Years ago, I had a scare. We had a cat and a new dog. The cat’s food dish was up on a kitchen counter where the dog couldn’t reach. When we were all gone during the day, we had to keep our dog gated in the kitchen. It was the only un-carpeted surface in our home, he wasn’t yet house-broken, and I didn’t realize that I could have put him in a crate.
When the cat would jump over the gate and onto the kitchen counter, the dog would follow her around. He couldn’t reach her, but he definitely paid attention to what she was doing.
One day I came home from work and heard a strange sound–the vent fan over the kitchen stove. I walked into the kitchen to discover that my gas stove had a burner turned on full blast. The fan had a setting that would turn it on automatically if there was excessive heat or smoke. There was no smoke, but the flame had clearly been burning for a while. We later figured out that the cat had walked across the stove to get to her food. In trying to reach the cat, the dog’s paw turned the burner on.
We were very fortunate that nothing burned—particularly since just that morning I’d had a small box of tea sitting right next to that burner. If I hadn’t put it away, it would have caught on fire.
I realized that I didn’t even know if our smoke alarm worked. The only time I thought about the smoke alarm was when my cooking would sometimes set it off. Other than that, it were something I paid little attention to. When my husband came home that day, we tested the smoke alarm and discovered that the batteries had died. It was easy to picture all the scenarios where this situation could have turned out far differently—if I hadn’t put the tea away, if we’d been sleeping, if the cat had been on the burner when the dog turned it on, . . .
This scare served as a wake-up call to us to be vigilant about our smoke alarm batteries.
In most of the US this weekend, we are changing from daylight saving time back to standard time, which means we’ll need to change the clocks on our stoves and coffee makers.
We’re often reminded to replace the batteries in our smoke alarms at the same time as we change our clocks to match the new time. It’s a good reminder. It’s important to make sure our smoke alarms will function in the event of a fire. The alarms will warn us in time to get out of the house. If we don’t replace the batteries regularly, we might not know they’d died until it is too late.
The same principle applies in our marriages. Too often we pay little attention to our marriages. They’re in the background of life. From time to time something might draw our attention to our marriage for a short while, but then we go back to not thinking about them much at all. We might not even realize our marriages are in trouble until it is too late.
Instead, we need to be vigilant. Just as a smoke alarm is a signal that there is a fire, marriage problems often have warning signs as well. Are you spending less time with each other than you have in the past? Are you sniping at each other more than usual, or more withdrawn? Are you or your husband avoiding sex or conversations? Or, do you find it hard to remember when you last had sex or enjoyed talking with each other? Is one of you looking for excuses to be away from home? Do you feel lonelier in your marriage than you used to?
It’s easy for these things to creep up on us so gradually that we aren’t even aware that they’re happening—until it’s so late in the game that serious damage has been done.
I’d like to encourage you to do regular marriage maintenance check-ups. Every so often (at least a couple times a year, although monthly is probably better), ask yourself how things are going in your marriage. Although I know my feelings don’t necessarily tell me the truth about a situation, they do help me see what areas I need to examine. When I realize there’s a new pattern or a shift in something, I talk about it with Big Guy so we can deal with it when it’s just a blip rather than a full-blown problem.
Some couples check on their marriages by doing weekend retreats once or twice a year, either at an organized retreat with programming or off on their own somewhere. Other couples make a point to talk about their marriages on a weekly basis. It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you do it frequently enough that you can catch small flames before they are fanned into full-blown fires.
Doing intentional marriage check-ups is a way of replacing your batteries in your marital smoke alarms. Don’t wait for a wake-up call. Be vigilant.
In fact, start now. Start this weekend. When you change your clocks, give yourself a marriage check-up—and definitely replace your smoke alarm batteries, too.
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