Daphne Zuniga recently said “I do” for the first time — and she couldn’t be happier that she waited this long to do so.
Speaking to People NOW on Friday, the 56-year-old actress — best known for her roles on Melrose Place and One Tree Hill — explained what led to her to finally tie the knot in June to businessman David Mleczko, 67, in an intimate ceremony in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“I already knew I’d be with him forever,” she said. “We had been together for 12 years. We were engaged for two and a half years. But before we got engaged, it just felt … he feels like a husband. I mean, we’ve been through so much together. And then I start to think, ‘Gosh, maybe it will feel different.'”
“Then he got a little pressure from my sister,” Zuninga continued. “At a family dinner she toasted everybody and said, ‘When are you going to make my sister an honest woman?’ Something as cliché as that, and it put a bug in. And then it put a bug in me and it just feels like a new adventure. It was right for me, waiting that long. He had been married, and raised a family, so he has three grown kids. The timing feels perfect for us.”
Two months since their wedding, Zuniga said some things about her relationship with Mlcezko feel different now that they’re husband and wife.
“I can’t explain it, other than it just feels a little effervescent whenever I see him,” she told PEOPLE Now. “I just see him now and there’s just a little extra care or something. I don’t know why. The ceremony and the ritual does that.”
“Being married was never really a goal,” the actress added. “A soulmate, and being with someone, and being committed — I was committed. So I am as committed, just there’s a little more zing to it.”
In an interview with Glamour published Friday, Zuniga explained that since she was a child, marriage was never something she envisioned for herself.
“I was not one of those little girls who fantasized about being married,” she said. “My parents divorced when I was 6 and I lived with my mother, so I didn’t have a traditional mom and dad together to model after.”
When she was 17, Zuniga came to Los Angeles to pursue acting and prioritized her career over her relationships.
“When I turned 40, I felt confident and physically and emotionally strong,” she recalled, adding that just four years later, her life would change for the better.
“I was 44 when I met my now-husband, David,” she said. “I was living in L.A. and he was based outside of New York. And never in a million years did I think I’d meet someone who had a high-schooler at home. But even though I didn’t want kids of my own, I love his kids. They are like my bonus children, and we have the best time together.”
As Zuniga and Mleczko grew closer, she found a support system in him that she had never had before.
“He makes me feel like everything’s an accomplishment,” she said. “When we met 12 years ago, I told him about an audition I had and he said, ‘Congratulations, Daphne!’ I was like, ‘Uh, you know that means I didn’t necessarily get the job?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but not everyone gets auditions, so congratulations!’ That made me feel a positive as opposed to a negative. He’s never tried to change me.”
“I knew I was going to be with David forever, but I also wasn’t exactly sold on marriage,” Zuniga added. But she eventually decided that she had found the man that she was willing to say “I do” to.
“I started thinking, ‘Why not go for the adventure? Why not see? You love him and he is the one you’re going to be with forever,'” she said.
On June 8, the couple tied the knot in front of just 30 family members. Zuniga walked down the aisle to Etta James’ song “At Last,” escorted by her parents, Joaquin and Agnes.
The bride and groom wrote their own vows but opted for their officiant, close friend and New York Times bestselling author Sharon Salzberg, to read them during the ceremony.
“Part of the reason I waited all these years is because I always felt when I got married my wings were going to be clipped and I knew my career was the center of my life,” Zuniga told PEOPLE exclusively at the time. “When I met David and I brought that fear with me, I was just completely wrong. He is so supportive.”
Now, Zuniga is happier than ever.
“It’s been two and a half years since we got engaged, and at 56, I’m so happy to finally be married to him,” she told Glamour. “It was perfect timing. I don’t think we needed to do it sooner, but I’m glad we didn’t wait any later.”
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