One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in any marriage is that of unfulfilled expectations. People enter a marriage full of optimism, never suspecting that their spouse might expect different things from the marriage than they do. After the honeymoon stage begins to wear off, couples start to see all of the little things they've never noticed before.

There are so many factors that determine our expectations that each person has a unique conception of what marriage will be like. Miscommunication and disappointment leads to conflict because spouses haven't learned to understand each other's point of view.

Each of us learns about marriage from the influences that surround us. We look at our parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends and even the media to determine how a relationship should function. Learning to understand one another's expectations and finding ways to integrate those expectations will make a big difference in the happiness of your marriage.

The following tips will help you find ways to communicate your expectations to one another and modify those expectations in a way that will strengthen your relationship with each other.

1. Identify and discuss your expectations

Sometimes we come to a relationship with expectations of which we are not even aware. They are such an ingrained part of our personality and upbringing that we don't recognize them as anything other than reality. However, your partner likely has different expectations that make up his or her reality as well. It is important to discuss what your expectations are and where they come from (family, media, etc.). When you both become aware of the differences in your expectations it will be easier to find ways to compromise and meet each other's needs.

2. Let go of unrealistic expectations

When you discuss your expectations with your spouse, be ready and willing to compromise. It is important to accept that your spouse simply will not be able to fulfill some of your expectations and you will not be able to fulfill some of your spouse's. Do not begrudge or resent your spouse for things that are impossible for them. Recognize instead all of the things that they do that successfully meet or exceed your expectations and express gratitude for those things.

3. Make specific goals

Decide together what things you want to change and make concrete goals to help make them happen. For example, if your wife wants you to be more attentive, set aside your first 20 to 30 minutes after you come home from work to sit and talk with her about the events of the day. If your husband feels that you criticize him too much, make it a goal each day to express appreciation for three things that you love about him or that he does for you and your family. Set aside a time each week to evaluate how well you are doing and what you can do to improve the following week.

All of these suggestions are bound up in the most important skill in maintaining a successful marriage: communication. The expectations that you have about marriage manifest themselves in how you communicate with your spouse. You will never be able to understand one another's needs unless you learn to express them to each other. As you improve your communication skills by listening, taking turns speaking, repeating what your spouse says in your own words, etc. you will be able to understand what your spouse wants and what you can do to make him or her happy.

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