Anyone who’s in a relationship knows it’s not always bunnies and rainbows.

In the beginning there’s passion, good times, a developing friendship and a bond that strengthens with closeness and intimacy. This phase of the relationship feels genuine, exciting and promising. But when the “honeymoon” is over and things become real, they can also become different and challenging.

So, you’re with the person you love, the one you want to spend your life with, how do you sustain happiness and make it last? You love and trust each other, but you’ve hit some bumps in the road. You feel you’re not being heard; all you want is for your partner to be more considerate, maybe not work late every night, or stop being so lazy, spend more time with you and the family. You’re constantly bickering; things just aren’t so easy anymore.

You start to question whether you really are right for each other. Did you marry the wrong person? Maybe you feel unsure about getting back to the good old days. You can’t move backward, but you can move forward toward a stronger and even better relationship, but both you and your partner must be willing to put in the work. You’re a team.

Whether you’re newlyweds, in a long-term relationship headed toward marriage or have been married for years, there are certain components that are critical to keeping your relationship alive and well. One thing many couples are missing is time for themselves. Don’t forget about maintaining your individual needs. Think of yourself as the nucleus of your team; the relationship you keep with yourself is vital. If you get lost doing everything for your significant other and/or children, and nothing for yourself, you’ll feel drained and unhappy. Self-care is as crucial to your sanity as it is to the success of your relationship. Whether it’s a morning run or lunch with friends, whatever makes you smile internally … do it.

Next, focus consistently on your emotional connection with your partner. Work on yourselves as a couple together. If you always consider yourselves a work in progress, things can only get better.

Have date nights as often as possible, even if you have a busy work schedule and children, find a way. Do new and old things you enjoy to constantly reconnect and keep the spark going. Talk about your goals as a couple, recognize the good, but discuss how things can improve. Making a vision board of the life you see together is a fun connection-provoking activity. Before you go to sleep at night, tell each other one thing you love or appreciate about one another. Acknowledgment creates a supportive frame for the relationship and incentivizes positive efforts.

This brings us to the communication piece. We always hear, “You must have good communication,” but what does that really mean? The way you express yourself navigates the dynamic between you and your partner. It’s critical to remain respectful, understanding and encouraging with your words and your tone. Your communication style can steer you in a positive direction or completely drive you off track. Being aware of what makes your significant other feel loved and appreciated and applying those methods to your relationship is a huge game changer.

Let’s say you want to spend more time with your partner and all they want to do is watch sports, but are always telling you how beautiful and amazing you are and don’t understand why you’re upset. It’s because in their minds they’re showing you love the way they know how. You, however, are not receiving the same message because your idea of how to express love is different. This can all change by becoming cognizant of one another’s love languages. Make sure your partner knows what you need from them and vice versa. Mind reading is nobody’s forte.

It’s helpful to take a time out when arguing and your emotions are heightened; tell your partner you’ll talk when you feel ready. Silence and passive aggressiveness will make your relationship sink in troubled water.

Do not place blame when expressing concerns. Avoid saying, “You do this or you do that” and replace it with “When this happens, it makes me feel like …”
Come to a resolution together, as a team. “How can we make this better?” Don’t attack your partner’s perspective or kick them when they’re down. If they’re unwilling to meet you half way and this becomes a pattern, seeking help from a coach or therapist should help. Seeing someone when times are good to gain perspective and hash out differences is a great way of sustaining a solid foundation.