Marriages are in perpetual transition, growing, evolving, and cycling through periods of plentiful intimacy and barren despondency. In many ways, these are just like the seasons:
Spring: is the season of growth and hopefulness. It’s when a couple can feel most optimistic about their relationship because it is growing vigorously and the future promises luscious fruitfulness. In this season, couples invest heavily in their relationship and are generally happy to do so because they are riding a wave of increasing intimacy and closeness. Couples often rush through this season in their haste to harvest the goods of their growth but in doing so, often shorten the Summer season.
Summer: is the season of abundance. Husband and wife enjoy a deep sense of closeness and can feel invincible as their connection is so strong. Love and marriage can seem effortless as the harvest of the summer fruits is abundant and easily accessible. Couples can become lazy in this season, neglecting further growth as it seems unnecessary. It truth, there is often a hidden fragility that only becomes evident when an unexpected challenge or crisis hits the marriage and the couple suddenly finds the Summer fading into Autumn.
Autumn/Fall: is the season of uncertainty. Doubts begin to creep into the relationship, little ‘stings’ of misunderstanding or carelessness and the feeling of declining connection pervades the relationship. Couples are often a little defensive in this season, a result of feeling bruised by a clumsy comment or a drifting intimacy. There are occasional bright patches of colourful joy but it is often short-lived and somewhat fragile, just like autumn leaves that delight us ever so briefly with their vibrant hues but soon fade to brown and decay.
Winter: is the season of bitterness. It’s easy for couples to feel hopeless about their future and powerless in their relationship. Just like frozen foliage, spouses tend to be brittle and hyper-sensitive, reacting defensively to every perceived affront. Some couples can get stuck in Winter, inadvertently prolonging it with unhelpful reactions, self-pity and a loss of motivation. The Wintering marriage can be cold and distant with the spouses leading parallel unconnected lives their marriage effectively in hibernation, or stormy clashes that leave a trail of devastation behind them. In truth, Winter is God’s calling card to a couple. Just as in the natural world it may appear barren and dormant, underground plants and animals are preparing for an explosion of growth. So too with marriage; couples can use these wintering times to attend to interior spiritual needs in preparation for the recovery of your marriage.
The seasons of marriage are easily recognisable and in many ways are inevitable. However, it doesn’t mean that spouses are powerless. Most transitions from one season to the next have a catalyst; it might be an external trauma (eg losing a job), a family drama (eg a sick child), a personal crisis (eg midlife issues), a retreat or spiritual experience (eg a couples retreat) or an act of exceptional love (eg forgiving a wound). While some catalysts are beyond a couple’s control, how they respond to them is, most definitely, a choice. They might be going through a tough time, but it only becomes a winter marriage when spouses fail to address the difficulties as a team, addressing their differences respectfully and compassionately.
Moreover, when couples persevere through a tough time in their marriage, they develop a marital resilience that gives them greater confidence and they emerge even stronger.
Author of the Four Seasons of Marriage, Gary Chapman says, “No one has the perfect marriage, but you can have a better marriage than you do now.” He offers the following advice to couples in Winter marriages. “As long as we rationalize our negative attitudes as legitimate, they will never change…If, however, we are tired of winter and would like to feel the hope of springtime again, we must recognize that our negative thinking must change.”
Questions for Couples:
- What season do you think you are in right now?
- What catalysts preceded the season?
- What negative attitudes do you have that may be a ‘liability’ and a barrier to growth in a winter season? eg
- I deserve a better deal than this
- It’s not my fault.
- It’s all his/her/someone-else’s fault
- It’s hopeless
- He/she is incapable of change
- This isn’t what I signed up for
- I’m not appreciated
- I don’t deserve a good marriage
- I have everything going against me
- I’m not forgiving
- He/she needs to learn…
- He/she has to make the first move
Book Review: ForYourMarriage.org
This article featured in the March 2014 edition of the CathFamily eMagazine. For more, check out: