In the fall of 2003, Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, the husband-wife duo better known as the alt-folk act Over the Rhine, were living a dream. Or so it seemed.
Their most recent album, Ohio, was doing well, critically and commercially. Their concert tour was selling out venues everywhere. Their career was soaring.
But away from the spotlight, things were different. Though their onstage melodies hit all the right notes, offstage, their marriage was way out of tune.
So Linford and Karin made a bold decision: They canceled the rest of the tour, forfeiting much of that year's income and risking the wrath of their record company and, worse, their fans. They knew they had to go home and do one of two things: Save their marriage, or kiss it goodbye.
Linford and Karin's marriage didn't look like it was in danger. They weren't fighting; they were talking. After seven years of marriage, they still appeared a happy couple.
But it was all an illusion.
"The thing with Karin and me," says Linford, "is that we've always functioned well together when it comes to musical collaboration or a project. So there was this illusion of, 'This really works.' But in terms of nurturing each other emotionally and really being connected apart from our work, we weren't there."
"You can be together 24/7 and waste it," Karin adds.
"I thought I could make a big investment in our relationship every so often, put it on hold for a while, and then make another big investment," Linford explains. "But emotionally, relationships are 'coin-operated.' They require lots of daily deposits."
Thing is, Linford and Karin were investing, just not in each other. They were putting so much energy into their music and the people around them—including their band, their friends, and their fans—that there was little left for themselves.
Karin says the energy required to nurture relationships is like having one glass of water per day. "You've got to be really careful where you put that glass of water," she says. "We just dumped the whole thing on people we were traveling with, nurturing those relationships, making sure everybody was happy and comfortable. And at the end of the day, we had nothing left for each other."
They appeared to get along, but they weren't really connecting. The spark was gone.
They both knew things weren't right, but Linford thought he'd make that "big investment" later, after the tour ended. "I knew we weren't where we hoped we'd be in our relationship," he admits, "but I chose to let it simmer along."
But Karin couldn't wait any longer. "I said, 'Something's got to give, or we're done.' It was ugly."
So they cancelled the rest of the tour and went home—with the support of their record company and their fans, as it turned out—knowing that their marriage was on the line. They could save it. Or lose it.
"And," says Karin, "we couldn't do it without outside help." Including the divine.
Linford and Karin returned to their Cincinnati home and went right to work. They got counseling—together and separately—where they discussed, among other things, how ill-equipped they were when they walked down the aisle. They both came from broken homes, and neither had a clue what a healthy marriage looked like.
"We had issues from our childhood, and what we saw—or didn't see—in our own home life left us both unprepared," says Karin. "We didn't have the tools for marriage. But we're artists, and artists think they don't have to play by the rules. I think in some respects, you can get away with that. But when it comes to a marriage, you can't."
Their counselor—a Christian, like Linford and Karin—helped equip them with tools, such as making those daily deposits, and saving that metaphorical "glass of water" for each other. They were starting to learn a simple truth: nothing takes priority over the relationship—not the music, not friends, not the tour, not anything.
Meanwhile, they also met with older friends/mentors who had solid marriages—and who shared good advice. They read two books by marriage expert John Gottman, The Relationship Cure and The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. And they prayed, asking God to help and heal, to reconcile and restore.
They continued to live together—mostly. Sometimes, when one was home, the other might stay in a hotel for a day or two. At times, it looked like a quasi-separation. And even when they were under the same roof, they were "sort of living separate lives," says Linford.
But they kept working at it. "We were civil," says Karin.
"Yeah," says Linford. "But we were getting into it too."
But even those clashes were a step in the right direction. Karin remembers one fight "where we were really shouting down the house. Sometimes that can be productive. It's much better than that deafening silence where nobody knows what anybody's thinking."
"I think we were both really frustrated that we didn't know how to get where we wanted to go," says Karin. "We were at the bottom."
And then came what they both call "the turning point"—ironically, while they were literally half a world apart.
Thinking Karin needed some space, Linford decided to hang out with an old friend for a while—in Scotland. So Karin visited her sister in California.
"We just needed to be apart," says Karin.
But the distance started working on both of them. Linford called Karin several times, and for her, it was "just a little bit of light. I was like, He's really feeling something and showing it—and aggressively pursuing me. This is good."
Linford flew home a couple days before Christmas, and Karin flew home on Christmas Eve.
"He was supposed to pick me up at the airport," Karin remembers. "But he was late, and I thought, Well, this is just great. Christmas Eve, and nobody's here to get me."
But then, in a scene right out of a sappy chick flick, Linford came running 'round the corner, looking for his bride. And when he found her …
"He had this horrible sore throat," Karin says, smiling. "I don't remember the first thing he said, but his voice cracked. It was the most endearing moment. I thought, Aw, he's here. His voice is cracking. We're going to be fine."
When they got home, Linford told Karin, "We're going to open a bottle of wine every night, and we're going to sit down at this table and talk till we get to the bottom of this."
"And that's exactly what we did," says Karin. "It wasn't about getting smashed. It was about sharing something, opening up, and just talking. That was the beginning of the turnaround."
"There was a lot of discussion about how we really felt," says Linford. "Yeah, it could get heated. But we really wanted to get everything on the table.
"I think we were both willing to take plenty of initiative in the confession department, and we were little by little rewarded with the grace to forgive. Forgiveness didn't happen instantly, but the openness ultimately made it worth the effort."
A few months and many counseling sessions later, Linford and Karin could say with confidence that their marriage had been saved from the brink.
During one of their short periods of separation, Linford realized just how close to divorce they were, and it hit him. Hard. He responded the only way he knew how:
He wrote a song.
Linford wrote "Little Did I Know" during a time he says was "right in the thick of it"—emotionally and spiritually.
"Something miraculous went down in my life during that time," he says. "A lot of people were praying for us, and I felt as if spiritually, there was this horrendous joke that was about to play out. We'd shared our music with people for almost 15 years, music that meant something to people. We sometimes joked that we'd missed our calling, because so many people were getting engaged at our shows, or walked down the aisle to one of our songs, experiencing all sorts of life-giving things in some pretty sacred places.
"And there I was, being spiritually bombarded. I had this feeling that there would be high-fiving in hell if this all went down. It was a really dark time, but that song came out of that dark time."
While Linford worked at the piano, Karin came by and heard a simple chord progression, but no lyrics. Intuitively, she knew it was about them—and more, about her.
"My first reaction was, Oh, man," she says. "And then fury: You don't dare start working me with this! But it was coming from a genuine place in him."
Weeks later, with the lines of communication opening again, Karin could stand it no longer: "All right," she told Linford. "Let me hear the words to that song."
He sang it. She lost it.
"Blubbering," Karin says. "Wailing. Gnashing of emotional teeth. It was beautiful."
The journey to healing and complete reconciliation was well under way. And today, the happy couple regularly practices the very things their marriage was missing just a couple years ago—those regular deposits, saving that glass of water for each other. Their marriage has never been stronger.
There would be no high fives in hell. Heaven wouldn't have it.
Linford and Karin celebrated their restored marriage with an album of love songs, Drunkard's Prayer, which our sister website, Christian Music Today, named one of the best albums of 2005. All of the song lyrics quoted in this story are from that album. Learn more about Linford and Karin at OverTheRhine.com.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.