Let’s get real about my relationship. After 16 years of marriage, there are a few things I’ve picked up along the way. Here are the three most important insights that I have learned—the hard way.

1. Marriage makes you more of what you already are.

I vividly recall an evening about six months into our marriage. We lived in a beautiful apartment in Manhattan, and I was in school while my husband worked full time and attended night classes in the evening for a second master’s degree. He often got home late, and I would be passed out from sheer exhaustion and debilitating nausea from my pregnancy.

One evening, I was lying on the couch reading a parenting book, trying to quell the waves of sickness that never seemed to end. The words turned blurry as my eyes started to tear up.

I am so lonely, and this is so hard, I thought.

I found myself alone yet again, and I couldn’t stand the feeling. Perhaps subconsciously I had thought that marriage would fix any feelings of loneliness I previously had. This was a sore misconception.

Before marriage, a dear friend had warned me about this very thing. “Sarah, just because you are married doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes feel alone. You might even feel lonelier.”

“Is that right?” I asked, only half-believing her. I judged her, thinking: She must be in a miserable marriage.

Well, there I was feeling the sharp pangs of loneliness myself. That’s when I realized the truth: Marriage doesn’t cure loneliness or sadness; it just makes you more of what you already are. If you are a happy person, you will be happier; if you are an angry person, you will be angrier; and if you are lonely, it might make you feel even more so.

I had a realization that night that it’s not my husband’s job to ease my loneliness or make me happy. I had to take my destiny into my own hands and create my own inner joy.

We expect so much from our spouses. Although they are only one person, we hope that our partner will wear many hats for us. We want them to be our lover, our friend, our provider and our soulmate. We expect stability and dependability, and yet they should also be spontaneous and fun and bring variety to the relationship. One person cannot possibly fill every role nor provide for diametrically opposing needs at all times.

Likewise, our spouses cannot “make” us happy. Happiness and contentment must come from within.

The word simcha (“joy”) includes the words sham moach, “there is your mind.” Where our thoughts are is where we are. If we want to be besimcha, “joyful,” we have to create positive thoughts.

Marriage makes you more of what you are. So find ways to be your happiest self.

I don’t expect my spouse to fill my voids. I do make sure I have enough intellectual and social stimulation to feel satisfied and fulfilled.

2. In marriage, you need to grow your love with gratitude.

I remember the first time I told my husband that I loved him. One evening when we were dating, he took me out to an upscale restaurant in New York City. Afterwards, we strolled through Bryant Park. The night was lit up with holiday lights and romance was in the air. Feeling giddy, I blurted, “I think I love you!”

“I’ve been waiting for you to say that,” was his coy reply.

Fast-forward to real life.

If only I knew what love was then. After years of marriage, I’ve only started to understand the true meaning of love. I look back at moments like these and think, how cute, I thought I loved him then. Now I really love him.

One of the best ways to grow your love is to respect your spouse, and one practical way to do that is to consistently express sincere and specific appreciation.

There is no such thing as too much gratitude. For years, I admittedly took my husband for granted. It’s not that I didn’t thank him, but I didn’t recognize what a gift every small thing he did was. The more stories I hear about other people’s spouses and challenges other women face with their spouses, the more I realize that the small things in life are really big things.

Every morning, he gets up and goes to work. He handles the bills. He takes out the garbage. He sets the house alarm each night. I wasn’t thanking him for the things we had determined were within his “role.”

I decided that I wanted to start thanking my husband consistently. Now, every day, I thank him for something specific as many times as possible in one day. I don’t just say, “You’re the best, honey. Love you!” I think about a specific action he did and thank him for it.

As soon as I started practicing this form of active gratitude, I noticed a dramatic change. Two things happened as a result. First, your spouse will feel both respected and appreciated. And you will start loving them even more than you already did. We all want to feel appreciated.

Finding creative ways to share our appreciation can add to the pleasure, and the sky’s the limit. Leaving Post-It notes on his desk, cards under the pillow or writing on mirrors are a few simple yet thoughtful examples.

My husband always says, “I don’t need the thanks.” Well, guess what? I need it. I need to recognize all that my spouse does. I need to grow my love for him. I need to appreciate and understand all he does for our marriage and our family.

We really start to love our spouses after giving to them, respecting them and appreciating them. We begin to experience real love when we choose commitment, even when we don’t feel like it. We gain a glimpse of such love when we traverse challenges and reach the other side—together.

I don’t take my husband’s small efforts for granted. I find ways to grow our love.

3. Marriage is not a constant upward slope; it transforms through small moments of growth.

Phone chargers go missing in my home far too often. Despite our being organized and keeping a clean environment, they always disappear. We have tried many solutions, like creating charging stations and keeping boxes labeled “Phone Chargers” readily available, but nothing seems to help. It doesn’t really matter how many we buy; they all just disappear into a black hole (aka, my teenager’s bedroom).

My husband, son and I often end up sharing a single phone charger. Early one morning, my phone was fading, and my husband’s was on the charger. I took a peek at his battery—a solid 20%. That’s enough, I thought, especially since mine was about to die. I casually took his off the hook and placed mine briefly on it, but then forgot all about it.

Later, my husband teased, “Oh, OK, I see you took my phone off the charger for yours.” I felt a little guilty and decided that I didn’t want to do that again. It was a small gesture, but I wanted to give him and his phone the respect they deserved.

Soon after, my phone was close to dead (again) and his was plugged in. I simply placed my phone near his. My intention was to remind myself to charge it when his phone was finished. After he left for work that morning, I went back to charge my phone and saw he had already plugged it in for me.

Growth in marriage—and in life—is non-linear. It is not an upward-moving slope; it looks more like the stock market. There are ups and downs, but ultimately, each peak should be higher than the one before.

The small moments matter. Moments where you consider your spouse’s technology before your own. Moments when you look up and speak to him, and he addresses you instead of pretending to listen or multitask while you continue typing away. Moments where you turn towards one another’s bid for attention.

I try not to put my needs over my husband’s whenever possible. I do appreciate the small ways that my marriage is strengthened on a daily basis.

Marriage is filled with opportunities for growth on a daily basis. When we cherish those opportunities, we will feel fulfilled, be more grateful for our partner and maximize on the small moments to build an unbreakable bond.