What Is a Marital "Tune Up?"

Why we should not ignore the signs of a troubled relationship.

Posted Sep 21, 2019

In my work with couples over the years, I’ve found that the only way to stave off marital problems before they fester is to call a therapist before the problems become too big to change.

I like to think of it in terms of maintaining a car. Most people bring their car to the shop on a regular basis. Diagnostics are performed, the oil gets changed, the tires are rotated, and other maintenance is performed in order to keep the car in good working order. Without this periodic preventative maintenance, problems that are more costly to repair than a simple tune-up can develop.

What about a marriage? Why don’t people take the same approach with their relationship as they do with their automobiles? When an issue comes up with our car, most of us bring it to the shop so that the problem doesn’t get worse. Why isn’t the same concept used with problems in the marriage? Years ago when I was much younger, I owned a Chevy van I bought primarily to go camping in the summer in New England. It was a good purchase because it carried a lot and could be used for sleeping if the weather was too bad to pitch a tent. It was very versatile even when it wasn’t used for camping.

Years later, I made the mistake of not keeping up with the oil maintenance, and initially a little smoke began to come out the back, which was the first sign that something was wrong. I ignored the problem, and more and more smoke began to come out, which later resulted in damage to the piston rings, valves, and other engine parts, which ultimately rendered the motor inoperative. I ended up selling it to a mechanic who planned to replace the entire engine because the motor could not be fixed. The moral of the story? Please call a therapist when you see a small amount of “smoke.” Do not wait until the marriage is so bad it requires a complete “overhaul,” which may not even be possible. In the long run, these periodic relationship tune-ups will keep things running smoothly for years to come. 

This post is adapted from the book When to Call a Therapist. Copyright Robert C. Ciampi, LCSW 2019