me one date,’” so he could “get my foot in the door,” he laughed. 

It worked. Although the House of Harlow 1960 founder told the show she “couldn’t get a read on him for the life of me” when they first met, she soon learned just how different he was. “People look at him with his tattoos and wearing all black and I think the perception is the polar opposite of what he actually is,” she shared.

He’s actually very careful and an introvert and just, you know, very, very shy. 

Nicole Richie

Soon, Richie was trying her best to impress him. As she confessed to Ryan Seacrest in 2016, she lied just to get Madden to spend more time with her. “I was 25 when I met him and he said, ‘Have you ever watched The Wire?’” she recalled. “I lied and said that I did, so he would hang out with me,” but her plan nearly backfired.

He literally dropped me in season three […] and I just, like, pretended to know everything and it was horrible, and then I hated the show!

Nicole Richie

And when it came time for dad Lionel Richie to meet Madden, he too learned the importance of looking beyond appearances. Recalling the first time Richie introduced them, he laughed, “This was not prince charming, let me be honest with you […] and then, of course, you got the picture right away, which was he really loves my daughter,” he told 60 Minutes Australia

Nicole Richie and Joel Madden play by their own rules

There’s no set rulebook when it comes to relationships, but there are conventions. Conventions which Nicole Richie and Joel Madden have always ignored. They began dating in December 2006, had two kids, and then walked down the aisle in December 2010. As Richie told 60 Minutes Australia, “Our entire relationship we’ve just kind of thrown all of the ideas that we’ve grown up believing. We didn’t have a timeline of getting married or when we were gonna have children and that’s just how we’ve always kind of rolled,” she explained. 

It wasn’t the first time she and Madden were asked about their decision to ignore marriage at first. As she told Larry King in 2009, “I think for both of us, we are going to do it because we want to, not because that’s what you do.” Madden added, “We already feel kind of married, you know? Our family system that we have down, we feel like this is a real family. And marriage, one day it will come.” And it did. Opening up about his unconventional proposal, the singer told 60 Minutes Australia, “I just woke up one morning and I said […] ‘What am I doing, I’m a fool, why have I not asked her to marry me?'” So he popped the question that very night. “It was a Tuesday,” he laughed.   

Nicole Richie and Joel Madden prioritize their family

(Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

Nicole Richie and Joel Madden welcomed daughter Harlow Winter Kate Madden in February 2008, then son Sparrow James Midnight Madden arrived in September 2009, and the couple has been putting family first ever since. 

As Richie told Oprah in 2014, parenthood has been both “the easiest and hardest part” of their relationship. “We met and we were partners from Day 1,” she began. “And from the second we found out we were going to be parents together, we looked at each other and we said, OK, both of our parents are divorced, we both have had ups and downs with our parents, and we don’t really have a strong example of what a healthy family life is. But we’re recognizing that now and so, let’s work at it and let’s go through this together as a team and it’s been great.”

In fact, it’s family that helped solidify their union early on. Noting that Madden is “very family-oriented,” Richie told Ocean Drive magazine (per Just Jared) “When we met, I was definitely going through a difficult time with my family and having him have such a strong foundation really opened the doors and brought both of our families together.”  

What is Nicole Richie and Joel Madden’s secret to happiness?

Speaking with Us Weekly in 2019, Nicole Richie reflected on the key to marital bliss and admitted, “I don’t know [if there’s] a secret, other than we love to laugh and have fun.” Calling her husband “the most supportive,” she continued.

It’s nice doing the journey of life together. Doing it with somebody else that has the same goals as you is a really fun way to live. 

Nicole Richie

Their deep-rooted love, support, and appreciation of one another is also undoubtedly a factor. As The Voice Australia judge gushed in 2012, “I feel like the luckiest man alive to have my wife and kids. When the world outside breaks me down, they build me back up,” he enthused, adding, “Hope everyone out there finds this kind of love.” And in 2020, he thanked Richie on Mother’s Day, writing, “You take care of us all, and you make our house a home.”

We’ve all heard the age-old adage to never judge a book by its cover and sure, it may sound like a cliché, but Nicole Richie and Joel Madden show us just how valuable it is to keep in mind. By looking beyond Madden’s public persona, Richie found her person and, in doing so, proved that yet another popular saying rings true: opposites do indeed attract. The couple’s decade-long marriage just goes to show that some relationship advice is timeless for a reason. 

Barbara Pavone

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Barbara Pavone