The Check Engine Light

The dreaded check engine light. I don’t know about you, but I hate the check engine light. I always fear the worst when I see it. It’s like the amber light of doom to me.

But despite how I feel about the check engine light, it really is my friend. It lets me know something is wrong so I can fix it before it gets worse. It’s much better to have a check engine light come on, then to have the car blow up suddenly without warning.

Thankfully, each marriage comes equipped with a check engine light. The check engine light is different from one marriage to the next, but its purpose is still the same. It’s there to alert you that something’s not right in your marriage. A Check Engine light in marriage can be…

  • An uneasy silence that lasts too long.
  • An awkwardness between spouses
  • A gradual increase in criticism or pessimism.
  • A consistent escalation of sarcasm, put-downs, or anger.
  • An on-going decline in physical affection and/or sex.
  • An increasing disconnect, separation, or isolation between you and your spouse.

I’m sure there are others, but the point is when the check engine light comes on and stays on in your marriage, something’s wrong and needs attention.

What should you do when a check engine light comes on in your marriage?

  • Acknowledge it. It’s easy to ignore the check engine light. We tell ourselves it’s probably nothing or that it will eventually go away. On his self titled CD, country artist Kevin Denney sings a song entitled “It’ll Go Away.” Listen to the words…

Check engine light came on in my pick up truck
So I took a piece of black tape and I covered it up
I knew there was a problem underneath the hood
But I just kept on drivin’ a little faster then I should
I told myself that it would be okay
Ignore it and it’ll go away

And as to be expected a few miles down the road
My really nothin’s wrong here went up in smoke
Kinda like the mornin’ you said,”we need to talk”
I pretended I was listenin’ but I was blowin’ it off
I didn’t hear a thing you had to say
Ignore it and it’ll go away

The problem wasn’t that there was a problem
The problem was the choice that I made
Why did I choose not to notice
What was right there in my face?

I’d like to say I’m sorry,but it’s a little to late for that
You’ve gone on with your life…I’m glad I really am
I don’t know why it took me so long to realize
I don’t what else to say except that I’ve
Learned my lesson one true love too late
Ignore it and it’ll go away

Ignore it and it will go away

These are sobering words that remind us to acknowledge the check engine lights in our marriage.

  • Don’t assume the worst. Just because the check engine light comes on in your car, it doesn’t mean the engine’s ready to fall out or blow up. It may be something simple and easily fixed. The same is true in marriage. Not every check engine light in marriage is a sign the marriage is ready to blow up, but it is a sign something’s not running right and needs to addressed.
  • Stop and check it out. We’re all busy. When the check engine light comes on, it’s easy to say, “I don’t have time to stop and deal with that now. I’ll check it out later.” This approach is risky, because letting it go can lead to a larger and much more costly problem in the future. So many couples come into my office on the verge of divorce because of small things that were ignored for so long they eventually became big enough to endanger the marriage. When you see the check engine light in your marriage, stop where you are and check it out.
  • Fix it sooner rather than later. It’s not enough to stop and check out what’s going on. You need to fix what’s going on. And it’s better to fix things sooner rather than later. If you deal with things sooner, they’re smaller and more manageable. If you wait till later, they’re bigger and more difficult…and usually more costly. I once heard someone say, “Keep short accounts in marriage.” One way you do that is by fixing things sooner rather than later.
  • Get help if needed. If it’s something simple that’s causing the check engine light to come on, then you might be able to fix it yourself. (Once my check engine light in my car came on and the problem was that my gas cap was not tight enough.) But there are times when you need to enlist the help of a marriage mechanic. This could be another couple, parents, a pastor, or a counselor. I know going to a “mechanic” is inconvenient and it may even cost you, but it’s better and less costly than having your marriage breakdown by the side of the road.
  • Follow the owners manual. Every car comes from the factory with an owners manual. The purpose of the owners manual is to (1) help you take care of your car so you can prevent a check engine light form coming on, and (2) to tell you what to do if the check engine light does comes on. When the check engine light comes on in marriage, some people turn to the self help or relationship section of their local book store. Some turn to psychological theories. Some turn to TV personalities. Personally, I feel that marriages will work better and be more fulfilling if a couple follows the owners manual of Scripture. I believe it has the best track record.

Don’t ignore the check engine light in your marriage. Do something about it. It’s not as hard as you think…if you’ll see it and deal with it as soon as you see it.

So what about you and your marriage? Are you seeing a check engine light in your marriage? What is it? Which of the above steps do you most need to take? Do you need to talk about this with your spouse? Are you willing?

Copyright © 2015 Bret Legg

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