“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.

The people I counsel 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 marriage events that are designed with humor and insight that encourages couples to move their marriage in a positive direction.

Warning signs are designed as a benefit to help us intervene before problems get out of hand. If your warning lights are flashing, it could be just time for routine maintenance or you have the opportunity to avert a disaster! Either way, I hope that you will make positive change a priority.