For Mariska Hargitay, it was love at first sight when she met her husband Peter Hermann.
The Law and Order: SVU actress, 55, opens up to PEOPLE about her first date with her now husband of 15 years in this week’s cover story, saying meeting Hermann felt like divine intervention.
“As a little girl you’re told, ‘Oh, when it’s the right person, you’ll know. You’ll know,’ ” she says in this week’s issue, on stands Friday. “But listen, I had been engaged previously, and I never knew.”
Hargitay and Hermann met in 2002 when he guest starred on SVU. Shortly after filming wrapped, the actor asked her on a date – to attend church with him.
“We went to church together, and it was like getting hit with a lightning bolt,” she says of their immediate connection.
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The actress says she became so “overwhelmed” by her feelings of love that she broke down crying in the middle of the date.
“I just started sobbing. Peter thought I was crying because I was so moved by the service,” she said. “No, it was because I was just overwhelmed, realizing he was the one.”
For more from Mariska Hargitay and Peter Hermann, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
After the date ended, Hargitay says she immediately told one of her closest friends about the unique experience.
“I told her, ‘This is it. This is the man I’m going to marry,’ ” she recalls.
The couple tied the knot in Santa Barbara in 2004 and are now parents to three children: August, 12, Amaya, 8, and Andrew, 7.
“I never knew I’d so often be reminded on this journey that I married the right one,” says Hargitay. “I waited and married the right one.”