Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley on the Key to Their 18-Year Marriage: 'Focus on the Laughter'

Each wedding anniversary, Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley have a tradition: the country star and his actress wife sit down together with a special journal and write down their favorite memories from the past year.

"Our greatest hits," Kimberly, 49, tells PEOPLE in one of this week's cover stories. "We record the meaningful moments, the best laughs. That's a big part of our relationship—focusing on the laughter and keeping a sense of play."

It's a formula that's worked so well that the couple, who met in 2001 when Brad, 48, asked Kim to be in the music video for his song "I'm Gonna Miss her," say their 18-year marriage is even better than it was when they wed in 2003. 

"A lot of married couples would rather do anything but spend the evening together," says Brad who was first smitten with Kimberly when he saw her in the 1991 film Father of the Bride.  "That's not the case in our house."

brad paisley and kimberly williamsCREDIT: LARRY MCCORMACK

RELATED: Brad Paisley and Wife Kimberly Celebrate 18 Years of Marriage: 'Tears of Joy… Right?'

Ask what they still love about each other and answers come easily: "You keep our house afloat — seeing you give birth to two kids and raise a third is amazing," Brad says to his wife, jokingly counting himself alongside sons Huck, 14, and Jasper, 11. "And you try to do the right thing all the time." 

Watch the full episode of People Cover Story: Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley on or on the PeopleTV app.

For Kim, it's Brad's "gigantic heart:" "You care about all creatures, great and small." Need proof? She points to a recent night of torrential rain that flooded the property around their Nashville-area home when Brad ran outside at 2 a.m. to see if a nest of goose eggs was OK. "They weren't," he admits. Says Kim, "But it's so sweet how much you care."

Of course, some years it's easier to laugh than others — and 2020 put them to the test. 

4/19/21 cover of people magazineCREDIT: LARRY MCCORMACK

For more on Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley, grab this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

The pandemic shut down filming for Kimberly, who has starred in several Hallmark and Netflix movies, including last year's Christmas Chronicles 2, and it kept Brad off the road. He did continue to write and even filmed a Zoom video for his single "No I in Beer," but he only played three in-person shows since the pandemic began —  all drive-in, socially distanced concerts — whereas in a normal touring year, the singer would perform at 75 shows.

"She's used to three days a week at minimum that I'm gone, so we've learned a lot about ourselves this year," says Brad, before breaking into a grin as he turns to his wife. "I figured out I really like being around you!"

Family ping pong, dodge-ball games and working with their new non-profit, The Store, a free grocery store in Nashville for people with food insecurity,  helped fill the time and they both learned some new skills — Kimberly took up bread baking (making focaccia with Huck was a favorite) and Brad even stepped in once to help color Kimberly's hair

brad paisley and kimberly williamsCREDIT: LARRY MCCORMACK

RELATED: Brad Paisley Looks Back on His Year of Lifting Spirits That Started with His Own Emotional Breakdown

And the couple managed a few date nights when the boys would stay over with Brad's parents, who live nearby and have been in the family's quarantine bubble. "We watch what we want to watch on TV and pick up something to eat," Brad says. "I look forward to that."

When asked what she's looking forward to when the pandemic is over, Kimberly looks at Brad and quips, "Putting you on a tour bus!" But the truth, they say, is that the year has strengthened their relationship. 

Says Brad, "There's no substitute for memories and time and having experienced all of this together."