By Liza Hamm
Updated March 23, 2009 12:00 PM

Jon Gosselin can singlehandedly get eight kids under the age of 10 ready for school in the morning without breaking a sweat. Stepping out at night, however, is altogether nerve-racking. “Going to a bar is no longer something I can do,” says Gosselin, of TLC’s hit reality series Jon & Kate Plus Eight. “People are watching my behavior.” And that can be a problem when tabloids claim you’ve left home, flirted with college girls and talked about divorcing your wife of nine years. Gosselin tells PEOPLE that the stories are completely false. “I did not cheat on Kate,” he says. “Kate and I are together.”

The rumors began when Jon, 31, left Kate, 33, and their brood for a few days in February to help his mother cope with a broken foot in her Huntingdon, Pa., home. “While I was there, I went out and had some drinks to blow off steam,” Jon explains. He also posed for photos with local college students—pictures that surfaced quickly on the Internet. “Did I do something stupid?” says Jon. “Sure.” And while the couple are still together, they admit that raising 8-year-old twins and 4-year-old sextuplets in front of millions on TV has taken a toll. Right now, Kate’s better handling of their fame—and not her oft-televised berating of Jon—is to blame. “Kate’s career is taking off and I’m a bit lost,” admits Jon. “This struggle has definitely put some tension in our marriage.”

Kate is dealing with the brouhaha in her typical no-nonsense style. “Like any family,” she says, “we are having some growing pains.” But she’s not worried. “Our strength comes from the knowledge that we have survived a lot of valleys.” And of course, they have eight great reasons to fight for their love. “Our family,” says Jon, “is our priority.”