updated 10/10/2007 AT 12:40 PM ET
•originally published 10/10/2007 AT 3:30 PM ET
Janet Jackson and Jermaine Dupri held hands on their way into the New York premiere of Why Did I Get Married?, but Jackson clearly stated, “We’re not married.”
Playing a relationship expert in the Tyler Perry film, Jackson, 41, was quick to relay her personal history with the institution to PEOPLE and admit she’s wised up to the fact that it takes work.
“I didn’t really take anything from my personal marriages,” Jackson said of her role. “But from experience, and even from doing this film, it makes me realize that marriage is definitely a work in progress … But if it’s something you really want and the love is there, you will put in the work in time.”
Jackson married James DeBarge in 1984 (that marriage was annulled in 1985) and she tied the knot with Rene Elizondo in 1991, which ended in divorce in 2000. “He’s never been married,” she said of Dupri, 35.
When asked if he thought his relationship with Jackson was successful in part because they are not married, Dupri said, “The altar is like a party for your marriage. That is how I look at it.”
The rapper and record producer added: “I don’t think marriage itself even matters. I think people put too much importance on labels when it comes to marriage. Nothing changes when you go to the altar … If you’re with somebody, you’re with somebody.”
Dupri also thinks the couple’s demanding careers can be bad for the relationship. “You don’t like being away from a person you like being with all the time. That’s kind of hard,” he said.