Portugues has said that she was inspired to start her own bodybuilding and weight training regimen while attending Marymount Manhattan College, when she saw Rachel McLish on television winning the Ms. Olympia title. In 1987, at the age of thirty, Portugues married Belgian martial artist and actor Jean-Claude van Damme. The couple divorced in 1992, but remarried in 1999. On March 18, 2015 Portugues filed for divorce from her husband for the second time, but canceled this filing one week later. They have two children: Kristopher van Varenberg (born 1987) and Bianca Brigitte (born 1990).