Three signs that country star Trisha Yearwood has found herself a keeper with her husband, Garth Brooks: 1. He makes her coffee every morning, even though he doesn’t touch the stuff. “And it’s good!” Yearwood says. 2. Country’s consummate cowboy is—wait for it—taking private Pilates classes with her. 3. Brooks doesn’t seem to mind that her cell phone ring tone when he calls is Justin Timberlake‘s “SexyBack.” Says Yearwood with a laugh: “He just shakes his head.”
Yearwood, 43, shakes her head too when she thinks about how far she’s come since leaving her hometown of Monticello, Ga., in 1986 and starting in Nashville as a receptionist and demo singer. As her career soared with hits like 1991’s “She’s in Love with the Boy,” her first two marriages failed. But in 2002 sparks flew with longtime friend Brooks—they met in 1989 as struggling singers—and now, two years into their marriage, she’s finally found the balance between her career (six platinum albums, three Grammys and two CMA top female vocalist honors) and her personal life. These days that centers around Brooks, 45, and their home in Oklahoma, where she’s “bonus mom” to his three girls from his first marriage (Taylor, 15, August, 13, and Allie, 11). Early on, “I sacrificed relationships. It was like, ‘If you can fit into my career, you can be a part of my life,'” says Yearwood. “Now my career has to fit into my life.”
It helps that Brooks, who retired in 2001, is now a (mostly) stay-at-home dad. “I’ve seen Garth fly across the country to pick her up at a TV taping just to take her home,” says Yearwood’s manager, Ken Levitan. And it goes both ways: When Brooks recently came out of retirement for a string of concerts in Kansas City, Mo., Yearwood was at his side—even though she was in the middle of promoting her new album, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love. Says Levitan: “It’s an unbelievable romance.”
Which doesn’t quite make for a good old-fashioned weepy country album, and Yearwood knows it. “If I just sang songs about what I was going through right now, people would be really bored because I’m stupidly happy,” she says. So Heaven mines past pain (“Let the Wind Chase You” hints at relationships gone wrong, and “Sing You Back to Me” mourns her father, Jack, who died in 2005) and merely winks at present-day joy (“Cowboys Are My Weakness”? Hello, Garth!).
Still, Yearwood can’t resist gushing a little. “He’s very much a gentleman,” she says of Brooks. “I joke that when I’m without him I just sit in the car because nobody is there to open my door! I’m very independent, so we had to have the talk of ‘I don’t do this for you because you can’t do it for yourself. I do it because it’s an honor.’ When a man tells you that, you go, ‘Well, okay!’ I’m not saying he’s perfect, but he’s as close as they come.” For his part, Brooks has said, “I’m Mr. Yearwood now, so I want to make her proud.”
Together they relish their low-key routine: whipping up Brooks’ special “breakfast bowl” (“eggs and bacon and sausage and hash browns and—sounds crazy—tortellini and cheese, all together!”), cheering on the girls at soccer games and watching sports with friends at home. “One guy makes a great chili and one gal makes a cheese dip, and you’re just yakking and laughing,” she says. “They aren’t in the music industry, so it’s just about being with friends and it’s real life.”
For Yearwood, that’s the good life. After 16 years in the business, “there’s a total confidence in what she does,” says Levitan. “She’s a woman in charge of her own destiny.” And one who has made peace with the years, even in a culture fascinated with the new young thing. “As far as competing with youth, forget it,” she says. “You have to compete against your best work and yourself, and that’s easier to do as you get older. You become infinitely wiser, more beautiful, more sexy, more confident. It’s the best time in my life.”