There are two distinct parts to a marriage.

The first can be called the “Just Married” period, that exciting time in a young couple’s life often marked by initial euphoria. That incredible and exhilarating period is a gift from Heaven to help these “strangers” commit to a life together. It’s romantic, heady, and sweeps us off our feet. And with it comes the dreams and hopes that it should last forever.

But as real as it feels, it's not yet love. For a few reasons: One, it's not based on personal effort and growth. Real love takes effort.

The initial euphoria won't last more than two years. So don't panic when the intensity dies down. It will.

Two, since it's a gift, it's time limited. According to experts, it will last no more than two years. Don't panic when the intensity dies down. It will.

Three, in euphoria you want the moments of connection to last forever. Real love wants the growth and development of one’s spouse through the ups and downs of life. Doesn't sound so romantic? Enjoy the romance for all that it gives you but realize that euphoria is just a warm up to love. Further into the relationship is where lasting joy and connection can be found.

The second part is the slow, challenging process of really getting to know your spouse and, more importantly, getting to know yourself. Those early promises of selfless dedication and sharing don't last because they're not real reflections of who we are and our day to day capabilities.

And this is where marriage becomes so challenging and so remarkable. When we really start to discover who we are, our strengths and weaknesses, and dedicate ourselves, for the sake of the other, to making the necessary changes, marriage becomes a vehicle to untold growth.

Real love is based on my “stretching” and pushing myself for my spouse. I'm caring for them, not myself. It shows my spouse I want the best for them, even if it's not easy for me. And that shift is the most powerful statement of my true commitment to transform myself for the sake of my partner (as opposed to infatuation where we both feel a connection but, realistically, neither of us are pushing past our comfort zone for the sake of the other).

How do we transition?

The basic formula works like this.

In general, we are motivated for two basic reasons; because we want something and because we need something. You want to eat cake and you need to change your baby's diaper. Wanting to eat the cake is nice but it's about you. Needing to change the diaper is about the baby, not you.

In the beginning of a relationship you are inspired and want to give, you want to feel that deep connection to your new partner. However, if we're honest, it's largely about us. Of course, making your new partner feel good feels good but a huge motivation is because it feels SO good to us.

But as time moves along, the relationship doesn't feel so good. In fact, sometimes it can feel so not good! Realistically, you're not motivated to be as loving and caring, instead you start expressing feelings or doing things that can damage the relationship, and as hard as it might be to swallow, that's because the real you is coming out.

Real love shifts from focusing on what I want out of the relationship to what you need from me.

But here's where the switch to a deeper love can take place. Real love shifts from what you want, what feels good, to what you need to do to help the relationship grow. I'm not focusing on what I want out of the relationship but what you need from me.

Why is that shift essential for real love? Because until my spouse is the focus of my concerns and efforts, it's about me, and my spouse will feel it. Learning about what I need to do to make the relationship grow, even when it's hard, takes me out of the middle and puts my spouse there. And what's amazing is that when my spouse senses that, he or she will be much more ready and willing to reciprocate and give what's important to me. It's not easy to shift but definitely a set up for a win-win.

There are endless examples but let’s describe one scenario to see how it works.

I come home from a long and exhausting day at work. I want nothing more than to crawl up to my favorite program but my spouse wants to talk and share her day. Now ask yourself: What do I want to do? What should I do? I want to watch my program, I should listen to my spouse. What I want is about me, what I should do is about my spouse. And my spouse will feel that I’m caring more about her than myself. (Of course, you need to take care of yourself, but the primary focus is on your spouse.) That’s the road to a love that transforms and connects.

Feeling great about being together is sweet but giving when it's not easy is the key to shifting the focus to my spouse. That's what real love is based on.

So enjoy those special initial euphoric moments of your relationship but learn the skills for love. It's worth all the effort.