When Maggie and Miguel Espinosa were first married and he came home from work, she would ask him how his day went. He would respond, "Fine."
He pauses to laugh.
"Maggie's gregarious, friendly, a talker," he says. "I'm quiet, a typical guy. I thought 'fine' was a perfect answer.
"What I learned was that Maggie needs details. She needed me to come home and talk, tell her what happened. So, what I devised for myself was, when I got to work, I would put a 3-by-5 card in my pocket, and, if something happened I thought was interesting, I'd write it down. Then at night, when we'd go for a walk and she'd ask me how my day was, I'd read my notes to her from the card."
Yes, Maggie would laugh, but Miguel's solution worked. He says the exercise made him a better conversationalist, and, more important, it helped him grow as a husband.
Peter Post would applaud the Espinosas. Post is the great-grandson of Emily Post and author of "Essential Manners for Couples: From Snoring and Sex to Finances and Fighting Fair What Works, What Doesn't and Why."
Yes, the book is about manners, but nothing about which fork to use at a dinner party. It's all about the people.
"Two people attracted to each other, willing to share time and space with each other and committed to being with each other and to being there for each other that's what a couple is," he writes.
"Because etiquette is about building relationships, etiquette will always play a significant role in how successfully these two people interact, whether they realize it or not."
To Post, the issue is simple:
"Consideration, respect and honesty are the three principles of etiquette. If you use them to make choices, you don't need to know what the rules are."
The Espinosas and another couple reflected on Post's advice and what role it plays in their relationships.
Taking a welcome break from a typically busy day, Jonathan and Carol Green are sitting at the dining room table.
Their three children Michael, 9; Lauren, 12; and Kristen, 13 are upstairs after a dinner of Jonathan's chicken tortilla soup.
"They're a lot more self-sufficient now," Carol says, looking toward the stairs. "Five years ago, we had to have a baby sitter to go anywhere. Now, we can yell upstairs and tell them we're going for a walk or down to get a cup of coffee."
It's a long way from the days when they used to go to a bar to unwind with co-workers. They were young, in love and free to devote all their time to one another. Now, at 42, they look back on 15 years of marriage. They're deeper in love, but acknowledge that they have to work hard at being a couple.
Jonathan teaches middle school. Carol does morning radio traffic reports in San Diego. She's up at 3:30 in the morning and gone by 4. When she gets home at 9 a.m., Jonathan has made lunches, gotten the kids ready and off to school. When he gets home, she's a couple of hours away from her bedtime.
They agree that, if they're not a strong couple, they can't have a strong family. So, they get creative, finding time to take a walk together to reconnect. It hasn't been easy.
"Talk about trying times," Carol says with a chuckle. "We had two babies, and he was at San Diego State getting his teaching credential, and we were both working full-time."
The Greens are not sure how they got through those early years, but they attribute their success to being committed to each other and their marriage.
"When the kids were babies, he would come home from work and say, 'I'm going to the gym,' and I knew intellectually that he needed to do that," Carol says.
But she was seething inside.
"Here I was, home with these babies and all I wanted to do was take a shower, be by myself for a minute," she recalls.
So, they talked about it. She told him she needed him to be there and share the load of child care.
"I think I probably resented that," Jonathan says.
But he knew, intellectually, that she was right, and he made concessions. And they just kept doing that. Talking, being honest about their needs, their weaknesses, day by day growing as a couple. The kind of consideration that Peter Post says builds a strong relationship.
Today, they are content to have dates when they can.
They find joy in doing things with their kids and believe that should be their focus.
Jonathan and Carol relish the gift of time that comes when they find themselves awake at 2 a.m. and, rather than struggling to get back to sleep, they get up and talk, uninterrupted by the daily demands.
"Nobody has the answers to what makes a good couple," Miguel Espinosa says. "People say to us, 'You and Maggie are like the perfect couple.' There's no such thing."
But Maggie and Miguel, both turning 46 this year, have worked at being a couple for years. They learned that the differences they saw in each other, which initially attracted them, could be both blessing and curse.
He recalls, "About six months into our marriage, Maggie said to me, 'You know what, Miguel, I've always wanted to live on a Caribbean island. Let's give up our jobs and go there and wait tables.' I told her she was nuts."
She didn't pursue the idea then but brought it up again, six months later.
"So," he says, "I began thinking, 'What can I do to make it happen?' If I could get a job as a veterinarian on one of these islands, I could make Maggie happy."
He contacted a clinic whose owner asked him how fast he could get there, and off they went for six months.
"I certainly wouldn't have given up my job and gone to the Caribbean, but it was important to her, and I could make it work for me," Miguel says.
And Maggie does the same.
They acknowledge that their situation is very different from that of couples with children, though that could change now that they've embarked on the road to adoption.
"We can go out to dinner or a movie when we want," Miguel says. "But you still have to do it, because it's easy not to do it."
Miguel, who owns his own veterinary clinic, knows how easy it would be to spend way too many hours there. But it helps him understand the demands on Maggie, a freelance travel writer.
Maggie notes, "We have to find time to stare into each other's eyes. A number of my friends have said, 'I don't know who my husband is anymore.' "
Maggie and Miguel are determined that won't happen to them.