Life is a struggle. From the process of birth to the last moments you draw breath. It takes effort and determination to come into this world and to stay alive and thrive in it. Everything you want in this life you will have to work hard for.

What is worth struggling for? What is not? Where should you invest your efforts to get what you really desire out of life? You get to choose what you want to struggle for.

If you were to ask the average person what they consider to be essential for a good life, you would hear answers such as, “Enough money to be comfortable,” “Lasting love,” “Good health,” or “Work that I can be passionate about.”

Those answers are pretty predictable and apply to most people.  However, attaining any one of those goals is no walk in the park.

Take “lasting love,” for example. People go out and marry the one person they are sure they will be happy with for the rest of their lives. They marry the one they just can’t get enough of.

Yet it’s not long before living each day with that person gets difficult–really difficult sometimes. Why is it that so many people find themselves unhappy in their relationships? Years into the marriage, why can’t they get along with the person they once loved so much?

The answers to those questions are different for different couples, but the answer isn’t really the point of this article. The point is that relationships turned out to be harder than they thought.

Let’s take another example: a fit and healthy body. Everyone wants to have a body without aches, pains, fat, and weaknesses. Everyone wants to have muscle, energy and confidence about the way they look. But anyone who has a fit and healthy body will tell you that it is not by accident. They struggle for the time to work out. They struggle to make healthy food choices each day. They struggle to get enough sleep, drink enough water and many other things.

The reality is that if something is worth having, it is worth the struggle. If you consider good relationships worth having, you pay attention to your spouse’s needs. If you consider health worth having, you eat greens, exercise, and get enough sleep.

Unfortunately, most of us like to have what we want when we want it and as easily as we can get it. We want marital bliss right now even though we haven’t even sat down for dinner together in a really long time. We want our spouse to understand us, and listen to us, and appreciate us, even though we can’t remember the last Saturday morning we lingered in bed to talk and hold each other. We want the joy of an intimacy that is deep and accepting, restful yet exciting. But we just have a really hard time talking to our spouse about our inner thoughts, feelings, fears, triumphs, and goals. We want marriage to be a close and rewarding friendship with the love of our life, but we avoid the investment of time and effort in the relationship. Just give it to me already, right?

But intimacy isn’t built in a day. Intimacy is the result of multiple small deposits of affirmation. It comes from trusting someone else with little pieces of yourself, finding that it is safe and bonding to do so, and repeating the process. Intimacy takes time. It takes work. Some may call it a struggle.

It is a struggle because there will always be some need that shouts for your attention more loudly. There will always be a situation that seems more urgent for you to attend to. You give it your attention, you respond to the urgent situation. It passes. Yet your deep desire for a rewarding marriage remains and you are no closer to feeling connected.

The human desire for deep connection with another person isn’t going to go away. You are going to wake up and feel that need decades from now. The urge you have today to be known and understood by the one you love will be there tomorrow and the next day. How quickly and wholly you are able to experience that deep bond is something you have much control over.

Nurturing love must be an ongoing process. Neglect it for too long and the opportunity will no longer exist. Put it on the back burner because of the pressing and urgent situations that seem to need all of your best attention and you may find that your spouse has lost the desire to work for intimacy. They have felt unimportant, unneeded, and undesired for too long. Not enough daily deposits of affirmation were added to their affection bank, and now it is overdrawn.

But take advantage of small moments to smile, laugh, talk, touch, affirm, wink, and listen to each other each day and you will add to the investment that is your marriage. You will begin to see it grow over time. There will be enough of an investment in there to weather a few stormy times when you inevitably aren’t able to make those deposits.

You reap what you sow. As Dave Ramsey says, “You win at what you pay attention to.”

Marriage isn’t something that can be compartmentalized. It can’t be put on a shelf to be worked on once your pressing matters have been attended to. It can’t be put off until you have more energy to pour into it. It needs daily attentiveness. You must pay attention to it.

You won’t always see and feel the full benefits of the energy you put into your marriage right away. It’s like making an investment in mutual funds. You put the money in now and reap the rewards over time. Someday when your investment has matured you will be so thankful that you put the money out there when you did. It was none too soon. Now there is so much to enjoy as a result.

Yes, marriage is a struggle sometimes. But so is the rest of life. You get to choose what you will struggle for. Choose what matters.