How to Drive a Marriage on Empty


I must have been moving a big piece of furniture or something that day, because I had borrowed a friend’s truck for extra hauling capacity. It was afternoon and I was driving down the highway in his vehicle, feeling comfortable in a macho sort of way. The manly truck I was sitting in had a reserve gas tank, so I figured I could just drive for a while. I wouldn’t need to refuel for quite some time. Or so I thought.

As the gas gauge for Tank #1 teetered closer and closer toward E, I flipped a little lever next to the truck’s steering wheel and switched over to the reserve tank. Then, I looked back at the gauge’s needle so I could watch it sweep its way back up to F. But there was no sweeping to be seen. Instead, I was shocked to discover that the truck’s previous driver had apparently drained the reserve tank. There was no fuel left. Instantly, my brain went into panic mode. What am I going to do? Who can I call? How far away is the nearest town? With nothing but road stretching out before me and both gas tanks careening toward empty, my prospects were bleak. I envisioned myself hitchhiking down the side of the highway with a gas can swinging at my side.

Of course, my dilemma in that moment was nobody’s fault but mine. I should have checked the reserve gas tank at the outset of my trip. At the very least, I should have checked the tank long before E. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure that out—after all, you can’t get far when you’ve hardly got any fuel to keep you going.

And the same is true with other things. There’s a point in most marriage relationships when husbands and wives get to feeling comfortable in a macho sort of way. He’s happy, she’s happy, everybody’s healthy, the bills are getting paid on time, sparks are flying in the bedroom, and the kids haven’t thrown anything at each other for three whole days. The relationship is rolling along just fine. It is, in a word, bliss. Even the in-laws are pleased.

But then, unexpectedly, circumstances can change. The company downsizes. The spark dwindles. Somebody gets sick. Somebody feels hurt. Or the money isn’t stretching enough, the apology is long overdue, the upbringings collide, the feelings subside. In my own marriage, there have been times when practically everything about the relationship seemed stale to me. In those times, I didn’t get excited about spending time with my wife, I didn’t want to kiss her, I didn’t want to hold her hand. Those days, I doubted whether or not I still loved my wife. I wondered if we were about to run out of gas on the road to Happily Ever After.

Thankfully, we didn’t. Something else happened instead, and it was great. From somewhere deep within one or both of us, a reserve tank took over. We coasted on commitment for a while. We gained some speed by remembering the good times. Our friends encouraged, our parents advised, and one day the two of us realized we weren’t on E anymore.

Is the energy draining from your marriage today? Do you feel like you can’t make it any farther? Perhaps it’s time to flip over to a reserve tank—to love when you don’t feel like it, to laugh together just to be laughing again, to forgive when they don’t deserve it, to hold hands halfheartedly because that’s better than nothing. Believe it or not, your reserve tank might have just enough to get you to the next filling station. And that makes a world of difference. After all, this is one place where you don’t want to be hiking down the highway with a thumb out and a gas can swinging at your side.