01/04/2012 at 05:15 PM EST
When Reese Witherspoon
was hit on by a "really drunk guy" one night at a pal's party, she never guessed that the "jerk's" behavior would somehow lead to meeting her future husband.
But it was, in fact, Jim Toth who rescued the actress.
"Jim came over and said, 'Please excuse my friend, he's just broken up with someone,' " Witherspoon, 35, recalls to Elle
magazine of her first encounter with the man she went on to marry last March
"I remember thinking ... Jim was a really good friend, pulling [his drunk pal] out of that situation. That's just kind of who he is, a really good person."
Before meeting her CAA talent agent hubby, Witherspoon admits she was a "totally different person," explaining that she lived a life of fear and sadness, following her 2006 divorce filing
from ex-husband Ryan Phillippe
"I used to be afraid to travel and afraid to leave my house, afraid to leave my kids – that something horrible was going to happen," she says. And her past emotional hardships have only made her appreciate the present that much more.
[Jim] really surprised me," she says. "You don't know who you're going to end up with. When I was 20, if you'd asked me ... I wouldn't have said Jim."
Among Toth's qualities, Witherspoon admires his caring soul.
"Jim's like, 'I'm gonna show you every day what a good partner is, what a good person is,' " she says. " 'I'm going to take care of you. I'm going to do it so much that you're gonna get used
to it.' I was like, 'What are you talking about? I've never had anybody like that in my life.' "