If you’re going on a long journey, you’ll make frequent stops to refuel your car along the way. You’ll also check the tires occasionally, rotating them and inflating them as needed, change the oil at regular intervals and perform other preventive maintenance to ensure your car continues running smoothly.

So it is with marriage. When two people decide to take a lifelong journey together, especially one that includes raising children, the marriage will be their vehicle and it will take plenty of preventive maintenance to keep it running on all cylinders.

Most marriages begin with their motors revving. The first couple years of marriage are frequently a continuation of courtship and enjoy a natural passion. It’s easy in those early years to devote the bulk of your attention to your spouse, but as the distractions build, particularly when you have children, couples need to begin taking responsibility for the passion.

Another common challenge many marriages face comes when reality settles in. Generally, we connect with our partners partially because of who they are and partially because of who we imagine them to be. At some point, the infatuation fades and we begin to see them more fully for who they are. Many times the success of our marriage then depends on our reaction to that reality. Reacting with grace and curiosity obviously yields far better results than ambivalence or disappointment.

If your marriage seems to be slowing to a halt, you can take a number of simple steps to revitalize it:

Continue to court each other. If babysitters and dinners out aren’t in your budget, at least plan one night a week where you can put the children to bed a little early or coordinate your kids’ play dates in a way that gives you some time alone with your spouse. What you do during that time isn’t as important as doing it together and reconnecting as a couple, outside of other life roles you may have.
Maintain a sense of humor. Humor is one of our best gifts and helps keep the fun in relationships. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to make fun of each other, but rather to find the odd, funny angles in our frustrations.
Be kind to each other. Friendship is at the core of any healthy marriage, and kindness is a cornerstone of friendship. Avoid the temptation to take out your aggressions on your spouse or to be overly casual with each other. Instead treat each other with the respect you would offer the most important person in the world — because in a passionate marriage that person is your spouse.
Be affectionate. Research is clear that children wither and die without touch from other humans. We don’t lose that need as adults. Hugs, neck rubs and brief dances in the kitchen that don’t necessarily lead to anything more are an easy yet effective way to maintain affection and emotional intimacy.
Surprise your spouse. People tend to place each other in boxes that define who they are. Kicking each other out of those boxes by performing unexpected, happy surprises for one another can help keep your relationship interesting and gratifying.
Get help if you need it. Many couples wait several years or until they’re talking divorce before seeking help from a marital therapist. The best time to get help is when you first realize there’s a problem you’re not getting past on your own. Seeking help early cuts down on the length of time needed to resolve the problem and increases the likelihood of keeping the marriage on track.
Additionally, various churches and other organizations offer marriage enhancement programs. Though not a replacement for marital counseling, they can be a valuable aid for building relationships.

Giving marital relationships ongoing preventive maintenance helps keep them lively, fulfilling and passionate, and it helps you avoid a lot of major repairs over the years. When given continuous attention and constant tending, your marriage likely can and will endure life’s journeys well.

As published in the March 2006 Edition of the Holmen Courier and Onalaska Community Life.