Nick and Vanessa Lachey Talk the 7-Year Itch & Juggling 3 Kids Under 5 (Exclusive)

Nick Lachey and Vanessa Lachey

The couple talked to ET ahead of their seventh wedding anniversary.

As they prepare to celebrate their seven-year wedding anniversary, and 12 years since their first date, this weekend, Nick and Vanessa Lachey are opening up about the simple ways they keep the romance alive while parenting three young children and juggling busy showbiz careers.

The 98 Degrees heartthrob and Top Chef Junior host tied the knot at Sir Richard Branson’s private Necker Island paradise in the British Virgin Islands on July 15, 2011. Seven years and three children (Camden, 5, Brooklyn, 3, and 18-month-old Phoenix) later, rather than feeling the relationship lull commonly referred to as the “seven-year itch,” they continue to evolve their romance while looking ahead to the next seven years and beyond.

“I think if people make it to seven years of marriage, that’s long these days!” Nick, 44, tells ET. “Any marriage is challenging -- it’s certainly not a walk in the park, but we’re very committed to each other and to working through those challenges and I’m very confident there’s nothing we can’t get past.”

“I don’t know if there’s any truth in the seven-year itch,” he adds. “We’ve always found a way to keep it interesting. We’ve been together 12 years, have a beautiful family and are very blessed, and there’s just never a dull moment around this house.”

The pair fell in love after Vanessa, a former Miss Teen USA, appeared in the music video for Nick’s solo song, “What’s Left of Me,” in 2006. Nick proposed in 2010.

Vanessa, 37, jokes that as “Lachey cliché” as it may sound, communication has been key to maintaining a fresh and evolving romance, which is perhaps why they haven’t reached the stagnant point some couples face after many years together.

“Things that were important to me and that I loved and let Nick know about when we first started dating are different now,” Vanessa explains. “My priorities and life have changed, so things that I would seek in our relationship are different now, and how is he supposed to assume that? There’s some truth to the whole Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, so I don’t expect him to be a mind reader. I constantly keep him abreast of everything and vice versa.”

“I’ll say, ‘Babe, it’s important for me to know how you feel; like, it’s not cheesy to write a card,’ and he’ll be like, ‘You used to never want a card! Good to know.’ So, every now and then I’ll get a card and it means the world to me especially on my birthday, because we have the same birthday,” she continues. “I know he loves me, but sometimes it’s nice just to hear it from your partner. Now I have a drawer with all of the cards and stick some on the wall. I know it’s cheesy, but I love it.”

Day to day, the pair have also established a routine which allows for quality couple time after the kids are in bed.

“Every night I cook and he cleans up -- that’s our deal!” Vanessa says. “We talk about the day and funny things with the kids, pour a glass of wine, then sit down and watch something. We love Netflix! It still feels like I have my husband, instead of like we’re going through the day mechanically with breakfast, lunch, dinner. It can get that way with three kids. You wake up, get shot out of a cannon, then it’s go, go, go until they go to bed!”

One of the biggest obstacles they’ve faced in the hectic kiddie routine is getting the little ones to eat well, and having sneakily tricked them into trying everything from broccoli to chicken by slipping it into their mac and cheese, Nick and Vanessa have partnered up with Bob Evans for National Mac and Cheese Day on July 14. But there’s extra special meaning behind the fun foodie day.

“We actually started dating on July 14 -- who knew we were that cheesy -- then we got married on July 15,” Vanessa says. “It’s a great circle to be married seven years, have three kids and have this partnership because mac and cheese night is one of the few nights we sit down as a family for dinner if the kids are up a little later. We make it for the kids, but Nick and I still enjoy it in our 30s and 40s!”

In fact, they don’t just enjoy it -- they’ve challenged each other to a mac and cheese cook off, with Vanessa concocting the build-your-own ‘Macaroni and Cheese Toppings Bar,’ a nod to how Brooklyn eats everything, Camden’s more selective and Phoenix is adapting to solids. The competitive nature of their relationship is evident as Nick pipes in to boast about his contender, the ‘Cincinnati-Inspired Chili Mac and Cheese Burger,’ which honors the Ohio city where he grew up. The public will get to vote on which is best by trying each recipe at home, while Camden, Brooklyn and Phoenix are also having their say -- with Nick predicting his “little princess” Brooklyn will back his creation, while Camden will loyally support Mommy. “But if Camden was honest with himself he would say mine for the win!”

Vanessa created the build-your-own Macaroni and Cheese Toppings Bar in honor of Mac and Cheese Day. - Michael Simon/STARTRAKSPHOTOS.COM
Nick shows off his competing dish -- the Cincinnati-Inspired Chili Mac and Cheese Burger. - Michael Simon/STARTRAKSPHOTOS.COM
The couple are getting their three children and the public to vote on who made the best mac and cheese dish! - Michael Simon/STARTRAKSPHOTOS.COM

Dinner time aside, juggling the three young children while enjoying successful careers in showbiz is an ongoing effort for the pair, whose biggest trick has been to “tag team,” with each of them taking one or two of the kids at a time as they go about their routines.

Vanessa says as the trio grows older, she’s realizing how much each child requires different parenting methods. “The hardest part is trying to let them be and navigate their own way through life, but at the same time discipline them because I don’t want to let them just do, say or act however,” she says. “It’s hard because they have different personalities, so the way I discipline Camden doesn’t work the same with Brooklyn. If I try the same method with her, she’ll look at me, like she’s laughing and thinking, ‘You actually think that’s going to work with me?’”

“Camden’s the best listener and will have a conversation about it, whereas Brooklyn will play games and do the opposite of what you say,” Vanessa continues. “And Phoenix, you can see in his eyes he’s getting this little conniving way about him! They’re all challenging me in different ways and every single day, Nick and I are like, ‘Are we doing this right? Are we OK?’ Then we’ll have people over and see how they interact and pat ourselves on the back like, ‘They’re not completely off the rails. We’re doing fine!’”

“We’re surviving!” adds Nick, who echoes Vanessa’s sentiments about how different the three kids are. “Camden is sweet and sensitive, Brooklyn’s Daddy’s little girl and Phoenix is the wild card. He’ll go up the stairs eight straight times and make you go get him. He’s going to be the rambunctious troublemaker, but that’s been coolest part of being a parent -- watching those personalities emerge as they get older.”

As for whether they plan to expand their brood further, Vanessa laughs never say never.

“Nick thought we were done with two -- I think we both did!” she reflects. “But Phoenix has been the best surprise. He’s like the missing piece of the puzzle that we didn’t think we were missing until he came into our lives and now we feel more complete. There’s definitely no plans as we’re loving having the three, but you never know.”

In the meantime, the couple -- who went up against each other competing on Dancing With the Stars in 2017 -- have exciting work projects keeping them busy, with Vanessa preparing for the return of Bravo’s Top Chef Junior, which was nominated for a 2018 Daytime Emmy Award for Best Children’s Series. “It’s a perfect mesh for me -- cooking, which I love, and young minds, which I love,” she says. “I get so inspired by these young chefs. It’s definitely a dream job.”

Meanwhile, Nick joins his fellow boy banders -- New Kids on the Block's Joey McIntyre, Boyz II Men's Shawn Stockman and *NSYNC's Joey Fatone -- as the voices and musical masterminds behind supergroup Crush4U on Netflix’s new animated series, Harvey Street Kids. He’s also gearing up to hit the road with his bandmates, Jeff Timmons, Justin Jeffre and brother Drew Lachey, for their second annual Christmas tour kicking off in Canada on Nov. 1. “It was a lot of fun last year, doing something thematic like a holiday tour, so we’re excited to get out there again and see our fans,” he says.

Vanessa’s also excited for the tour … but extra thrilled that Nick will be home in time to gift wrap on Christmas Eve!

“Last year, he came home on Christmas Eve and I had to do all the wrapping and it was also our son’s birthday, so this year I selfishly had one request -- which I’m already apologizing to fans for! -- for him to be home a few days before Christmas,” she shares. “He’s going to have a room full of assembly and wrapping, then we’ll have Phoenix’s second birthday on Christmas Eve. We’re excited that he gets to go on tour with the boys, but then we get Daddy for Christmas!”

See more on Nick and Vanessa below.