WORKING IT OUT

How Garth Brooks and other romantically bruised stars are finding new love - while keeping their families together

Story by Chris Neal

I'm gonna smile my best smile / And I'm gonna laugh like it's going out of style / Look into her eyes and pray that she don't see / That learning to live again is killing me

Garth Brooks sang those words on "Learning To Live Again," recorded a decade ago for his album The Chase. Back then he was just playing a part, a happily married man imagining what it would be like if his love were lost and he had to start over.

That song came true when Garth and his wife of 14 years, Sandy, finally laid their troubled marriage to rest in 2001 - and he soon found his decade-long friendship with fellow country superstar Trisha Yearwood blooming into romance.

It was then that Garth discovered the joys and difficulties of moving forward, of untangling his past from his future and making them work together.

Garth and Trisha have been piecing together their romance with great care, partly because of the harsh public spotlight that follows their every move. But just as important, both singers have painful divorces in their immediate pasts. It's enough to make anyone a little wary.

"We're taking it very slowly," says Trisha. "After all, we've known each other for 14 years."

And it's not as if Garth and Trisha only have each other to worry about. Garth and Sandy had three daughters together - Taylor, 10; August, 8; and Allie, 6. And Garth knows his first responsibility is to them, to ensure they stay aware that both their parents love them.

"I used to be a singer who had children," he says. "Now I'm a father who sings. It took me a while to get to that point, but I'm enjoying it."

That's why he's now living in a home near Tulsa, Okla., next door to Sandy and the kids, and spending time with Trisha whenever he's in Nashville or Los Angeles. "We see each other when we can," admits Trisha.

Already, gossiping busybodies and newspaper columnists have had a field day with their burgeoning romance. Onlookers have imagined an imminent wedding, and even a baby on the way - but the reality, Trisha promises, is more mundane.

"We're not engaged, or married, or having a baby," she clarifies. "We've always enjoyed each other's company, and now we've got a chance to test the waters - so we're taking things really slow."

Starting from scratch in any new relationship is difficult. But Garth, 40, and Trisha, 38, still have relatively fresh emotional wounds. Garth's marriage ended only a year and a half ago, while Trisha divorced The Mavericks' Robert Reynolds in 1999 after five years together. And Trisha had been down this road once already - her first marriage, to Chris Latham, ended in 1992, also after five years.

As for Garth, one reason he offered for his very public retirement two years ago was that he wanted time away from work to attempt to salvage his troubled marriage. But after a year of ups and downs, the bond simply was not salvageable. He and Sandy had seen dark days before - early in his career, Garth admitted he strayed - and "wore out a pair of jeans in the knees, crawling around behind [Sandy], trying to get her to stay." But their shaky alliance never did repair itself fully.

Get all the details in the current (1/21/03) "Newsstand Issue" on sale now!

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