Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham's book, As Long As We Both Shall Live: Experience the Marriage You've Always Wanted, (Regal Books, 2009).

What expectations do you have for your marriage?  Like many other couples, you and your spouse may expect to achieve goals ranging from financial security to regular sex.  But you also may experience the disappointment that so many other husbands and wives encounter when their expectations don't become reality.  The greater the gap between what you expect and what you actually experience in your marriage, the more tension will come between you and your spouse.

But if you learn to recognize which expectations are unreasonable or unhealthy - and how to change them - you can change your marriage for the better in the process.  Here's how:

Quiz each other.  Think about the various expectations that you and your spouse each have for your marriage: that you'll have children, attend church regularly, live in a nice house, have deep conversations, spend time with friends, enjoy good health, pursue fulfilling careers, avoid struggles with addiction (such as to pornography or alcohol), live free of the pressures of debt, pray together, cook meals for each other, present a united front to others, enjoy healthy relationships with in-laws, have sex regularly, give generously to your church, serve others together, etc.  After you've each listed your expectations, think about the gaps between what you've hoped for and what you've actually gotten in your marriage.  Identify the areas where the greatest gaps exist; these are the expectations you likely need to change the most.

Expose the roots of your responses to each other.  Discover where the expectations that each of you brought to your marriage came from, and how they affect your current attitudes and actions.  Talk about your childhoods and previous relationships, and what your parents and significant others (like past boyfriends or girlfriends) taught you about what to expect in life and how to respond to certain situations in certain ways.  Ask God to help you heal from unhealthy influences and overcome them to make better decisions now.

Balance cultural influences with biblical truth.  Regularly evaluate what media content you've been feeding your mind and emotions - and how that's influencing your expectations of marriage.  Are you watching, listening to, and reading material that aligns with biblical truth and helps your marriage, or material that's contributing to unhealthy attitudes and harming your marriage?  Don't just accept whatever messages come at you through the media.  Filter the world's messages through the Word's messages.  Focus on God's plan for your marriage.

Resolve expectations about each other's personalities.  Accept the unique person that God made your spouse to be.  Realize that personality differences between the two of you can strengthen your marriage when you figure out how to use them to complement each other.  Don't judge or criticize each other.  Instead of looking for what you think is wrong about your spouse, notice what's right.  Ask God to help you love your spouse as he or she actually is, rather than who you want your spouse to be.  Listen well to each other; be humble, gentle, kind, and patient with each other; and forgive each other for mistakes.  If your spouse is struggling to overcome some weaknesses, pray for him or her, but understand that God alone can empower your spouse to change.  You can't change your spouse, so don't waste time or energy trying.  Instead, focus on changing yourself to live as faithfully as you can to God's calling for you.