Almost every couple married a few years has experienced some boredom, some burnout. Some are on their way to an emotional and, maybe then, a legal divorce.

If your marriage feels stale, take heed. And take heart. An occasional bout of the blahs is often a problem even in a successful, healthy marriage. But how you deal with encroaching dullness may be crucial to the vitality and survival of a relationship.So what steps can you take? Admit to the problem, explore alternatives and solutions, and do something. Dealing with the problem may result in a renewal or deepening of the relationship, or may become a door to a new beginning.

Here are strategies that may help:

*Surprise your partner. Cultivate a touch of the unexpected in your relationship. A little abandon and a sense of humor can go a long way toward shaking up a stale routine.

*Stretch yourself. Clear a space in your schedule to develop parts of you that you've locked away. Take a class, adopt a new hobby, exercise, or enter a competition of some sort - something to enhance yourself and perhaps even enrich the relationship.

*Review your sex life. After the first few years in a marriage, a sex life often settles into a routine bordering on boredom. When there is routinely physical contact with no emotional expression, the act of love can become the denial rather than the expression of intimacy.

Being vulnerable and honestly discussing the status of your sex life may be difficult but absolutely essential to restoring vitality in the relationship. Though variety in the sexual relationship may be important, more vital to many couples is finding ways to restore or develop a feeling of being close and cherished.

*Add more nondemand, nonsexual intimacy to the relationship. An "I love you," a simple touch, kiss or smile, given more often, can deepen closeness in the relationship.

*Let your partner know that he or she marches at the head of your parade. Send clear, frequent, unambiguous signals confirming the fact that your partner's welfare comes first, ahead of all other happinesses and welfares. Say "You're No. 1" through unexpected notes of endearment, compliments in public, casual caresses, thoughtful acts, or gifts of your time.

*Lend your strength to your partner. Even the strongest of people need someone at times. Life is full of stressful and often painful moments. Be there with open arms and a gentle word when your partner is hurt or discouraged.

*Tell your partner what you like. You may think your partner knows you love back rubs, hugs when you come home, or small but unexpected presents, but don't make those assumptions. The only way you will ever learn what each of you thinks of as a loving act is by expressing it.

*Share trivialities. Marriages are made up of routine little things. Sharing many of these "nuts and bolts of living" can bring you closer together.

*Cultivate intimate behavior. Intimacy does not have to involve grand passion or 3-D sex. Intimacy is also built into slighter actions: reading aloud, sharing a warm thought about your partner, speaking with tenderness, listening intently, or relating with playfulness or a bit of silliness.

*Make time for the relationship. Don't wait until the checkbook is balanced, the kids are well-behaved, or the new addition to the house is finished. A relationship is a growing, living entity that will either flourish with care or expire slowly from malnutrition - it will not remain the same for any length of time.

Think about it - most people would agree there is nothing as important as a loving relationship. Give your relationship the priority it deserves.

*Treat your partner with ultimate respect. Curtness, threats, name-calling, screaming or yelling, or other abrasive responses poison a relationship. Intimacy cannot co-exist with chronic anger or routine negative responses. When you want changes, appeal to your partner with softness and warmth instead of demands and complaints.

*Take regular "temperature readings." Set aside regular time each week just to talk. Tell each other what you've felt good about this week and take turns sharing what you've been doing and thinking. Talk about what you'd like changed in the relationship as long as you can suggest several options to solve the problem. Finally, share your hopes, wishes and dreams.

*Don't let small things loom large. If you get irritated because your partner leaves the toothpaste uncapped, lets the dishes pile up, or is chronically late, think about changing yourself instead of the other person.

Ask for what you want, if you'd like, but if you don't get it, then let the issue go. It is usually an accumulation of small irritants, rather than large problems, that erode a marriage.

*Let your marriage breathe. As the poet Kahlil Gibran advised, "Let there be spaces in your togetherness." Don't practice togetherness at the expense of individuality. Encourage your partner to be first a person, secondly a mate. The best marriages consist of two whole people who are interacting - not two "half-people" who constantly depend on each other for all their emotional supplies.