A multi-platinum record-selling, international touring rock band is hardly the first place one would look to discover the formula for a great marriage. Celebrities of any type are not generally known for their ability to begin, build, and maintain healthy relationships. However, the year I heard that one couple was celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary in the midst of headlining a major tour, I had to find out more.
Success for a unique couple living in an unusual world.
Enter John and Korey Cooper of the rock band, Skillet. In order to discover how they made it to this marriage landmark, I had the opportunity to speak to Korey. She gave me some insight into their unusual pairing, living in an unusual world.
In what appeared to be the primary driver of all her decisions, she indicated that the root of their success is their faith.
“I never prioritized getting married, because I kind of felt like God had called me to do something that felt a little more unique. I thought, ‘Well, if that’s something God has for me, He’ll bring along the right person where we can do this together, and otherwise I’m fine to be single,’” she said.
Finding contentment with or without a life partner, knowing who she was as an individual, and being certain of the life path she was supposed to take created a firm foundation for this lasting relationship before it even began.
“I know for me, and for John as well, what we needed was something a little more unique because of the calling on our lives… what God has called us to do collectively helps make everything work. You know, because our perspective is a little bit like, ‘All right, this isn’t really about me and somebody meeting my needs,’” she explained.
A commitment on and off stage.
Before you think that this commitment to their mutual purpose provided perfect days of tranquility in every waking moment, Korey is honest enough to share a little bit more… “It’s kind of like when you’re working it out on the ground; it’s different than having a vision for something. The idealism of it all quickly goes away.”
They may not have the daily conflict over who loads the dishwasher or whose job outside the home is more taxing, but Korey and John have the same tensions that every marriage does.
Korey put it this way, “Then you’re left with the grit, the grit of it all. Like, ‘John’s really annoying me today, and we’re writing a song together and he’s being a jerk. Or I’m being a jerk because I’m being insecure. Or I’m doing programming, I’m doing keyboard work, and he’s come in and he’s just butting into my business.”
She goes on to say, “Things like that, where you’ve got to work it out… like, ‘Okay, is this insecurity? Is this something I need to discuss with him because he’s coming off a certain way?’ You know, it’s kind of like trying not to be irrational and trying not to have emotional reactions, but it’s your husband. It’s just a lot of complicated things to work out, but God gives you the grace to work it out. Especially when you’re committed to, you know?”
(To hear Korey talk more about her life with John on the road, check out this episode of This Grit and Grace Life: Victorious Women of Grit and Grace With Korey Cooper – 098!)
Knowing yourself better helps you know your spouse better.
The blending of talents on stage and off would appear to be both a unique and challenging part of their marriage, but Korey’s take on how to make that work made sense when she said, “Part of it is being self-aware, which is kind of hard to be. Then, when you’re hashing it out together you’re like, ‘Okay, maybe I’m not the best at this side of things, so I’ll let him handle this part, and I’m better at this side of things.’ When we’re not writing songs or recording, but in the touring life, there are interviews. He just predominately takes all of that because he finds it easy and is good in that way. I can have time with the kids, work out, and do the mom stuff. He’s like, ‘I’d rather you handle that side,’ and I’m like, ‘I would rather handle that side, too, because you’re really good at the other side and it’s stretching for me.’ He’s kind of personality and charisma and I’m kind of like the quiet thinker, you know?”
The music business isn’t the only thing that consumes this rock couple’s life—their family is equally or maybe even more important. With the exception of Korey taking only a few short breaks, both children have traveled with them on all of their U.S. and international tours. When asked if that was indeed true, Korey replied, “They do. My daughter (Alexandra) is our oldest. She’s 15 and she’s been on the road with us since she was three months old.” They also have a son, Xavier, age 12.
“When we were younger we said we’d never have kids on the road because we were like, ‘It won’t be fair to them, and we’re not gonna do that.’ We just had decided… Then John started having dreams that we were going to have a baby soon. I’m like, ‘I don’t know if that’s fair to the kids, and I don’t want to be selfish with this or this or this…’ But then realizing it was something God was asking us to do, is like, ‘Okay. Well…my kids are in the best place when I’m walking in obedience to God and embracing it with faith. That’s the safest place and the best place for them to be. Then we just thought, ‘Okay. Let’s go for it,’” Korey said.
Like every mother, this truth hasn’t always freed Korey of occasional self-doubt. “If I ever get like, ‘Well, maybe it’s not fair for them…’ Or if fear starts, which to me is just fear kind of creeping in like, ‘Am I doing all that I should be doing?’ Which I think most parents probably do. Or, ‘Is this the best environment for them?’ I always come back around to I am certain and at peace in my heart that this is where God has me to be and has John to be, so, therefore, it is the best place for them to be as well for His shaping of their lives.”
From the very beginning to 20 years later, Korey sums up their life this way, “Before John and I got married, we were basically both in bands, but they were just kind of local music scene bands. Then when we got married he had just gotten signed with Skillet, so we got married and within a week he was in the band touring. It’s been crazy…I’ve been basically touring since a week after we got married, but it was exciting. You know, back then it was exciting…..we both love music, and we love making a difference in people’s lives through music.”
If we take anything away from their life and Korey’s insights as to what makes their marriage strong, it should be:
1. Know yourself and what you are destined to do; find contentment in your purpose before beginning a long-term relationship.
2. Accept nothing less than a partner whose life path is heading the same direction as yours.
3. When the tension strikes, step back, become self-aware, remove emotion, and find resolutions.
4. Discover one another’s strengths and talents, then fill the role you’re better at and share your life’s responsibilities.
5. Flow with the creative turns in your family’s life, whether they appear logical or not.
6. Finally, place God at the absolute center of all your decisions.
If you apply these insights to your own relationship then perhaps on your 20th anniversary a similar letter to the one penned by John to Korey may just be written to you:
20 years! Wow. People ask me what our secret is. Hmm. Love is a choice. Sometimes it’s harder than others. It helps that you are beautiful. It helps that you are still everything I’d want in a woman. It helps that you make me a better man. It helps that u laugh at my stupid jokes. They are awesome btw. I like myself so much more now than 20 years ago. That’s because of u. Not to ruin the mood, but it’s important to say that even though u still make me feel like a teenager in love, marriage isn’t easy. It’s about choosing to love someone more than u love yourself. You have taught me that by example. Lots of people think that if on any given day the “feelings” are gone then it’s time to move on. I’m proud that we have chosen love. And choose to never give up. Lastly, some people in the entertainment world think that I should not broadcast 20 years cuz it makes me seem old:) who cares. I’m proud of 20 years. Few couples make it that long. Even fewer in the entertainment biz. Way fewer who live in a bus with 15 other people. I wanna brag on 20 years cuz I want to inspire other people. There is hope in love. Hope for a good marriage. Hope that there is someone who will never betray you, never give up on u, and choose to love u when you are unloveable. That’s the reason that a man is supposed to love his wife and lay down his life for her, just as Christ loved the church. He loved us when we were unloveable. Korey, that’s what u do for me. Here’s to 20 more babe.
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You’ll enjoy this episode from This Grit and Grace Life podcast: Victorious Women of Grit and Grace With Korey Cooper – 098!
You may also enjoy this conversation: Skillet’s Jen Ledger Shares Her Faith, Her Fear and Her Strength – 044!