My marriage has been stretched and tested by the fires of new parenthood. In the midst of sleep deprivation, intense responsibility and raging hormones (mostly mine), we’ve had to make some of the most important decisions of our lives.

All over social media, we see posts about how women love their husbands even more after watching them become dads. Despite the challenges that come with being new parents, I’ve also shared this sentiment and experience. My love for my husband has grown much deeper as we learn to parent together, as I watch him fall more and more in love with our little girl, as he changes countless dirty diapers without complaint.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the experience of being a new parent is a crucible of change, and it can be really hard on a marriage. As we continue walking through it, I’m so grateful for the ways we developed healthy habits before we had a baby.

There’s nothing that can truly prepare you to have a baby, but there are many things you can do to strengthen your marriage before welcoming a child into the world.

1. Make dating each other a habit.

This probably isn’t new information for any of us—there’s so much good dialogue happening about the importance of dating your spouse! I’d add to this that you should explore what makes time together feel like a “date” for you. Maybe a date means being out of the house, even if it’s just going to the grocery store together. Maybe a date means quality time and undivided attention for a conversation, even if it’s on your own couch.

It’s not always possible to get out for traditional dates when you have a young baby, so knowing how to make your time together feel like dating is so important.

2. Become fluent in each other’s love languages.

Babies bring on a bit of tunnel vision, and if you’re not used to speaking your spouse’s love language, it can be hard to learn to do it once the baby is taking up so much of your brain space. If you’re not sure what your love language is, you can take the quiz here.

3. Get comfortable asking for what you need.

I had to ask for so much help when my daughter was small (heck, I still do) and I had to learn to get over my guilt at doing so pretty quickly. It’s not that my husband didn’t want to help. He just wasn’t sure how, so I had to make it clear what I needed. You can try to do it all yourself… until you get overwhelmed and snap, pleading for help. Or you can learn to ask for help graciously now, it will really go a long way as your family grows.

4. Learn to handle conflict well + forgive swiftly.

Having a baby results in… well, let’s just say some differences of opinion. There is so much to think about, research, decide and do, and you’re trying to make decisions for the health and well-being of your child while you’re sleep deprived. It breeds some conflict, folks.

Learning to share your opinions graciously, listen well and find unity in conflict is critical to staying on the same parenting team—even if you have different parenting styles or models from your childhood.

There are a million little ways you can hold a grudge against your husband in the early days of parenting (and a million little ways he could do the same to you!), but choosing to let go of the little things and forgive quickly will serve your marriage and your children well.

5. Determine your financial goals + establish healthy money habits.

Babies don’t come cheap. It’s wise to plan for big expenses like doctor appointments, hospital bills and baby needs, but it’s also wise to think beyond these immediate expenses.

Do you want to be able to buy a house before you have a baby? Do you need a more family-friendly vehicle? Does one of you want to stay home when the baby arrives, or will you both continue working? Considering the bigger financial questions and making decisions together will help you know when the time might be right for a child and how you’ll make things work once they arrive.

6. Adopt a pet.

I’m well aware that taking care of a pet is not as difficult as raising a little human, but I do think caring for an animal can teach us many transferable lessons. When we adopted a dog, it forced my husband and me to learn how to divide up care, work through our conflict about the best ways to train and raise Riley, and put someone else’s needs ahead of our own.

It was also such a cool new bonding experience as we worked together to take care of someone we deeply love, and it made us even more excited to welcome our daughter.

(One caveat, because I just have to say it: Don’t adopt an animal unless you’re 100% committed to loving this animal for their whole life. Obviously, things happen that can change your ability to care for an animal in the way he needs, but don’t adopt a pet just to test things out. Animals are family, period.)

7. Travel together.

It’s completely possible, albeit a little stressful, to travel with a baby. My reasoning for this one is less about the post-baby difficulties of travel and more about how traveling together shapes a marriage.

You learn so much about navigating new circumstances together, communicating well and handling conflict and stress as a team when you travel. You also create memories and a shared history you can draw on when times get tough and the days become more mundane.

My husband and I definitely did not master these habits before having our first baby, nor do we do them perfectly now—but we have been very intentional about developing these habits. They have served us well as we’ve learned to be true partners and preserve unity in these early days of parenting, and they are helping us model the type of marriage we want our daughter to believe in.