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FOUR TIPS TO HELP STRENGTHEN YOUR MARRIAGE

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Planning for the future is always a good idea. All plans, however, are based on our expectations about how others will act and what future events will take place. Whether we're planning our finances or our marriage, this only works if our expectations are realistic.

There are four warnings about expectations that married couples should consider to minimize the chances of major disappointments. These four tips can help husbands and wives get onto the same page and grow in mutual understanding, leading to a stronger marriage. Here are the tips:

1. Don't expect things to go well all the time.

Author Hara Marano (Psychology Today, April, 2010) warns, “It's naive to expect relationships to feel good every minute. Every relationship has bumps.”

Indeed, researcher John Gottman has found there are lots of “bumps” even in the best of marriages. It's not conflict that causes trouble, it's whether couples handle the conflict with respect and honesty.

Try to keep the fun in your marriage, even scheduling times for fun. But don't be surprised when problems arise.

Couples in long-term, successful marriages often say working together through troubles as a team actually made them stronger and intensified their sense of intimacy. Having someone you can trust at your side during hard times makes the good times feel even better.

2. Don't expect your spouse to be perfect.

Your spouse isn't perfect, and neither are you. Expecting perfection inevitably leads to disappointment.

Since a perfect spouse doesn't exist, aim at a realistic goal: By working, learning and growing together, you can become a more perfect couple.

3. Expect your spouse to change, but don't expect to cause the change.

People change as they age, Marano cautions. You can expect their core values to stay the same, although even those may shift over time. However, tastes, preferences, hobbies and countless other details of a person's life are “constantly evolving.”

While your spouse may change, trying to change your spouse rarely, if ever, succeeds. Marano explains that “if anyone has to change in a relationship, it's you — although preferably with the help of your spouse.” Instead of dwelling on your spouse, focus on “what kind of partner and person you want to be.”

In “Divorce Busting,” social worker Michele Weiner-Davis says you can change your marriage by changing your own behavior. When we change what we're doing, “the old dance cannot continue as usual.”

4. Don't expect your spouse to know what you want unless you clearly say it.

Couples often buy into the romantic nonsense that, “if you loved me, you'd know what I want without me having to tell you.” This, of course, ignores the obvious answer: “If you loved me, you'd know I don't know what you want if you don't tell me.”

Expecting your spouse to be a mind reader will undermine your marriage. If you want to be cuddled, receive cut flowers, have help with the dishes, have more sex or have your spouse accompany you when you go somewhere, say so. Spell it out in detail; don't beat around the bush with clever hints or vague comments.

The solution to most expectation problems is simple: Talk about them with your spouse. Decide which expectations make sense in your marriage and which don't. Keeping your expectations realistic and sharing them between you is a great step toward a healthy marriage.

Written by: James Sheridan. He has been married for 45 years.

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