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I was contentedly single when I met my husband, but that didn’t stop me from deciding I was in love with him on our second date. He took me to a planetarium. When you meet a jazz musician who is also willing to spend an evening stargazing with you, he might be The One. We went on our first date in February and were engaged by May. We married a few months later on a sweltering day in August. And we lived happily ever after

Well, we've lived happily for the past 6 years and have a healthy and fulfilling marriage. But that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement.

In the whirlwind of battling infertility and recurrent miscarriage, and then becoming the parents of two boys, we’ve realized that there are instrumental things we can do to help us weather the stormy seasons and the mundanely normal ones.

01. We talk, and we listen, regularly.

If you don’t have marriage problems that you’re working on, it’s quite possible and even probable to go weeks or months without having a deep conversation—you know, the kind you have when you’re dating and can think of no one else in the galaxy. Sure, you talk and converse about the day’s events, but are you still connecting on a heart level?

This doesn’t have to be a gut-wrenching, hours-long tête-à-tête to be effective. Tell each other what excites you, scares you, and what hopes you have. Hope for the future doesn’t end with marriage, as I used to believe when I was single. Just because you’ve nailed down who you’re spending the rest of your life with doesn’t meant that all of life’s big questions have been laid out like stepping stones.

We encourage each other in insecurities, we pray for each other about fears and needs, and we hear each other when we aren’t on the same page. While it’s alarming to be at odds with my spouse, especially on big issues like whether or not to try for more children or if we should relocate states away from our families, a wedge can’t be driven between us if we’re willing to just keep showing up for conversations. I’ve been surprised many times when, during a conversation, we’ll realize our opinions or feelings have changed or a new perspective has surfaced, not from one forcing their agenda on the other, but simply from the beauty of ideas exchanged, considered, absorbed.

A big part of healthy communication? Also knowing what not to say. Whether it’s catchphrases that set the other one off or a certain inflection, one of the best bonuses of frequent talking is knowing how to become a pro at it. Spousal communication is like a tango: The more you work at it, the more flawless it becomes. We don’t need two hours to have an intimate conversation; we don’t even need the kids to be in bed. We can share our feelings and thoughts in passing because our lives are a continual exchange of thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

02. We invest in our spiritual and emotional lives as individuals.

One thing we’ve done in our marriage is protect our alone time. This has been especially beneficial since we are both introverts, but it was more essential for my husband. My love language is physical touch, so I like being in close proximity to my husband. My second love language is quality time. Even my introverted self could theoretically never get enough time with my husband. However, my tendency in the first few years of marriage was to lose myself in coupledom. I didn’t need to be a “me” because we were a “we,” but my husband found this suffocating.

I couldn’t understand how he could ever be sick of spending time with me, until one day I realized that because of my lack of alone time I wasn’t functioning as a strong partner. Parenting two kids under age three while juggling jobs and other chaotic elements of life can take a toll on individuals and a marriage. A marriage is only as strong as the two people in it; when we cease to be healthy, balanced, vibrant persons, we no longer contribute to a dynamic partnership.

So, we started giving each other break days. The answer, for us, was not to hire more babysitters and go on more dates, but rather, to give each other more solo excursions and time to recharge our capacity as humans.

We also started reading books together, separately. I’m an avid reader who usually has seven to ten books going at any given time; my husband may only read two a year. I was shocked when he first suggested that we read books together, but on our own time, with no formal discussion to add burden to our already complicated schedules. Just knowing we were absorbing the same information together helped provide unity while also investing in our need to fortify our individuality.

03. We laugh.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re going through the bleakest season you never could have prepared for (infertility, job loss, family crisis, health problems, etc.) or are walking on sunshine and rainbows, laughter is medicine. It also happens to be free, which is great for the tight budget that most young families are working with.

One thing I’ve never taken for granted is my husband’s ability to make me laugh. We’re so comfortable in our marriage that he knows when he can crack jokes, even if I am stressed, crying, or on the verge of losing it. While I’m not the jokester, I’m pretty sure that my laughter at his jokes lightens his mental load, too.

None of these things have been hard work and our marriage has never felt forced. Still, I can’t help but think that, year after year, as we continue talking, growing as individuals, and finding joy and laughter in both good times and bad, that our marriage will continue to thrive.