It was time: My husband and I took a night away just before the new year. We needed to pray, to plan, to think—both alone and together. We needed to reevaluate and gather vision for so many things—in parenting, in our work here in Uganda, in our relationships, in our marriage. I found myself wishing it’d last more than a day.

Over dinner one night—tilapia for me, a burger for him—we talked about us. This past year has been remarkable for the two of us as a team. Seeing my husband in this place, seeing his generosity and care for people and courage, has grown my respect and admiration in ways that are breathtaking for me (excuse the gushing).

But being here has, for obvious reasons, increased our stress, too. And we relax in very different ways. Evenings often find us parting to our quiet spaces after the kids hit the sack, hoping for a little peace before it all starts again the next day. Kampala is not a particularly easy city for two mzungus (foreigners) to chill. Sometimes we find ourselves coiled so tightly that unwinding takes elaborate strategy.

But the rejuvenation we craved was sapping some of our only moments of the day for communication and quality time. As newlyweds, we’d been great at “playing” together—throwing around a football, jogging together, going for a late-night ice cream run, and other things young couples do when they aren’t toast from parenting four kids. Now, we slump across the table from each other in the daze accumulated from homeschooling, cross-cultural stress, and stuff that makes most of us parents wish the kids could put us to bed at 8 p.m.

So there at dinner, the two of us concocted a simple, doable plan of action. It looked something like this:

• “Back porch time” together in the early evening around dinner—just ten minutes or so to reconnect.
• Every Thursday after the kids go to bed would be our date in. We’d play a game together or something else we’d cooked up, and read some of a chapter book we picked out together.

The great part? When we got home from our night out, it didn’t take two days for my husband to ask for a date night in. It wasn’t even Thursday! We had a blast sitting on the bed in our PJ’s, laughing and slapping down Nertz cards together—I won—then cuddling together around the newest Grisham book on our e-reader. Two nights later, we did a repeat. Well, except he won. We’re on chapter 13 now, and the score’s three to one (him).

The kicker? Yesterday, my husband told his friend that he thought our marriage was doing better than ever. (We both won!)

What’s your hang-out plan for 2013?