Once your wedding vows have been said, your reception cake eaten, and your honeymoon photos stashed inside an album, you and your spouse can start on an even bigger adventure - the miracle of merging your lives together. You may be feeling on top of the world as newlyweds. But when the bliss wears off and challenges confront you, you'll need to build the kind of relationship that will stand the test of time.

Here's how you can learn from your first few years of marriage to build a strong, lasting marriage for years to come:

Accept things that you can't change about your spouse. Understand that there are some things about your spouse that were never meant to change - things that are unique to how God has created his or her personality. Ask God for the grace to accept your spouse's annoying habits without resentment. Stop trying to change your spouse, and focus on how you can each grow stronger from working together as a team.

Remember that opposites attract. Be glad that you didn't marry yourself. Ask God to reveal to you how you and your spouse's different strengths and weaknesses can complement each other. Know that what counts in a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with that incompatibility. Don't waste your time asking "What if?" types of questions. Instead, make a real commitment to what is between the two of you.

Work through your small differences (such as how to cook dinner together) to help you prepare for dealing with bigger issues (such as buying a home and having a baby). Move past arguments quickly by forgiving each other and reaffirming your love for each other. Regularly remind yourself of the similarities between you and your spouse, and what drew you together in the first place. Be patient as you work to build understanding and unity as a couple.

Recognize that your way of doing something isn't the only way. Seek to understand why your spouse thinks and acts the way he or she does. Learn from your differences. Give each other space as you each adapt to living with each other. Don't take yourselves too seriously; make time for fun together on a regular basis.

Let your marriage reveal hidden issues in your life. Expect that marriage - the most intimate human relationship of all - will bring many issues to the surface in your life that may have been dormant when you were single. As you wrestle with issues such as insecurity, your history (including your childhood, past relationships, and abusive situations) jealousy, or anything else, don't be afraid to face them head-on. Ask God to heal you and use your marriage to mature you.

Remember your true identity. You may go through an identity crisis when you're married - especially if you're a woman who changes her last name. Take some time to grieve for the single life you've left behind, but move into the future as a married person with courage and joy. Give your spouse priority over your parents and siblings so you can build a new family together without being restricted by ties to your families of origin. Root your ultimate identity in Christ, realizing that you are God's child above all else, no matter what the current circumstances of your life.

Let go of unrealistic expectations. Realize that imaginary fantasies about what your spouse should or shouldn't do are dangerous because they can leave you feeling disappointed and frustrated when they're not fulfilled, and they're not fair to your spouse. Ask God to help you see your spouse as He does so you can get a clear, accurate understanding of who he or she is. Pray for your spouse regularly.

Don't compare your spouse to other people's spouses. Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect spouse. Make a list of specific things you appreciate about your spouse, then express your appreciation to him or her. Don't expect your spouse to react to things exactly as you do, or to fulfill the roles that your mother or father fulfilled when you were growing up. Be humble, flexible, and willing to learn to work together with your spouse.