Is Your Carriage Missing Its Horse?
June 1, 2002 - If you are a romantic and like love stories, then you will enjoy the song "Love and Marriage." The song’s message is summed up in the first verse: "Love and marriage, love and marriage,/Go together like a horse and carriage./ This I tell you, brother,/You can’t have one without the other."(1)
by Greg Brezina
The first time I heard that song, I imagined helping my bride into our carriage, traveling down life’s road and living happily ever after. And I wasn’t old enough to marry. Afterward I thought, "Love and marriage do go together like a horse and carriage—why would two people hitch themselves together if they didn’t love each other?"
The songwriter, Sammy Cahn, was creative in comparing a horse and carriage to love and marriage. However, it took me several years and much emotional pain to realize that his analogy was amiss when he wrote, "You can’t have one without the other."(1)
Just as one can have a carriage without a horse, one can have a marriage without love. I have counseled couples for years, and I have seen many marriages where one spouse is in love and the other isn’t.
A typical scenario looks like this: A couple is passionately in love while dating. They marry with spoken and unspoken expectations. When expectations are not met, disappointment and conflict occur. After enough conflicts, one may still be in love but the other isn’t. They are stuck in a marriage without love.
Thirty years ago my wife, Connie, and I experienced a similar situation. I was consuming alcohol to medicate the pain of feeling unloved and unlovable. Early one morning I came home after drinking, and I passed out in the foyer of our home. When I came to, Connie told me that she had had enough of my foolishness, and she said, "If you ever come home like this again, I’m leaving."
Sarcastically I replied, "Listen, Baby. I have enough problems of my own."
Connie didn’t want a divorce; she just wanted me to change. I tried to change, but I couldn’t or wouldn’t. In the midst of many tears, Connie chose to stay and to love me even when I didn’t love her.
Looking back, I see that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to love her; it was that I didn’t know how to love. I had huge needs and expected Connie to meet most of them. Before we married, she admired me, and I felt loved. In return, I gave her my affections and felt "in love." Our relationship seemed like heaven on earth, and we thought that marriage would enhance our heavenly bliss. So we married, promising that we would love each other "for better or for worse."
The only resource I had to keep my promise was human love, which is inconsistent at best. It rises and falls with one’s performance and emotions. When Connie’s performance pleased me, I felt loved and in love. When her performance didn’t please me, conflict occurred; and I felt unloved and unlovable. After two years of emotional ups and downs I was married but not in love.
Then I met Jesus and experienced God’s unconditional love. Immediately I began telling others that I had received Jesus as my Savior. When I told Connie, she was skeptical, and understandingly so.
The next day I read the Bible: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church."(2) Those words pierced my heart. Grieving over my sins against her, I asked her for forgiveness.
As I studied the Scriptures, God revealed that His love for me was not based upon my performance, but upon who He is. Because of His grace,(3) I have a new life in Christ.(4) Because I am in Him, all my love needs are met according to His riches.(5) Because God is faithful,(6) He accepts me(7) and will never leave me nor forsake me.(8) Because His Spirit lives in me,(9) I have the life to love others like Christ.(10)
In two-and-a-half years I almost destroyed our marriage, and it took about that long for it to be restored. We have been married 33 years now and our love relationship is stronger than it has ever been, but I sometimes still do things that hurt Connie. I don’t want to, but I do. She feels hurt, and I feel like a failure. If I focus on those negative feelings, I spiral down into self-pity and feel unlovable. At the very time when my focus should be on the one I’ve hurt—the one I love—my focus is on me.
However, as I abide in God’s love, He reminds me that He accepts me for who I am in Christ, not for what I do. With His enabling, I go to Connie and ask her forgiveness.
If Connie does something that hurts me, I may feel rejected and unloved. If I meditate on feelings of rejection, I become angry, and I cause conflict. To avoid the anger and conflict, I need to remember that God loves me completely and that no person’s performance can ever fully satisfy someone’s needs. Content with God’s love, I can forgive Connie from my heart and not mention the incident.
God’s unconditional love enables us to love our spouse as Christ loves us. His love enables us to love an unloving spouse even in the midst of great emotional pain.
And those couples who rest together in God’s love will have a wonderful time riding down lovers’ lane "for better or for worse." Love and marriage can go together like a horse and carriage—and I can’t imagine that anyone would want one without the other.