The Nashville couple finds their groove by pursuing their own passions, talking things out and pulling those legendary pranks

Advertisement

Luke Bryan may be one of country's top solo acts, but at home he's half of one of country's most enduring duos: He and his wife, Caroline, first met 23 years ago, while both were still in college, and this December, the couple — now the parents of two boys — will celebrate 15 years of marriage.

"Our household's crazy," the 45-year-old superstar says, describing their life together for the latest cover story of PEOPLE magazine. "We just have a ball in life and have a ball with our kids."

The couple's love story is prominently featured in a new IMDb TV docu-series, Luke Bryan: My Dirt Road Diary, which recounts how Luke was a senior at Georgia Southern University when he first spotted the blonde freshman in a bar. For him, "it was love at first sight." But after dating for a year and a half, the two parted ways following Luke's graduation, unable to reconcile their different stages in life. Four years later, they reconnected, and they wed on the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2006 — the year before Luke scored his first hit with "All My Friends Say." Ever since, the couple has had to strap in for the wild ride to Luke's superstardom.

Watch the full episode of People Cover Story: Luke Bryan on PeopleTV.com or on the PeopleTV app.

Today, Caroline, 41, says she did have an inkling of what she signed up for. "Luke has a God-given talent to entertain — it's so natural to him," she tells PEOPLE. "He's the guy that walks into a room and everyone wants to hang out with him. We'll be at an event, and I'll be ready to head home and go to bed. Meanwhile, Luke will have made his way into a DJ booth and taken over. He is always there to make people smile and have a good time."

For more on Luke Bryan's PEOPLE cover story and other top stories, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

But Luke is also sensitive about overshadowing Caroline, hoping she is perceived as far more than "Luke Bryan's wife."

"I want us to be known as a family unit," he says, "but I also want her to be able to carve her own path and not feel like, just because she married some guy that somehow pulled off being a country singer that she's just 'tsunami-ed' by all of that."

In fact, in recent years, Caroline has elevated her public profile, making memorable appearances in Luke's Jockey underwear commercials and attracting almost 1 million followers to her social media. Her popular Instagram account is a crazy quilt of posts that reveal her often goofy sense of humor easily matches her husband's well-known merriment.

luke bryan
Luke Bryan
| Credit: Jim Wright

Of course, Luke Bryan fans know the couple has long engaged in playful prank warfare, and each holiday season, Caroline plans and executes a no-holds-barred "Pranksmas" with friends and family members serving as willing victims.

"It brings a lot of uncertainty around the home," Luke says with a chuckle. "Once she started doing it, she started realizing that people are having a blast with this stuff. Now I find that we're sitting in bed at night, and I'm like, 'Hey, so-and-so's coming in. You ought to do this to him.' So it makes us kind of get together and plan out some funny stuff."

The pranks, Luke says, set the happy tone that the couple wants for their household, which includes sons, Bo, 13, and Tate, 10, and 19-year-old nephew, Til.

"It lets us have some fun and lets us laugh," he says, "and it makes the boys get engaged and want to be goofballs and crack up with people. So it sets a tone of 'not seriousness.' I mean, we've all had the friend whose parents were all business, and our household is certainly not that!"

But Caroline's humor also can have a serious side, as evidenced by the clothing line she's created. Though most of the apparel is adorned with irreverent slogans — most prominently, the company's name, Best Bad Influence — sales proceeds go to an important public venture that is perhaps closest to Caroline's heart: the Brett Boyer Foundation.

The charity was started by Caroline's brother and sister-in-law after they lost their infant daughter in 2017. It's dedicated to raising research funds and awareness for congenital heart disease and to raise awareness for people living with Down syndrome.

Caroline also has created an animal-rescue shelter, Brett's Barn, in the baby's memory that's located on the couple's 158-acre farm south of Nashville. Luke, she says, was her biggest supporter of the project. "He knew I was mourning, and he embraced my idea," she says. "It was our way of dealing with her death."

It's now home to over 25 animals, including ponies, pigs, kangaroos, goats and a llama, and Caroline has been able to open it for private visits from families with children who have medical needs. "The animals bring so much joy to us and to the children!" says Caroline.

RELATED VIDEO: Luke Bryan on His Country Music Career

Brett's death was just the latest tragedy endured by the Bryan family. Luke has also lost his older brother, Chris, who was killed in a car accident in 1996; his older sister, Kelly, who died suddenly in 2007 of natural causes that are still unexplained; and her husband, Lee, who succumbed to a heart attack in 2014. Kelly and Lee left behind Til, who was 12 at the time, as well as nieces who were 16 and 20.

"Til wanted to come live with us, and we were so honored that he wanted to do that," says Luke, recalling that Caroline, especially, stepped in to offer the boy the emotional support he needed. "My wife had so many nights with him, just helping him talk out his grieving process."

These days, Caroline also has taken on a special role for oldest niece Jordan, now 26, helping her plan her upcoming wedding.

Luke is obviously in awe of his wife's way with kids, and he loves how she parents their two boys.

"I can't take my children anywhere that someone does not compliment them on their manners and behavior," he says. "And that is 1,000 percent her art. Every time somebody says something, it makes me go, 'This is her.' And I try to let her know when those moments happen because that's a big thing."

Luke says he also appreciates Caroline's occasional reality checks when he gets a bit too full of himself. "She's always been the one that really isn't drinking all of my Kool-Aid," he says. "When I'm getting shined up, she kind of pulls the reins back. She keeps it real."

luke bryan
Caroline and Luke Bryan
| Credit: Jim Wright

Through the years of laughter and tears, the couple says their bond has only grown tighter. "There's some 'opposites attract' that goes on" in the relationship, Luke says, and "I think it makes us drive each other crazy, but then it pulls us together, too. We've gotten better at understanding when we need to sit down and work through something. And we've also gotten better at realizing when we just need to forgive each other and move on, and we're not gonna let something hang us up for a couple of days. Life's too short!"

Caroline agrees. "Just like everyone, we have our arguments, bad days, and disagreements," she says. "However, we always talk out our problems. Marriage isn't always a fairy tale! It's a battle that both people have to be willing to fight. Each day whether we are blissfully happy or not, we fight for each other."

And she adds — as if there were any doubt — "I'll love Luke until my last breath."

Luke Bryan: My Dirt Road Diary premieres exclusively on IMDb TV, Amazon's premium free streaming service. All five episodes are available to stream starting Aug. 6. For more from Luke Bryan, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.