December 06, 2010 12:00 PM

If it’s 6 p.m. in Nashville, Keith Urban knows where he needs to be: home for dinner with wife Nicole Kidman and their 2-year-old daughter Sunday Rose. No excuses. Doesn’t matter if he’s deep in a recording session or penning possible hits with his cowriters. “Sometimes it ticks people off because we’ll be in the middle of something and I’ll be looking at my watch,” says the country star, 43. But “I’ve been guilty of writing songs about how my relationship is important and then not showing up. I have to live it too. I’m honoring my wife by being home when I said I’d be.”

Not that he’s complaining. Over four years of marriage, Urban and Kidman, 43, have carved out a bucolic existence far from the spotlight that has tested many showbiz couples. Their low-key lifestyle in Tennessee includes morning trips to Starbucks to read The New York Times and date nights at the movies. That tight bond fueled much of Urban’s new album Get Closer. “Today,” he says, “I feel full of love and adventure.”

Love didn’t always come easily to the singer. “I was so scared to get hurt that I’d run before someone could get too close,” he says. “In this marriage, there were moments I wanted to run. But when I did move forward, the [relationship] got richer.” His biggest lesson in trust came when he went to rehab for alcohol dependency in October 2006, only four months after they wed. “Nic listened to her heart against people’s advice and even her own instincts,” he says of her standing by him. “I can’t put into words how I feel about what she did. My life is one thank-you to her.” Says songwriting pal Darrell Brown: “Nicole loves him for him, so he feels safe to be himself. He’s written about love all his life, but she made him a believer.”

She makes a great muse too. “My love for her is a well of inspiration for me,” says the Grammy winner, whose lyrics to Kidman include “I never felt and I never knew/Someone who could get inside my soul the way you do/You got me in the palm of your hand.” “I still see her as that unattainable woman,” he says. “I still want to get her attention, even though I know I have it.” He also constantly seeks her feedback; sometimes in the kitchen after dinner he plays back new songs he’s captured on a cassette recorder. “She doesn’t really critique,” he says, “but if she wants to hear it again, that’s a good sign!”

As for his daughter’s musical tastes, “Sunny just likes a good beat, something she can swing around to,” says her proud father, who cherishes their 6 a.m. breakfasts-no matter how late his tour bus rolls in-and their 8:30 a.m. drives to preschool with Mom. “I’m away a lot, so I like Sunny to know if I’m there, I’m attentive and present.” And, every day, he’s grateful to the woman who made fatherhood a reality for him. “There wouldn’t be a Sunny without Nic, because she really saved my life, so my instincts are for Nic to know she’s the No. 1 girl in my life and Sunday is No. 2,” he says. “Mom and Dad have got to be tight with each other-otherwise the whole thing’s unbalanced.”

Right now, his home life seems in perfect harmony. Take a recent afternoon in the studio: While Urban was recording his song “Big Promises,” his wife held Sunny tight as they both swayed to the music. “I have this great image-and I always will-of Nic hanging on to Sunny,” says Urban. “I mean, the girls I wrote the song for are dancing around. It’s like, ‘I’m happy and I don’t want for anything.’ That’s an amazing feeling.”

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