Robin McGraw on the Rise – New You Exclusive Interview
Posted On Aug 02, 2014
BY RUCHEL LOUIS COETZEE PHOTOGRAPHY BY FADIL BERISHA
A passionate philanthropist and New York Times bestselling author— not to mention the distaff side of Dr. Phil—Robin McGraw steps into the spotlight to offer her take on romance, enduring happiness, and the ways we can stand up for women in need.
Several decades ago, Robin McGraw stood in her Dallas dream home, brimming with anticipation. She gazed wistfully through French-paned windows down to a placid valley below, where sparrows dove amidst the sun’s dancing rays. She ached to move into this house, with its three-car garage and spacious living spaces. “I’d already found the place for the Christmas tree,” she recalls. But her husband, Phillip—not yet “Dr. Phil” as we know him today—took a more prudent stance. With his signature lucidity, the good doctor laid his feelings on the line. He insisted that they not risk their financial future on a house they might not be able to afford. More importantly, he needed to know that his wife would not be upset with him if negotiations failed. His honesty allowed Robin to adopt a cooler head. “I remember looking at him, thinking, God bless him,” Robin recalls. “I walked behind him, put my head on his back, and asked: ‘Where am I right now?’ He answered that I was behind him. I said, ‘That’s right. Don’t you ever forget it.’”
In that moment, Robin had the wisdom to remember the roots of her commitment to Dr. Phil. Compromise, reason, and mutual respect has always been the bedrock of their relationship. The experience, there in that dream house, gave her the chance to go deeper with her husband. “I learned what upsets him, what irritates him, and what makes him mad early on,” says Robin, “I choose not to do those things.” She also learned—40 years ago—not to compare him to other people, and to communicate as clearly as she can. If it sounds like she is one to acquiesce, think again. Robin is one of the strongest women you’re likely to encounter. She’s simply smart enough to understand the true nature of partnership.
Since the days of burning bras, women have taken strength in the concept of “anything you can do, I can do better.” But where do the hard edges stop and the soft curls of femininity begin? The news is filled with stories like that of the Princeton mother who counsels young women to find husbands in college. More and more women are reporting that they’re seeking their own Marlboro Man. Fifty Shades of Grey has articulated an elemental type of desire, one that’s worlds away from the glass-ceiling power struggle. Meanwhile, men are admitting that overly aggressive women have become a turn-off. Enter Robin, who offers advice to millions of viewers on a daily basis, both as a fixture on Dr. Phil’s show and via social media outlets. She’s an alluring example of natural strength and charm, whose ambitions are easily fulfilled and whose femininity is never in question. Her fans rely on her savvy perspective—from what she says to Dr. Phil as they walk off set each day to what she decides to wear in the morning. More than Dr. Phil’s betrothed; Robin is emerging as a bona fide personality in her own right. She has a sincere desire to help victims of domestic violence through her recently launched foundation, When Georgia Smiled, and all the while she loves the chance to impart girlfriendly advice on a grand scale.
Communication is a high priority for the McGraws. The ability to verbalize true feelings throughout a relationship, without fear or remorse, is vital. Meanwhile, the act of assumption can spell sheer disaster. “You cannot assume that just because you said something once that you don’t have to say it repeatedly over the years,” Robin says. When she was pregnant with her first son, Jay, Robin told Dr. Phil that though she was about to become a mother, it did not mean she would no longer be a wife. “To this day, he remembers me looking him in the eye and saying that. From that moment on, he could say to himself, “Oh good, I’m not going to be in second place. She’s not going to forget about our relationship.’ I’ve stood by that early promise over the 40 years of marriage.”
Another promise made at the very beginning of the relationship was that they’d never raise their voices to one another. While dating, Robin told Phillip that her father had never raised his voice to her mother and it disturbed her that his father raised his voice to his mother without realizing it. “I told him, ‘I can’t live like that. It’s not natural for me,’” she says. “He got it and has never raised his voice around me.” People find it hard to believe that they never fight. But four decades later, they still walk hand in hand, smiling after the taping of every show.
Make no mistake—Robin is no June Cleaver. She likes to be in control, and as the youngest of five—three older sisters and a twin brother—she’s never liked being told what to do. “I had felt somewhat out of control growing up because of my father’s alcoholism,” Robin admits. “I lived in uncertainty every day because of it and didn’t like the feeling. I made decisions early on that I was going to do everything I could to be in control of myself and my life.” Robin recalls having to help her mom drive around town to look for her father when he was on a drinking binge. Her father’s demons were palpable. “I saw the horrible side of his alcoholism and gambling and what it did to our family. It taught me compassion and how to have a more accepting and loving spirit.”
Robin credits her mother for the woman she is today, calling her ‘an angel on earth.’ Not one to hold onto many regrets, Robin does admit that she did not tell her mother how much she admired her as often as she would have liked. She recalls a pivotal moment in her marriage that occurred just after her mother died (of an unexpected heart attack at 58), when Phil had forgotten to mail a stack of handwritten thank-you notes after the funeral. When she realized they’d gone unsent, her heart just dropped. “I pulled them out just as he walked into the room and I just gasped,” she says. “I just went, ‘I thought they knew, I thought they knew…’” Seeing the remorse wash over her husband’s face and his plea to make it right—by mailing or phoning them—made her realize that blame was at best pointless, at worst destructive. “I saw his pain,” she remembers. “The writing of those letters had been cleansing for me. If the people received the letters late, so be it. I just said, ‘Honey, that’s OK. Don’t worry about it.’”
Her mother’s death was the catalyst for her foundation, When Georgia Smiled (whengeorgiasmiled.org). Throughout her life, Robin wanted to be her mother— always smiling, always caring for others while bathing in the light of her grandchildren. But she remembers her thoughts clearly on the day of her mother’s passing. “I got on my knees and I prayed that night,” she recalls. “I said to the universe: “I’m being so disrespectful, but Mother, I can’t be like you. I have to take care of myself. I won’t perpetuate your legacy of self-neglect. I will take care of myself, so I can be here for my family.” When the McGraws met Oprah and moved out to Los Angeles to commence the Dr. Phil show, she witnessed the tormented lives of so many victims of domestic violence. Robin realized her mission: “To do everything I can with the help of the foundation to educate, support, answer, and help women and their children find ways to escape abuse and trauma and live joy filled lives.”
The goal of When Georgia Smiled is to significantly impact the growing incidence of domestic violence. According to statistics from the FBI, a woman is assaulted or beaten in the U.S. every nine seconds, and more than three women in the U.S. are murdered every day by their husbands or boyfriends. These are alarming, unacceptable statistics, seemingly buried under the weight of other news headlines. “It is a silent epidemic in America—probably one of the most underreported crimes in America,” says Robin. She has heard stories that break her heart—true tales on unrelenting fear, manipulation, and confusion. “What touches me the most,” says Robin, “is when we have a guest on the show and they don’t realize they are being abused. You see this light bulb go on, where they realize this is not normal. ‘My husband took a knife and cut my eyebrows off in front of the children.’ ‘My husband set me on fire while I was at the grocery store in front of my children, but I survived.’ You feel the strength of these women, and it is so inspiring.”
One of the foundations inaugural programs is the ASPIRE Initiative, which includes a smartphone app and a domestic violence curriculum that can be downloaded by anyone. These are both available, free of charge, in English and Spanish through the foundation’s website. (The ASPIRE News app is a discreet app designed to look like a news app, allowing its “go button” to reach help in secret. This tool helps women to know they can improve their options when faced with danger.) “Our work at When Georgia Smiled is an important addition to an already devoted and committed community of people who are passionately fighting against domestic violence,” says Robin. The foundation has a close working relationship with organizations such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV). With Robin as its driving force, this six-month-old foundation is on its way to inspire a sea change on current statistics. Robin is on an expanded mission to help support the foundation through her other endeavors such as her new Robin McGraw Revelation purpose-driven lifestyle brand (robinmcgrawrevelation.com). All profits of her signature Averylasting Love lip-gloss line will go straight to the foundation.
Robin believes that God never puts a burden on us that we do not have the resources to handle. She talks about steps to take if a woman feels she is in an abusive situation—learning warning signs of escalating abuse, identifying resources, discreetly reaching out to someone else for strength, and designing a plan for change. “Maybe all of these steps can be done before having to muster up the courage to actually make an escape,” she says.
Robin believes that these principles ring true when it comes to taking care of one’s self—something her mother was unable to do. “Maybe it is by eliminating some of our responsibilities, learning to say no, understanding that our children can actually do some things,” she says. It’s not selfish to prioritize ourselves and make appointments for self-nurturing. For women juggling work and family, Robin has some salient advice on keeping spirits up. She suggests sitting down with your husband or partner and children, and having an open discussion on how to make things work so that there is no resentment from either side. “I would let my husband know that he is still my number one priority in my life, whether I am at the office or am traveling,” says Robin. “I ask him, ‘What can I do? Tell me what you need from me, what you need to hear from me, what you need to see me do. I’ll do it. We’re not going to move from this spot until we have worked it out. If you ask something that’s impossible, we’re going to have to keep on talking.’ Then, I check in with him on a regular basis. Phillip always needs to know I’m proud of him and he loves to hear that I appreciate him. I make sure he hears it from me regularly.”
Their 40 years of happy marriage have been completely reciprocal; according to Dr. Phil. Robin has never been a passive partner. She has arranged the home office, with her desk facing his desk with a beautiful view from outside so they can collaborate on upcoming shows. “Oh, let me tell you, she’s my feminine side, no question,” Dr. Phil says. “I go over the shows at night and she’ll look at them and say, ‘You had better not say this or that to her.’ I say, ‘Yes, ma’am!’” He smiles ear to ear at the mention of Robin, and takes every chance to physically reassure her that he’s there, heart and soul. Robin teases him, reminding him of the aforementioned story in that Dallas dream house. “I always remember that,” Phil says. “She also told me that if I ever left her she is going with me.”
Dr. Phil values Robin more than words can adequately express. He recently pulled her aside and said, “I just need to tell you something. When you walked in the room you didn’t even acknowledge me. It broke my heart because all I care about is you looking at me.”
We’ll continue to tune into Dr. Phil for his sage counsel. And now we’ve got Robin, poised to take center stage and make the world a more beautiful place. The McGraws share a love we can all take cues from, based on communication and willingness to face truths head on. All the while, they live by John F. Kennedy’s credo: “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” It’s a winning formula, straight from the heart.