“Service Engine Soon.” That’s what the little yellow light on my dashboard says. I don’t know what it means, other than the possibility of paying hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to correct a problem that I can’t see, and probably won’t understand!

How do I determine if it is worth it? Will the light go off if I just ignore it? Or will I hear a loud “krathunk” as my car strands me on I-70, at night, in the snow? If that happens I half expect the light to say, “See, I told you!”

There is also a clear, small sticker on the windshield of my car that tells me the date and mileage when my next oil change is due. This warning, though less intimidating than the little yellow light, is one that I check often and obey diligently. Changing my oil has now become routine maintenance, yet if I ignored this warning it could bring about the same disastrous consequences.

As a counselor at the Bear Valley Counseling Center, the people I work with have similar responses. Studies have shown that couples that struggle in their marriages will often wait an average of 5-7 years before they finally seek counseling. They ignore the “Service Engine Soon” light. Then they experience the “krathunk:” a particularly distressing argument, a threat of divorce, a separation – something unpleasant that motivates one or both of the spouses to seek help. Imagine the damage that occurs when a warning is ignored for seven years!

There are also those couples who regularly change their oil. Engaged couples seeking pre-marriage counseling fall into this category. They can’t imagine the slightest blip causing any discomfort in their approaching marital bliss – so they eagerly meet to discuss their relationship. Or they could be couples who just need help over a particular issue, while everything else is running smoothly. As president of Positive Solutions for Marriage, my goal is to move more couples into the category of well-maintained marriages.

Pay attention to both warnings – the little yellow light, Are you listening to each other? Do you take time to value your spouse? Do you keep hitting the same hurtful roadblocks? – AND the maintenance schedule, Do you go out on dates? Handle conflict quickly and with respect? Give compliments often? Help each other with the little things?

Another helpful step for all couples is to find, or develop, a community of like-minded couples who share wisdom and encouragement with each other. Marriage retreats, Sunday School classes, and Family Life Conferences are some of the choices couples have found helpful. Positive Solutions has developed couples events that many have discovered. We host Steps to a Better Place or Making Fun of Marriage that are designed with humor and insight that encourages couples to move their marriage in a positive direction. These events can be booked by your local church.

Warning signs are designed as a benefit to help us intervene before problems get out of hand. Encourage couples to call the Bear Valley Counseling Center to make an appointment today if their warning lights are flashing. If it is just time for routine maintenance, consider hosting your own marriage event! Either way, I hope that you will make positive change a priority.

Copyright © 2005 by Chuck Fallon, Used with Permission

Chuck Fallon is President of Positive Solutions for Marriage and Director of Bear Valley Counseling Center in Lakewood, Colorado where he is a marriage counselor. Chuck speaks on marriage topics, offering skill based teaching laced with humor and insight, encouraging couples to build the marriage of their dreams.

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