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Melissa Gilbert and Bruce Boxleitner were married from 1995 to 2011. Two years and one child into their marriage, Gilbert began to shut down. There was a distance between her and Boxleitner that, in retrospect, the actor realizes she orchestrated herself. During that time, she got “inappropriately close” to a co-star. When Boxleitner found out, they nearly divorced.

Bruce Boxleitner and Melissa Gilbert pose outside of the screening for Season Four of 'Nip/Tuck.'
Bruce Boxleitner and Melissa Gilbert | Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

‘Seduction in a Small Town’

In the summer of 1997, Gilbert was cast in the TV movie Seduction in a Small Town. In her words: “The story of a woman who moves to a small town with her family and fights to regain her two kids from foster care after being falsely accused of child abuse.”

When Gilbert left to film in Calgary, Canada, she and Boxleitner were getting along, but not close.

“My inability to express my feelings or needs was at a peak,” she wrote in her 2009 memoir, Prairie Tale. “I was overly self-sufficient and full of resentment at everyone and everything.”

Gilbert writes that the cast spent a lot of time together outside of filming.

“We were together constantly on set and off, barbecuing, singing, and drinking…a lot,” she wrote. “I became especially close to my leading man. Inappropriately so. I’d always developed crushes on my leading men, but this was different and it was fueled by alcohol, which allowed me to pour my heart out. The problem was, I was pouring my heart out to the wrong person. I should’ve been sharing all of this with my husband, but I was too afraid.”

Gilbert and her leading man (she doesn’t specify who the person is in her memoir, but Dennis Weaver starred opposite her in the film) proceeded to have an “emotional affair,” which Gilbert writes is “just as wrong and dangerous as a sexual affair…maybe more so.”

How Bruce Boxleitner found out about Melissa Gilbert’s emotional affair

Several months after Gilbert wrapped Seduction in a Small Town, Boxleitner called Gilbert on her cell phone and began screaming.

“You did this to me!” he yelled, according to Gilbert. “I should have seen it coming! I can’t believe you did this to me! I hate you. I trusted you, and you abused that trust.”

“His voice couldn’t have been louder or more full of rage and pain,” she wrote. “At the same time, he sobbed in giant, wounded gulps. Panicked, I tried to get him to stop, take a breath, and tell me what had upset him. I started to cry, too. I could feel a giant seismic upheaval beneath my feet, and I didn’t know why. Finally, he said there was a tape.”

The tape in Melissa Gilbert and Bruce Boxleitner’s mailbox

Someone had left a tape in the couple’s mailbox. On the tape were various recordings of Gilbert talking on the phone with friends.

“I know you had an affair with that guy in Calgary,” said Boxleitner.

Once home, Gilbert listened to the tape.

“Sure enough, the tape had me on the phone with various friends of mine—female friends and male friends—complaining about Bruce, complaining about our marriage, talking about how great I thought Calgary guy was, and asking why Bruce couldn’t be more like my movie’s leading man,” she wrote.

Melissa Gilbert’s apology


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“I went upstairs to the bedroom and got on my knees in front of Bruce,” she wrote. “Trembling as tears rolled down my face, I said emphatically that I did not have an affair with Calgary guy. There had been nothing physical between us, ever. On the other hand, I admitted the relationship I did have with him, as he had heard on the tape, was an emotional one and inappropriately intimate. It was, I said, because of things going on between us that we weren’t addressing, which after a while Bruce understood.”

“Please, let’s you and I figure out how we can get through this and move on together,” she told him. “I’m admitting this and willing to work on whatever I have to.”

Boxleitner came around. The couple started going to therapy and resolved to make their marriage a priority.