With the imminent change in seasons we started to think about the idea of seasons/stages and how they affect marriage. We recognize that Dr. Gary Chapman has written a book titled, The Seasons of Marriage, but we want to put a slightly different twist on the idea. We see that our marriage and, from observation, most marriages go through four phases, or if you want seasons. The first is the early years or as Rita often says the BC years—before children. It was the time when we appeared to have the most freedom. Rita taught while Bob was in graduate school. As long as we both did our school work and maintained our apartment we could come and go as we wanted. One Saturday night we drove to Milwaukee to get ice cream only to discover that by the time we got there the only thing that was open was the Howard Johnson’s hotel, and we had one just down the street from us at home. We had no issue going out after work on Friday and staying out well into the evening. It was not uncommon for us to get in the car on weekends and travel 6 hours or more to visit our parents, attend family functions or see our high school or college friends. It was fun to talk about the children we would have and the dream home we hoped to have some day. We talked about where we would live when Bob finished his doctorate. At the same time this was the tentative period in our marriage. Having not lived together before we were married and being in separate cities during most of our dating years, everything we did was new and in some ways testing the water. We each worried about how the other would perceive how we acted, thought and responded. They were great years and everything was new and fresh. We developed a physical, spiritual and emotional intimacy that has continued to grow and develop through the remaining years we have spent together. We learned a lot about each other and how marriage was meant to be lived yet it was still a lot about self and merely the two of us. It was a great time – we cherish the memories and the things we learned about life and what it meant to live together forever. We also felt a great call to share our love with others, namely children.
We have always referred to our children as our love with a name. So when our love appeared in human form of a child we entered into that second season or stage. It was at the same time that Bob’s career began to emerge, Rita’s career outside our home didn’t happen until later in this phase. We purchased homes and began to see our marriage as greater than our biological family and recognized we needed to plan for a future. Children forced us into another way of looking at what we did with our time. Going from relative freedom of movement, we now needed structure. Just getting out of the house to go to church took longer than just putting on coats and shoes and on many occasions we arrived late to Mass. We had to plan in great detail and for many possibilities. While we tried to be quite organized everything appeared chaotic. Just when we thought we had it figured out we had another child and began all over. The appearance of children in our lives had a tremendous affect on the intimacy that we had come to enjoy. It was more than finding time to have physical intimacy – it affected the way we talked and what we talked about. We experienced many new emotions as well and often didn’t have time to share them as we were once able to do. On the other hand, this is probably the period in our life when we grew the most in understanding and living our Sacrament of Marriage. We had to find ways to communicate with each other our personal needs and desires, our spiritual needs and desires as well as the overwhelming feelings that come from being parents, juggling a career and caring for a home. At the same time we were trying to figure out how to be involved in the Church, in our jobs and seeing our extended family. What we learned here was to recognize our individual gifts, but to work them together for the common good of our marriage, our children, our jobs, and the Church. We learned incredible things about ourselves, us together and that we had something to give beyond ourselves. While it required us to go beyond ourselves in ways we never thought of in the early years it helped us to develop a freedom to spend ourselves on others.
As our children set out on lives of their own, we reverted in many ways to the early years of our marriage. But it was also quite different. We went back to the freedom to come and go as we wanted. We were able to do good things in our careers and Bob even managed to end one career and try several new things. We had that dream home and we could welcome our children with their emerging families and other visitors with ease. By this time we had some financial freedom and began our dreams of world travels as well as spending weekends visiting our children and grandchildren. Our children learned that we sometimes went away on short notice without informing them. Once, when we were away one of our children called us and we talked for several minutes before he suddenly asked: “Where are you?” We developed an ease with each other. We could face issues, encourage and challenge each other and always have the confidence that in the morning we would wake up in the same bed together. In this stage we had to plan for how and when to end the careers that we enjoyed and prepare for our financial future. While no longer responsible for the daily activities of our children, we wanted to be there when they needed us. This was another time of growth for each of us as individuals especially for Rita. All the gifts and talents that we knew we had could be used. There were great rewards. We could take the time for prayer together, read books and have discussions, had the financial freedom to have things done for us that we once did, eat out when we wanted. All of this helped us to further grow in intimacy with each other as we recaptured time to be together and drew on the things we had learned in the previous stages.
So here we are, with everything we thought we wanted. We are together 24/7 if we want to be. We have a wonderful home, reasonable financial security, enjoy our children and grandchildren, have relative good health and can travel pretty much as we want. While we used to schedule our calendar around our children’s activities we now find it amusing that they call us to see what is on our calendar when they want to visit or would like us to care for their children. The best thing is that we now understand freedom in a new way. It is not just about us, but we are called to spend all that we are with others in new ways. We have writing projects in progress, planning several trips and getting ready to spend some time teaching in another country. Yet, this phase of our life requires as much attention to our marriage and our intimacy as any stage before. Some time ago Rita began to say that as she aged she always wanted to have a future to think about. Without a future to embrace all aspects of who we are begin to atrophy. We are relatively new in this phase but a few things that we have already learned is that the years we have spent together have given us some wisdom and confidence in how to live together. In addition, we have figured out that we have to live with the money that we have, need a reason to get up in the morning and need to remember that while enjoying the life that we have together that we are still individuals and can have separate interests. But the most important thing we have learned is that we don’t have it all together. We still need to work at keeping intimacy in all its facets. These are indeed the golden years but only if we remember all the things we learned along the way. There are so many things we still need to talk about and be concerned about. In the not too distant future aging will become an increasing issue in our lives and we will have to learn how to live with each other in ways we have never done before.
In each season of our marriage, we had the experience of learning new things that we have been able to use in the next. While we are now in what appears to be the final season of our lives together, we have much to look back on and cherish. We also have much to look forward to and much to learn, places to go and people to touch and be touched by, joys and sorrows to share. Best of all, we anticipate those future moments of intimacy in which we know that we love and are loved.
We hope that you will enjoy and grow through each of the seasons of your marriage. Please share with us some lessons you have learned in your marriage, up until now.
Bob & Rita’s book: Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime, is available on Amazon.com. Also available for Kindle and Nook. Check out our Marriage Enrichment Programs at readabookpress.com.
Retirement can be a time of stress for marriages. Has your parish or group considered an enrichment program for seniors? Check out our program: Aging Joyfully Together.