On October 25th, my wife and I took time to spend the day together at a Worldwide Marriage Encounter event. The event, affectionately dubbed the Day of Romance, was attended by nearly 40 couples who were consciously trying to turn their good marriages into great marriages.
The program for the day was inspired by the book The Four Seasons of Marriage by Gary Chapman. The four seasons depict the different stages through which married couples either thrive or suffer, and the transition periods between them. The program was presented by four volunteer couples who gave witnesses of periods in their marriages when they were in one of these seasons.
The first season presented was “Fall”, a cooling period that may follow a time that was filled with much fun and intense closeness but which is beginning to wane. Couples may experience uncertainty about where their marriage is heading and they hope the relationship will get better on its own. But, if they choose to make no extra effort to improve intimacy and understanding, the relationship can often slide into “Winter”.
The “Winter” season is often a “Fall” that didn’t get turned around. Instead, it gets colder and causes severe lack of intimacy and feelings of aloneness between the couple. The previous uncertainty becomes reality. Lack of communication and understanding of each other’s feelings compounds the situation. If enough love and effort isn’t devoted to the relationship during this season, the marriage will suffer.
Neither “Fall” nor “Winter” is where we want to be. But, if we find ourselves there, we can rejuvenate our marriage through intentional effort allowing us to emerge with our relationship stronger than it was before.
“Spring” is that season when the relationship is blooming, the uncertainty is diminishing and there is hope in the air. As partners, intimacy is growing; doubt is being replaced with optimism and trust; and bitterness with love and gratitude. This change in attitude allows husband and wife to begin enjoying each other again.
“Summer” is the season we strive for. It’s when we are at our closest. We have fun, we enjoy being with each other, our positive attitudes are shining, and love is vibrantly alive. It’s during this summertime of our marriage when other couples take notice and want some of what we have.
As the Day of Romance came to a close I noticed the many smiles, hugs, and hand-holding. There was a lot of summertime in that room. The attitudes were contagious and I thought how great it would be if that essence could be bottled and gifted to couples who struggle.
Since that day, I have pondered what it is that makes these marriages so good? I’ve decided that good marriages happen independently of the age of the couple or how many anniversaries they’ve had. I believe the secret is in each husband and wife opening their hearts to God’s Word. They accept that their marriage is a God-given vocation and their love drives them to live up to God’s expectations. As such, it appears they are taking the hard road, diligently working to make the most of their marriage. They intentionally find uncommon ways, perhaps romantically but not necessarily so, to express their love verbally and in their actions. They are giving their all to their relationship and they are receiving their spouse’s all.
In contrast, they are doing the opposite of many married couples who don’t see their relationship as a God-given vocation. Through laziness and wrong expectations, sadly, these couples don’t put their hearts into helping each other thrive. It appears they are taking the easy way out by minimizing marriage and doing as little as they can to get by instead of maximizing it. They are selfishly concerned about their own happiness instead of focusing on that of their spouse.
The truth is, ironically, that those who do accept marriage as a God-given vocation actually have the easy road, and the others have the hard road. For it is God’s grace bestowed on the former, that enables them to easily do the hard work for the benefit of their partners. Those who do the least possible have a perpetual struggle to keep their marriages afloat because they lack the buoyancy of God’s grace.
I realized that bottling the positive attitudes of successful couples, even if it was possible, would be doing no favors for those who take their marriage for granted. There simply is no substitute for the love, hard work and dedication, which, by its own virtue, receives the supernatural assistance of God’s grace to lift each other up by placing the other’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs ahead of one’s own.
(In Which Season Is Your Marriage? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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