The Shady Side Of Donald And Melania Trump's Relationship

If he's offered nothing else to the American political and media landscape, Donald Trump has been an endless source of fodder for late-night comedians. The hair, the tan, the shameless boasts, the blatant ignorance — there's so much for a comedian to choose from. But a perennial favorite for Trump's detractors, since well before his entry into politics, has been his complicated love life. Trump has been married more times than any U.S. president, and never without controversy. His first wife Ivana, a one-time executive in The Trump Organization, accused him of rape in a deposition during a bitter divorce triggered by what Ivana described as humiliating and abusive treatment. She later denied making the accusation. Also hurting the marriage was Trump's dalliance with Marla Maples, who would become his second wife — and an easy target for comedians.

But comics, gossip-mongers, and journalists alike have all zeroed in on Trump's third marriage, to Melania Knavs. The two married in 2005, well before Trump's political ambitions were anything more than a joke. But speculation and commentary around their marriage moved from media tabloid fare to more politically-charged scrutiny after Trump took the White House and Melania became First Lady. The nature of their relationship has been called into question, and strange episodes and rumors from their past have been brought back to the surface. Read on for more details on the strange and sometimes unsettling stories about Donald and Melania Trump's marriage.

Trump's style imposed itself on Melania's press conference after they got together

The story of how Donald Trump and Melania Knavs met varies. That they met at a party in the late 1990s seems sure enough, though the Trumps' claim that it was during New York Fashion Week when they first crossed paths has been contradicted by several figures in the industry. During the 2016 election, Melania told GQ that she knew almost nothing about Trump when they first met and that she refused to give him her number when he asked. She insisted on getting his number; he gave her all the numbers he used at the time. "If I give him my number," she explained, "I'm just one of the women he calls."

Meeting Trump coincided with an unusual press conference by Melania in September 1998. She was known at the time as a modestly successful European model with a quiet, reserved demeanor, but at the conference, she boasted untruthfully of being world famous, among the top 50 models in the world, and claimed she about to star in a film alongside Mickey Rourke; she had auditioned for a part, but was passed over due to her accent. It was a promotional strategy that seemed much more up Trump's alley. The performance struck several observers as odd, and it was a type of bravado Melania wouldn't repeat again in her modeling career.

Donald Trump loved bragging about Melania's looks

In the 1990s, before his political ambitions and his lurch to the far right soured his image for some, Donald Trump was seen as among the more preferable of the "modelisers," a group of older wealthy men who enjoyed socializing with supermodels. Compared to others of this informal club, Trump didn't indulge in vices or demand much of any model beyond appearing with him in photos. He was just looking to get his picture in the paper with a beautiful woman.

From early on in his relationship with Melania Knavs, beauty was a trait Trump loved to emphasize. He boasted to friends that Melania was so stunning that she sent his business rivals to the floor in awe and that other women found Melania to be a remarkable beauty. Trump introduced Melania as "my supermodel" at a town hall event in 1999 (per "Free, Melania: An Unauthorized Biography"). Such remarks sometimes veered from the boastful to the gross; in an interview with Howard Stern, Trump happily reported that he'd never heard any bathroom noises from Melania, detailed her proportions, and when asked if he would stay married to her in the event of a disfiguring accident, asked Stern if Melania's breasts would be alright in the hypothetical.

Melania hasn't voiced any disapproval of her husband talking this way. But at that 1999 town hall, she was disturbed by moderator Chis Matthews' hot mic remarks about her walk. "I'm not only a beauty," she protested later. "I'm smart. I have brains. I'm intelligent." But she tempered her disapproval by taking the comments as "men will be men."

Has Trump been faithful to Melania?

Within a few weeks of their getting together, Melania Knavs broke things off with Donald Trump, reportedly because she saw Kara Young, a former girlfriend of Trump's, leaving Trump Tower. Their split lasted just a week, but Young triggered another breakup between the two in 2000. Photographer Matthew Atanian, a former roommate of Melania's, remembered for GQ that "she was telling me that she wouldn't have it, he was back to his old ways," and that Melania and Trump remained apart for about six months.

In "Free, Melania: An Unauthorized Biography," Kate Bennett wrote that Trump promised after the first breakup to be faithful to Melania, a promise she accepted. But Trump's fidelity has been an ongoing source of speculation about their relationship. After all, this is a man who was all over the tabloids in the 1990s due to the breakdown of his first marriage and his affair with Marla Maples. More than one woman has claimed to have had an affair with Trump while he was with Melania, others have claimed he forced himself on them within that time, and a 2018 Quinnipiac poll (via The Hill) found that most voters took it for granted that he was a cheater.

As First Lady, Melania maintained that there was no truth behind the reports about her husband's dalliances. But the claims of Stormy Daniels reportedly took her by surprise. And she's also maintained throughout their relationship that she hasn't tried to change her husband.

They seem to keep a good distance from each other

When they first began dating, Melania Knavs kept her own apartment rather than move in with Donald Trump. Keeping physical distance is something that has persisted in their relationship even well into married life. After their wedding, Melania had her own spa built in Trump Tower to give her a private space. Staff, friends, and guests have claimed that they rarely, if ever, see the Trumps interacting like a typical couple or even having conversations. And they've long maintained separate bedrooms and bathrooms.

That a married couple would choose to have their own rooms rather than sleep together doesn't say anything about the state of a marriage, of course. Plenty of happy couples have such an arrangement. And Mary Jordan, author of "The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump," told The Guardian that both Trump and Melania are natural loners who still maintain a connection; Melania, she said, was Trump's first phone call after every speech and rally during his presidency.

But keeping separate spaces, fairly or unfairly, helped fuel speculation of emotional distance, reinforced by incidents such as Melania's apparently slapping Trump's hand away in 2017. Theories about a "fake Melania" stand-in took off on social media. And in 2023, as Trump's intentions to make a bid to retake the White House became ever more apparent, the media began to notice that his wife seemed conspicuously absent from rallies, speeches, and even the social life at Mar-a-Lago. In addressing Melania's muted presence, Trump felt the need to stress that the two of them "actually get along very well" (via Intelligencer). 

Their marriage has been described as transactional, not romantic

They might insist that they get along and that any rumors of infidelity or strife are untrue, but Donald and Melania Trump have never been able to dispel the assumption among many that theirs is a transactional marriage, not a romantic one. Her former aide Stephanie Winston Wolkoff insisted to the BBC that it was so. "Donald got arm candy ... and Melania got two dynamic decades," Wolkoff said. Her interviewer raised the question of her judgment — being an ex-aide and friend to Melania who claimed she had been manipulated, but Wolkloff's words aren't the only fuel behind the rumors.

Since their engagement, Trump has almost never used the word "love" to describe his relationship with Melania. Among the reasons he got married for a third time, he says, is that Melania didn't pressure him about marriage. He also tends to list as virtues the ways she is valuable to his image, his success, and his holding the spotlight. At times, he's even framed the marriage in a way that suggests it was a prize Melania had earned. For her part, Melania has shared stories of advice given to her by her mother, advice that stressed looking out for herself before others. And she allegedly knows how to do that, at least financially; in 2023, reports emerged that, as her husband's legal woes mounted, Melania renegotiated the terms of her prenuptial agreement, and that this was only the most recent such change.