Platinum-selling rocker Chris Daughtry and his wife, Deanna, divide their almost 19-year marriage into different “seasons,” and today, Deanna says, they are in an “open heart and growth season.”
But this fulfilling time has been hard-earned, the Daughtrys reveal to PEOPLE. Over the years, they have endured lengthy trials, intensified by Deanna’s lifetime struggle with her sexual identity and Chris’ unfaithfulness soon after he rose to stardom.
Through it all, though, they always believed they were better together than apart. “I think we’ve been committed enough to learn as we go and realize that we’re still trying to figure it out,” Chris, 39, says while sitting next to his wife at their Nashville home.
“It’s like the universe knew that we were going to help each other grow,” says Deanna, 46, “and each of us was going to be exactly what the other needed.”
For years, Deanna says, she paid a painful price to be in the closet, hiding her bisexuality from the world (though a handful of people, including Chris, knew her secret). She finally reached a turning point in 2015 when she overcame her fears and embraced her sexual orientation. She described her victory in written words – lyrics that Chris soon put to music and recorded, and has since released as his latest single, “As You Are.”
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By the time Deanna reached her milestone, Chris had weathered his own identity crisis that had also sorely tested the marriage.
When the couple met in 2000, Chris was picking up weekend club gigs and making ends meet as a vacuum cleaner salesman. Six years later, he was an overnight rock star: His powerful vocals ignited a passionate fan base on American Idol, and after finishing fourth on the show, he quickly put together a string of massive hits, including “Home” and “Over You.”
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As much as his dreams were outwardly coming true, though, the dramatic lifestyle shift left him reeling internally. “Honestly,” he says, “I look back and I had no idea who I was.” Tours that put him on the road for months at a time also were “just a recipe for disaster on a relationship,” he adds.
Deanna watched helplessly as her husband took his cues from the rock-star stereotype playbook. Chris admits: “There’s been infidelity.”
Though he expressed deep remorse – “he wanted to fix it,” Deanna says – the revelation drove a deeper wedge between them. Her healing began, she says, only when she stepped out of her pain and into her husband’s shoes. “I knew it didn’t really have anything to do with me,” she says. “It never does.”
Deanna now looks back at that painful era and realizes “he was drowning in the stuff he was dealing with, and I was drowning in the stuff I was dealing with. We both had to learn to save ourselves.”
For Deanna, therapy was a godsend. Chris, meanwhile, brought a counselor out on the road to help hold him accountable for his behavior. Both fought to save their marriage, and slowly it mended.
Surviving crises together, says Chris, is “when real growth happens. That’s when real closeness happens. That’s when you can say, I love this person, not because it’s fun and new right now. I love this person because she just dealt with some real bulls- of mine that I’m dealing with myself, and she’s strong enough to stand by me and get through it with me, and hopefully, we come out stronger together. And we have.”
Deanna is lavish with her gratitude for Chris’ transformation. “He has grown so, so much,” she says, “and he’s been an amazing support for me in my struggles in dealing with my sexuality.”
How do they make their marriage work today?
“I think we’re on this perpetual journey together that we’re just trying to be the best version of ourselves,” Chris says. “We’re trying to be more present and just enjoy where we are.”
“We are also not running from ourselves,” Deanna says.
Chris nods. “I think we both want to grow together,” he adds. “I think we both are after the same goal, and that’s being our true selves with each other.”
In partnership with Daughtry, Build-A-Bear is producing a special run of “As You Are” bears. And for more from Chris and Deanna Daughtry, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.