The actress, 37, appears on the latest cover of Vanity Fair where she confirms her marriage to Elverum, 40, for the first time. Williams and Elverum got married in a secret ceremony in the Adirondacks with a few friends and their daughters present. The Blue Valentine actress had 12-year-old Matilda with Heath Ledger; Elverum has a 3-year-old daughter from his first marriage.
“Obviously I’ve never once in my life talked about a relationship,” she said. “But Phil isn’t anyone else. And that’s worth something. Ultimately the way he loves me is the way I want to live my life on the whole. I work to be free inside of the moment. I parent to let Matilda feel free to be herself, and I am finally loved by someone who makes me feel free.”
Elverum now lives in Brooklyn with Williams and their daughters, and Williams said it vindicated her long search for love after Ledger died in 2008.
“I never gave up on love. I always say to Matilda, ‘Your dad loved me before anybody thought I was talented, or pretty, or had nice clothes,’” she recalled in the story.
As for opening up about her life after keeping it private for so long, Williams said she hopes it helps other people going through tragedy. Elverum also lost his wife, illustrator and musician Geneviève Castrée, to cancer just 18 months after welcoming their daughter.
“I don’t really want to talk about any of it,” she said. “But there’s that tease, that lure, that’s like, ‘What if this helps somebody? What if somebody who has always journeyed in this way, who has struggled as much as I struggled, and looked as much as I looked, finds something that helps them?’ Don’t settle. Don’t settle for something that feels like a prison, or is hard, or hurts you,” she says. “If it doesn’t feel like love, it’s not love.”
This article originally appeared on PEOPLE