Marriage: An Owner's Manual

By Dr. Gregory Popcak

Cars, boats, homes, gardens all have them. In fact, just about every valuable thing has them. Why don’t marriages have maintenance schedules?

Most people know how often they have to change their oil, till their garden, rotate their tires, replace their furnace screens, etc. But do you know how often to oil your marriage?

This “owner’s manual” is offered as a guide for the regular care and feeding of your marriage. Simply follow the schedule below for a well-maintained relationship.

Regular Marriage Maintenance

Every Day

1. Pray. Ask God to help you become the lover he would be to your spouse.

2. Ask yourself, “What can I do to make my spouse’s life a little easier today?” Then do it.

3. Find small ways to demonstrate affection. Catch your mate being good. Be generous with kisses, hugs, compliments, and calls from the office.

4. Take some time to talk with your spouse. Catch up on the news. Solve today’s problems. Address issues with the children. Discuss plans for the future.

Every Week

1. Attend Mass together at least once a week. Make sure your kids come with you.

2. Are you and your spouse getting fifteen hours a week together to talk, work together, and rekindle the romance? What changes do you need to make in your schedule to make sure you get your fifteen hours next week?

3. Review your Twenty-five Ways to Make Love Stay — Every Day list? (See Chapter 4.) Are you keeping up? What new loving actions should you add?

Every Month

Assuming your children are developmentally ready or physically healthy enough, leave them at home so that the two of you can go out as a couple at least once per month. If you can’t go out, make time for “couple time” at home. Set the kids up with a video, or even have the sitter come to your house while you and your spouse enjoy a piece of pie and grown-up conversation over candlelight in the dining room.

Every Three Months
Review problem solving in Chapter 8. How are you doing? What skills do you still need to develop and/or practice? How, specifically, will you develop those skills?

Every Six Months

1. Ask your spouse how you could be an even better spouse to her. Receive any criticism graciously, give criticism kindly, and act on the discussion.

2. Read a book together on some aspect of marriage and/or family life.

Once a Year

Go on a retreat together. Do a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend or some other marriage enrichment program. Or spend a whole day in a favorite park or other place with your spouse and children, playing, praying, and discerning what God has in store for you and your family in the coming year.

Following these recommendations will help you assure the continued growth and health of your marriage.

Emergency Maintenance

Sometimes certain problems occur that require taking your marriage into the “repair shop.” Yes, it can be expensive; and yes, it is always a pain; but keeping a marriage in good working order sometimes requires some professional assistance. How can you tell when it’s time for a checkup? Counseling is automatically indicated if...

• Your arguments are becoming physical.

• Many of your arguments occur while one or the other of you is drunk or high. Or, many of your arguments are over drinking and/or drug use.

• You are fantasizing about having an affair.

• You are spending more and more time with a friend of the opposite sex who you feel understands you better than your spouse (even if your intentions are pure).

• You or your spouse is avoiding the other.
• When you look at your spouse, you get a sinking feeling in your gut, or become angry and/or irritable for no good reason.

Not every issue is cause for counseling, but some other issues may warrant immediate attention or special interventions. Take the following quiz to see if you are due for a marital tune-up.

Marriage Quiz
Mark each statement T or F.
_ My spouse and I keep having the same arguments over and over.
_ I often feel picked on by my spouse.
_ I often feel disappointed in or let down by my spouse.
_ I wonder if my spouse really loves me.
_ I feel that my spouse is a controlling person.
_ I think our arguments get out of control.
_ I wonder if I married the right person.
_ I intentionally avoid spending time with my spouse.
_ I feel that my spouse doesn’t understand me.
_ I often think negatively about my mate.

Scoring (How many did you mark True?)

0-1 No special maintenance required. Follow regular maintenance schedule as described above.

2-4 I recommend taking a marriage enrichment course (see Appendix 3). Also, read some books on marriage and family issues and review some of the exercises in this work, especially Twenty-five Ways to Make Love Stay — Every Day (Chapter 4).

5+ I would recommend considering some counseling. Don’t wait until the cancer is inoperable. Get help now while things aren't too bad. See Appendices 2 and 3 for referral resources.

Excerpted with permission from the book For Better … Forever! (Our Sunday Visitor) by Dr. Gregory Popcak, who is author of eight books and hosts two nationally syndicated radio programs. He is the Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faithful solutions to tough marriage, family, and personal problems through telephone counseling practice and other services. Dr. Popcak invites you to contact him at or by writing to