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A Maintenance Plan for Your Marriage

Avoid serious breakdowns in your relationship with regular tune-ups, and keep things humming along.

En español | We all know that neglecting our car's maintenance requirements is a recipe for automotive disaster. Small things, such as a slow oil leak or a worn brake pad, can make the car dangerous, or even inoperable.

See also: 5 secrets of successful couples.

But did you know that you should have exactly the same concerns when it comes to marriage? As time goes by, relationships, just like cars, experience wear and tear. If you ignore the little things that go wrong, you may find yourself dealing with a major breakdown.

Husband and wife in bed with dogs

If cuddling time always includes your pets, it's time for a relationship tune-up. — Susan Sabo/Flickr/Getty Images

Since there is no flashing red warning light to tell us when something needs attention, I've created this maintenance checklist

Ask yourselves, "How are we doing?"

Occasionally you take the relationship's temperature because there are some indications that something's wrong, such as a spouse with a sullen attitude or wife giving you the silent treatment. But other times, even when things seem just fine, the question is necessary. Not infrequently, it can pick up the beginning of a problem and solve it before it deepens into a bigger issue — or a widening gulf of communication.

Check the fun gauge

Things may be fine day to day, but the mood of your relationship may need to be revitalized. We are all so busy these days that we often forget to look at the fun index and see that it's dangerously low. We may be using our weekends for errands and our free time for children, grandchildren, hobbies or work. But what about those things you used to do that produced joy, such as dancing, hiking, camping, wine tasting, picnics, concerts and so on? It's essential to a relationship to find time for fun and plan sexy weekend getaways.

Try something new

Sometimes the old paths are no longer enticing and a new path is necessary. One of the best predictors of relationship closeness is when couples take on something new together: a new hobby, a different kind of vacation, a foreign language — you get the idea. The old activities may be boring and that boredom can settle over a relationship like a gray cloud. If you haven't done anything new for a while together — do it now.

Ponder parallel play

Parallel play is fine for 3-year-olds. But for adults? Not so much. Even though individuals need time to do things alone, it is also vital that you do things as a couple. Sure, it may be more efficient to handle certain things individually, such as going to the supermarket or taking the cat to the vet. But doing them together can make the chores more pleasant. Of course, you don't need to do everything together — that might be downright claustrophobic — but if you find that you are doing very little together except for having dinner or going to an occasional movie, you need to create more easy, shared time.

Next: Is your romance running on empty? »

Gauge the romantic output

Commonly, couples forget all the little gestures that thrilled and comforted them long ago. Remember the kiss every time you met, the little touch of hands or knees at a dinner party, the poems sent back and forth? How about the candles in the bathroom and/or bedroom at night, the shared shower where you washed each other's hair? Well, that stuff matters, and its diminution undermines loyalty, attachment and happiness. Think about how often you say I love you, note the number of time you kiss when you meet or leave each other, and calculate the total number of monthly back rubs, foot rubs and affectionate emails. If you are low on any or all of these, replenish the relationship.

Assess your sexual frequency

Aging can make sex problematic: bad knees, an impeded circulatory system, hormone issues and other challenges can cause you to put sex on the back burner — or extinguish the flame altogether. But it's important that you don't neglect this part of your relationship. Making love is a great way to nourish your connection and you should make sure that it's part of your regular routine. If you've got health problems, talk to your doctor about what you need to do to stay sexually active.

Talk about your goals

When is the last time you had a "blue sky" discussion? Relationships need dreams. They might be dreams about the trip of a lifetime, about living somewhere else for a while, or maybe buying that car or country house you've both always wanted. Whatever the goal, the important thing is to dream together and to see if there could possibly, even if it is far in the future, the chance of making that dream come true. It is part of letting each other in to each other's deeper emotions and part of staying a team.

Check your anger meter

This is a really important dipstick! Over time, insults and irritations build up and create sludge in the system. Leaving anger unattended is like leaving a progressive disease alone and untreated. It's unpleasant to deal with but that is what you must do.

Consider extra service

People sometimes change, and the dynamics in a relationship change along with them. If you and your partner feel out of sync with one another — in a way that you have never felt in the past — perhaps one of you has become a different person than you were earlier in the relationship. That can create problems if you don't renegotiate your world together. If that conversation starts to sound destructive, don't hesitate to engage third-party help (a counselor, therapist, minister, etc). A good professional can bring you closer together and convert the tumult caused by change into an asset for each of you, and both of you, together.

You may also like the quiz: How healthy is your marriage?

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