Thanksgiving is the perfect time to dig up those old family recipes that have been tucked away in the corner of your kitchen all year, but consider whipping up something new this year: a happy marriage.

While a recipe for marital success isn’t as easy to follow as your grandmother’s cranberry sauce, with a little preparation, the right ingredients and some careful measuring, you can create the marriage you’ve always envisioned.

But what does it take to create a happy future with your ideal spouse?

Like any recipe, it requires preparation. Before you even begin the process, you need to assess what you are working with; you can’t make a dish that calls for flour when you only have sugar.

In the same way, you can’t create a marriage to last a lifetime without knowing what you’re capable of giving in a relationship. Assessing who you are is a fundamental part of the dating process; it helps you to better understand your needs and desires and how ready you are for marriage.

Once you know you are fully equipped and prepared, you can start mixing the ingredients: warmth, honesty, humility, happiness, intellect, forgiveness, ambition, generosity, accountability, self-awareness, inspiration—the list goes on.

Not all marriages will require the same amount of each, but it is important that they are measured and added carefully, nonetheless. If having a spouse that values spending time with family is important to you, don’t invest your time in someone who prefers working late at the office to being home for dinner.

The best recipes for marriage are the ones that are clearly spelled out. Follow the instructions closely and understand when substitutions are appropriate and when they’ll yield an unsatisfying result.

When you substitute dark brown sugar for light brown sugar, for example, it’s like finding someone who wants three kids when you want two—it doesn’t follow the recipe precisely, but the end result has almost the same flavor. On the other hand, substituting almond extract for lemon extract will yield an entirely different end product, like marrying someone who doesn’t want children when raising a family is a life goal for you.

When marriages don’t turn out the way we want them to, we have to look at what ingredients—or values—are missing. Your values define who you are and because of that, they rarely change. Marriages often fail because the things two people value never matched up in the first place.

Unfortunately, you don’t always realize which ingredients are left out until it’s too late. But by spending time in meaningful conversation, you can determine if your values align from the very beginning.

Don’t improvise in your marriage—know what values are important to you and look for someone who shares the same things.

With a little preparation, the right ingredients and just enough cook time, your happily ever after will be heating up before you know it.