Patrick Dempsey reveals the secret to saving his marriage to wife of 15 years

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Patrick Dempsey may be the main attraction as a romantic hopeful in the upcoming "Bridget Jones's Baby," but his personal life has been a bit more rocky than a good rom-com.

The 50-year-old actor and his wife of 15 years, Jillian, announced in January 2015 that they had filed divorce papers and were splitting up. Fans speculated on what went wrong, but internally Dempsey was already working on a plan to save his marriage.

Our marriage was not something I was prepared to let go of," Dempsey told PEOPLE magazine. "I didn't feel like we had done all the work. And we both wanted to do that work. That's where it started."

The idea of ending his marriage scared him he admitted later.

PHOTOS: Patrick and Jillian Dempsey together

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Patrick Dempsey and Jillian Dempsey together
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Patrick Dempsey and Jillian Dempsey together
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 24: Patrick Dempsey and Jillian Fink arrive for The Petersen Museum's Race, Rock 'N Rally Gala at Petersen Automotive Museum on October 24, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 14: Actor Patrick Dempsey (R) and makeup artist Jillian Dempsey attend the Porsche Design Celebrates Festival of Watches on September 14, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Porsche Design)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 23: Actor Patrick Dempsey with wife Jillian Dempsey arrive at the premiere of the 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' during the 33d Moscow International Film Festival at Pushkinskiy Theatre on June 23, 2011 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Gennadi Avramenko/Epsilon/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 23: Actor Patrick Dempsey with wife Jillian Dempsey arrive at the premiere of the 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' during the 33d Moscow International Film Festival at Pushkinskiy Theatre on June 23, 2011 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Gennadi Avramenko/Epsilon/Getty Images)
ANTIBES, FRANCE - MAY 19: Jillian Dempsey and Patrick Dempsey attends amfAR's Cinema Against AIDS Gala during the 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival at Hotel Du Cap on May 19, 2011 in Antibes, France. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 23: Actor Patrick Dempsey with wife Jillian Dempsey arrive at the premiere of the 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' during the 33d Moscow International Film Festival at Pushkinskiy Theatre on June 23, 2011 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Kristina Nikishina/Epsilon/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 13: Patrick Dempsey and Jillian Dempsey arrive at The John Varvatos 8th Annual Stuart House Benefit at the John Varvatos Boutique on March 13, 2011 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 26: (L-R) Avon Spokesperson Patrick Dempsey and Avon Global Creative Color Director Jillian Dempsey attend the 10th Anniversary Avon Foundation for Women Gala 'Celebrating Champions Who Change Women�s Lives' at Cipriani 42nd on October 26, 2010 in New York, New York. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Avon Foundation)
Actor Patrick Dempsey (R) and wife Jillian Dempsey attends the 'Valentine's Day' Los Angeles Premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on February 8, 2010 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 27: Actor Patrick Dempsey and Jillian Dempsey walk the red carpet during the 'Champions Who Change Women's Lives' celebration at Cipriani 42nd Street on October 27, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage for Avon)
Actor Patrick Dempsey (R) and wife Jillian Dempsey arrive at the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theater on September 21, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)
NEW YORK - APRIL 28: Actor Patrick Dempsey and wife Jillian poses at the premiere of 'Made of Honor' at the Ziegfeld Theater on April 28, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Loud/Getty Images)
Jillian Dempsey and Patrick Dempsey during Sixth Annual Chrysalis Butterfly Ball - Red Carpet at Home of Susan Harris & Hayward Kaiser in Mandeville Canyon, California, United States. (Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)
Patrick Dempsey with his wife Jillian Dempsey (left) (Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
Jillian Dempsey and Patrick Dempsey (Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD - FEBRUARY 13: Actor Patrick Dempsey poses with his wife, Jillian, at Cosmopolitan Magazine's celebration honoring him as Fun Fearless Male of the Year at the Day After Nightclub on February 13, 2006 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
Patrick Dempsey and wife Jillian Dempsey during 'Sweet Home Alabama' Premiere - New York at Chelsea West Cinema in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
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"It's always destabilizing when you're potentially breaking up a family or you have a big section of your life that's ending," he tells People magazine. "Everybody has their own path. Jill and I decided it was time to work on our issues and improve. We wanted to be role models for our kids like, okay, if you have differences, you can work them out."

Dempsey and his wife are parents to daughter Talula, 14 and twin sons Darby and Sullivan, 8. And the pair went to marriage counseling in order to try and fix what was broken.

Everybody has their own path," Dempsey said. "Jill and I decided it was time to work on our issues and improve. We wanted to be role models for our kids like, okay, if you have differences, you can work them out."

"You can only do one thing at a time and do it well," he says. "I [learned] to prioritize. Our union has to be the priority. I wasn't prepared to give up on her and she wasn't either. We both wanted to fight for it."

Dempsey left his hit show "Grey's Anatomy" in April 2015 and scaled back the amount of time he spent race car driving. He devoted more time to his family and said over time it was like a "new beginning."

"You've got to keep at it," he says. "You've got to communicate, and stay open and not get lazy. And not give up. And lots of sex!"

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