December 14, 2011 12:00 PM

They say the first year of marriage is the hardest, and for Joe and Heather Nichols, it was particularly tough. In October 2007, a month after their fairy-tale wedding in Savannah, the “Gimme That Girl” singer entered treatment for substance abuse. “My life was on a collision course,” he recalls. “I thought it was going to end that way.”

But today Nichols is clean and sober-a credit, he says, to the greatest love of his life. Friends since they were 18, Nichols and wife Heather, both 35, weathered some “hard times,” he admits. “I screwed up a lot, and I’m not proud of that. She put up with me for a long time, and she’s shown me a lot of grace, during rehab and after.”

Now into their fifth year of marriage, the Tyler, Texas-based couple is stronger than ever and focusing on their next big project: building a family. “We’ve been working on having a baby for the better part of four years now,” says Nichols, who acknowledges that they’ve seen fertility specialists in an effort to conceive. His wife’s resilience keeps them going, he adds: “Her toughness amazes me.”

In the meantime, between Nichols’s tour dates and studio sessions-his eighth album, It’s All Good, was released this month-they’re just enjoying each other as much as they possibly can. “What we have is special,” says Nichols. “It’s rare to find someone who knows you better than you know yourself. I know I’m a lucky guy.”

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