We expect a lot from marriage. We expect it to provide enduring friendship, vibrant romance, and beautiful children in the bargain. We assume our marriage will give us a continuing sense of fulfillment and contentment. We anticipate heading off into the future with shared goals and a level of acceptance, respect, and connection found only with our “soulmate.”

And yet, we discover that our idealized expectations of never-ending fulfillment usually don’t match our reality.

Most partners who seemed to agree on everything during courtship are surprised how different they are on key issues after they marry. They feel differently about money, time, affection, vacations, and cooked vegetables. Minor differences can grow into deep and enduring resentments. Resentments can harm or even end relationships.

We realize that the person who was so perfect for us during courtship has flaws—just as we do—and can even be annoying at times. Instead of marriage providing us with the imagined ideal “soulmate,” we may find times when we wrestle with a lack of connection, boredom, an absence of support, and hurtful misunderstandings. Feelings of distance can harm or even end relationships.

Or, over time, we place all our expectations on a shelf, emotionally check-out, and find our marriage on autopilot. We are content to be more like roommates than a couple who once made hope-filled covenants with each other.

I’m afraid that we often don’t understand God and His purposes. God designed marriage to be at least as educational as recreational. Jesus’ prime directive was that we love one another, and marriage is meant to be our “school of love.” In a marriage companionship, we are invited to become better disciples by learning compassion, service, forgiveness, and to focus upon the needs of someone else rather than simply focusing on ourselves. God intends marriage to prepare us for exaltation. He offers marriage as a vehicle for blessings both here and in eternity.

So, we enter marriage with high hopes for companionship. We may say, “I have found my best friend, and this is going to be great!” We rarely say on our marriage day, “Heavenly Father, I hope you will stretch me toward being a more kind, compassionate, and less selfish person.”

Yet that is God’s intent.

Not only are our expectations for marriage ill founded, but when the relationship hits bumps in the road, our solutions are equally unwise. We imagine that if we can express our discontents in productive ways, our partners will accommodate our preferences and all will be well. The key is to express our discontents in kind and fair ways.

Unfortunately, any marriage program that focuses on communication skills as the best approach to addressing marital issues does not agree with findings from research on marriage or the Lord’s doctrine of change. What are the key principles of change in marriage and how can a person discern between truth and what will actually work versus what doesn’t work in real life?

Is marriage supposed to make partners happy? The common criteria by which we evaluate marital success are guided more by our culture than by what will actually result in an enduring and rewarding relationship. A good marriage program teaches the ways to grow contentment and companionship.

How do we find the balance between taking care of ourselves and focusing on the relationship? There are five key principles for finding that balance.

Given that two different people with two different backgrounds are guaranteed to disagree on key issues, how do we work together productively?

Since every human has so many distortions and biases that frequently cause us to only see our side of the story, what is the key to overcoming our conviction of being “right” in order to create a healthy relationship?

Since all of us are fallen and flawed, what are the keys to tapping into spiritual power to enable a fulfilling marriage? How do we get God helping us to build our relationship?

Given the diversity of books and workshops that each promise to be the key to marital happiness, how do we know which resources actually agree with research, practical experience, and the Lord’s counsel?

After almost 40 years of studying marriage, conducting workshops, and helping couples, I have boiled the key principles of successful relationships down to a one-day workshop. This workshop is unique in that it combines good research with the Lord’s eternal principles and a lifetime of experience.

You are invited to invest one day in refreshing and strengthening your marriage. Our next retreats are July 8 or September 23, in Alpine, Utah, from 9 am to 5 pm. You can register for one of the retreats at DrWally.com for only $199 per couple. If the price is a problem, some scholarships are available by emailing me at th**************@gm***.com

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her excellent insights in refining this article.