"There's a lot of pressure to portray that you have a perfect life ... especially on social media and in the public eye," Lauren Akins tells PEOPLE

By Brianne Tracy
August 18, 2020 04:05 PM
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With their adorable family and too-good-to-be-true love story, Lauren Akins and husband Thomas Rhett have long been referred to as "relationship goals."

But in Akins' new memoir, Live in Love, released Tuesday, she gets vulnerable about the harder parts of their relationship — and the fact that they have problems, just like everybody else.

"There's a lot of pressure to portray that you have a perfect life, and family, and marriage, especially on social media and in the public eye," Akins tells PEOPLE. "I think the quicker that I'm able to just get on the table that, 'Hey, we struggle just like every other married couple, we struggle just like every other parent, we struggle just like every other human,' it takes that pressure and weight off our shoulders to have to be a certain way. It gives the green light to be us."

In Live in Love, Akins, 30, details the strain that was put on her marriage as her husband's country music career took off in 2013 while she put her own dreams of being a nurse on hold. After she and Thomas Rhett, 30, welcomed their daughters Willa Gray, 4½, and Ada James, 3, the stress was only heightened.

"My hope is that people can find themselves in the pages, and they'll be able to realize that deep down, every human heart has the same wants and feelings," Akins says. "We want to be known, we want to be loved [and] we want to have people to love. I hope that those walls will be pulled down."

"I think it's easy to look at filters in the world, and social media, and look at love that seems to be perfect," she adds. "But that's not reality, and it's a lot to try to live up to. So I hope that people can see the imperfections of our life and find themselves in those imperfections, and feel a sense of hope, encouragement and ultimately love."

Courtesy Random House

While writing the book, Akins says it "felt like therapy."

"Recounting every story, good and bad, significant in my life was really incredible," she says. "It was exhausting, but I think it was really good for me too ... I felt like I needed to approach it with an open heart."

"I'm now recalling some of the stories I talked about and I'm like, 'Oh no. Was that a good idea to put in there?'" she continues. "But I think it will be healthy for people to read. I hope it encourages people to be honest and real about what they feel and hopefully help them to see people in a different light. Kindness and loving people well are the only ways we're going to get through some of the darkness we've encountered this year."

Thomas Rhett, Lauren Akins
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

As she writes in her memoir, Akins is a strong advocate for marriage counseling. It helped her and Thomas Rhett — who writes some passages of his own in the book — get through some of their hardest struggles, and it continues to help them today.

"We still are staying in close contact with our counselor, Beth," she says. "COVID has changed things a little bit, but if we ever feel like there's something we need to talk through with a third party, or even just to touch base and check in, we're texting or calling Beth. It's something that we still say is crucial to a marriage, some form of counseling or third party. It's just a place where you can learn more about yourself and learn more about your spouse and really learn how to communicate better and clearer. It's been so, so good. We just really love it."

Thomas Rhett, Lauren Akins and their daughters
Thomas Rhett Akins/Instagram

With their third daughter Lennon Love, whom they welcomed in February, making them a family of five, Akins says the coronavirus pandemic has been a blessing in disguise in that it has allowed Thomas Rhett time off the road from touring.

"We have had a really sweet last six months with our new family of five," she says. "It has been my dream come true having him home. It was a bit of an adjustment for him [because] he's used to going, going, going every three or four days. I think it was hard for him to have to go from such a fast-paced life to slowing way down. Then to be in it with me and three kids every single day, every single night, was hard for him because he's able to catch up on sleep when he goes to the bus and gets full nights of sleep."

Now, Akins thinks Thomas Rhett has a "whole new appreciation for mom."

"I think he's like, 'The moms and dads who are up with their kids every single night, that's no joke,'" she says. "I've been really proud of how he has tackled the no-sleep nights, day after day. Our kids are honestly really good, but having a new baby in the house is a whole different thing. But it's been a lot of fun and he's such a good dad, and he just loves our kids so well. We really had a lot of fun."

Akins says they've been keeping the girls busy through quarantine with "lots of dress-up."

"We play outside a lot," she says. "They help us cook in the kitchen, they love to pretend to cook. So when there's things that they can help me do in the kitchen and help him do when he's cooking, they are all about it. Then we have lots of movie nights, lots of popcorn, and marshmallows. We've built forts a couple of times, and we are even letting them get into real makeup. You do what you can to survive."

"They are girls, girls," she adds. "They're tough and they'll do things and explore new things for the most part. But man, I was not as girly as they are, so that's a new thing for me. But it is so much fun, their little minds, how creative they are. It's like they live in a little dreamland all the time. It's really sweet."

RELATED VIDEO: Meet Lennon! Thomas Rhett and Lauren Akins Welcome Third Daughter: 'We Could Not Be More in Love'

Akins says her elder daughters have also been adjusting well to the new addition.

"They are so sweet with Lennon," she says. "It was hard for Ada James at first, I think. A lot of people say, 'It's going to be really hard once you're the baby and then you're not anymore.' I think it was really hard for her at first. Thankfully she never didn't like Lennon ... But I had to be really careful to make sure that we gave Ada James some good one-on-one time with me and with T.R., just to make her feel like even though she wasn't the baby anymore, she's still one of our babies. I mean, when one of the two walks into a room, Lennon lights up unlike with any other person."

In the future, Akins is looking forward to her daughters reading her memoir and learning their story.

"That was one thing my grandmother told me, she was like, 'This is going to be really cool for your kids to have and for their kids to have, to hear their mom tell her story from such a real and a raw place,'" she says. "I didn't think about it in that sense. I'm surviving the daily grind of three littles right now, so I'm not always thinking about 20, 30, 40 years down the road. But that was really a cool perspective."

Lauren Akins and her daughters
Lauren Akins/Instagram

It'll be particularly special for Willa Gray, as Akins details all of the trials and tribulations she and Thomas Rhett went through while adopting her from Uganda in 2017.

"Some of that she can't even really process just yet," Akins says. "Her little mind is still learning about that part of her story. She's starting to get it. She told somebody else the other day, she says, 'Yeah, Ada James came out of my mommy's tummy, and I was born in Africa.' I was just like, 'Wow.' It was like all of a sudden she grew up so fast. She talks about it so matter-of-factly, and she's so proud to say that she's from Africa. We stay in touch with our friends in Africa, and she's so proud of her friends and where she's from. I think that's such a cool part of her story. Africa is obviously a massive part of my heart."

"It makes me so happy that she loves it so much, even though I know that she can't remember it," she continues. "But one day soon I want to take her back and let her see everybody who knew her when she was a little baby [so she can] grow up knowing her country, Uganda, and the people who loved her before I even met her. I'm really excited for that, but also glad that I was able to write that part of her story down so that she does have a good bit of it on paper."

Though Akins says she's feeling a bit anxious about the memoir's release, she's "ready for it" to be out there.

"It's been a long time coming," she says. "I'm ready to get it behind me, the good and the bad, and just to have the project complete will feel really good."

Live in Love is available now. Keep reading for an exclusive excerpt from the book.

The influence of having kids has had a direct impact on Thomas Rhett's writing. I make no apologies for standing up and reminding him that he has a responsibility to his two children, which means that he better be keeping his lyrics family-friendly. I remind him that Willa Gray and Ada James are listening to and singing those lyrics, and he'd better think twice about what he puts on his records. There's a lot of pressure in the music business to keep things "edgy" and "cool," but honestly, the fact that he's choosing a more family-centered approach to songwriting these days doesn't seem to be hurting his career. Just the opposite. And the large number of parents who bring their kids and teens to his concerts makes that pretty clear.

I'm not bitter anymore about the work he has to do, or the times when he has to travel without us, because the two of us are on the same page now.

I can't even count the number of times last summer, in the middle of the week, when we would end up going on a walk around the neighborhood, or just sitting outside, firing up the grill, while the lightning bugs started glowing and Willa Gray went running around, chasing the dogs all over the place, and Ada James started taking her first steps. It seemed like every few nights, [my sister] Macy and her husband, Tyler, were stopping by, and then [TR's father] Rhett and Sonya came walking in, and Ford and April from the neighborhood showed up with their kids, who started running around with ours. And then my parents came over, and Paige and Tim, and Kasey and little Tyler swung by, and when we sat down to eat, my dad said the prayer and made every one of us tell God what we were thankful for before we ate our food.

I looked around at all those faces, and I knew what I was thankful for the most. These people were, and always would be, the center of our world.

Having kids is funny. They always surprise you. Whenever Dad performed his pre-dinner ritual, Willa Gray tended to say she was thankful for The Little Mermaid, or Kona, or Cash, or her Barbie dolls, or ice cream. Then, one night last summer my dad said, "And Willa Gray, what are you thankful for?"

And Willa Gray looked around the table and thought about it really hard, and said, "I'm thankful for my baby sister Ada James. I love her sooooooo much."

Talk about hearts in a puddle on the floor. To hear my little girl put her love for her sister into words like that, and to stop and think for even one moment about the incredible odds that had to be overcome in order for these two girls to become sisters, it just blew my mind. Like, I can hardly believe that we get to live this life. The one our family is living right now.

How incredibly lucky are we, every single one of us, to get to live this life that we've got?

"That was so good, baby girl," Thomas Rhett said to Willa Gray, pick¬ing her up and sitting her down on his lap.

I caught Thomas Rhett's eye across the table in that moment and I could tell he was thinking the exact same thing I was. We smiled at each other with this loving, shared smile of a husband and wife who’d been through a thing or two—knowing that if either of us had given up at any point along the way, we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn't be living in love, in this perfectly imperfect life of ours.

We knew it.

We recognized it.

And we were grateful.

Excerpt from Live in Love by Lauren Akins, copyright © 2020 by Salty Blue, LLC. Used by permission of Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.