My husband and I spent a recent evening at a marriage seminar hosted by a couple who has been married almost as long as we’ve been alive.
As I looked around the room at the other husbands and wives eager to learn the secrets of marriage happiness, I had to hold back a smile. Some of them had been married only a few months, and with two years of marriage under my own belt, I almost felt old and experienced by comparison.
To kick off our discussion, each couple completed an exercise in which we picked words that best described our marriage from one of four columns. Did we feel tired or trusting? Optimistic or disappointed? Growing or detached?
We tallied up our “scores” for each column, and the column with the most circled words indicated the season our marriage was in — spring, summer, winter, or fall. It’s a concept adapted from a book by Gary Chapman, titled, aptly, The Four Seasons of Marriage. Most of us young couples, I think, found that our marriage was in a warm season and enjoyed a few moments comparing notes with our spouses.
The sobering realization came later.
Our mentors informed us that we hadn’t “passed the test” if our marriages were in spring or summer seasons. If they were, that was wonderful, they said. But we should know that sooner or later, we would experience the cold seasons too.
Eventually, they said, hardships and pain and grief would come and strain our relationship. We would experience the isolation, resentment, disappointment and anger of winter and the apprehension, burnout and frustration of fall. They knew we would spend time in these seasons, they said, because they had seen them all during their two-plus decades of marriage.
When you learn that the marriage of a couple you admire and respect has seen dark days, it’s frightening and humbling.
On top of that, what a revolutionary statement it is to say not only that marriages may seem hard times, but that couples should expect and anticipate them! Sure, we make vows to be there for our spouses “in sickness and in health,” but everything in our culture tells us that love is only real when it feels warm, sweet and right.
My husband and I have experienced short seasons of emotional distance and disconnect, and they’ve been hard. I wish I could predict how we’ll respond when we encounter real difficulty or sadness. As our mentors said during the seminar, all we can do is enjoy the richness of the good times and make investments in each other and our relationship. During the lean times, those investments will get us through.
Even more important, though, is the understanding that times will come when we may not like each other or feel understood. And yet love will persist, and so will our marriage. My prayer is that we can persevere when winter comes, and love strong until we find ourselves in springtime once more.