Whoever "they" are, talk about how in life we go through seasons. Some seasons, like the spring, are full of new life, and growth. Anticipation and change and newness. Other seasons, like the winter, are long, and dark. Full of troubles and hardships. As with the seasons of the year, the seasons of our life change and as we move out of one, we move into another. Sometimes the seasons can stretch out into years, and hopefully when that happens, you find yourself in a summer like season of happiness and enjoyment.
Having spent the better part of the last year in a dark, winter like season, I'm finding myself in an altogether different kind of season. A season of learning. I'm learning about myself, and my spouse, and marriage in general. I'm learning things about parenting teenagers and about letting go. Because I work in education, it seems only right that it comes as we are in the throes of fall, when everyone is "back in school", but I don't think that is the case. I believe that we are only open to learning things when we are ready to be taught them. This is my season, and I'm working really hard to be a good student. Here are some of the things I am learning, in no particular order:
1. Marriage is hard. No one tells you this before you get married. They tell you that it's a lot of work, which it is, and that it's the happiest you'll ever be, which is also true, but no one tells you about how hard it can be. Just because it's hard, doesn't mean it's bad, or that it's over. Spending your life with one person, and being committed to them is just that, a commitment. You have to be willing to put in the work to stick through the really hard times. The times when things get really awful. The times no one tells you about when you are newly in love and wrapped up in each other and how in love you are. What I learned is, that no matter how awful things seem, if you keep the love that you have for each other at the center, and remember why you got married and what it is about that other person that made you fall in love with them in the first place, you can get through it if both parties are willing to put in the hard work.
2. You can unlearn everything you ever knew about how things "should" be, and start over. Sometime during the middle or late summer, we sat out at our back table in the yard, on a day when we didn't particularly like each other very much, and had a hugely important conversation. I had been asking to have the conversation for the better part of a month or more, and it was making me upset that we hadn't had it yet, because I felt it was that important. Things were not going well at the time and if we were smarter, we would've held off our conversation for another day. We didn't, and we sat at the table, and talked about what I needed from him, what he needed from me and what we wanted from "us". It was an eye opening conversation for both of us. Mostly for him, as he realized that the needs he thought where not being met, were due to his own failings. I realized that there were some needs he had that I didn't know about that I wasn't meeting, and I doubt that he learned anything new from me as I am very vocal about sharing what my needs are and when they aren't being met. The what we want from us part was harder. He just wanted for me to be happy and things to be back how they used to be. The problem with that was that things weren't great, I just did a better job of hiding it all. This also proved to be hard when we got to the point later in the summer when things were starting to get better, and that was good enough for him.
3. We don't speak the same language. Sometime back in the spring, he bought some books that he thought might help him become better in the area of communicating, which he is not good at. One of them, was The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. He started another book before reading that one, and sometime over the end of the summer, I picked it up and read it. It talks about how we each have a different "love language", and if our partners don't communicate with us in our language, then we don't feel loved. (in a nutshell). I didn't learn anything I didn't know already. My love language is quality time/quality conversation. Shocker huh? His love language is words of affirmation. I was pretty sure I already knew that, but they have an online quiz where you can go answer a ton of questions and it tells you your language. I sent him the link, and he did the quiz, and I was correct. I also sent him the link to my results and that spurred him on to pick up the book and go read the two chapters about each of our languages. That has made a huge difference in our relationship. In his head he knew that communication was a problem. In our relationship, he knew it was a HUGE issue, because I kept telling him. When he read about why it was so important to me, he finally got it. Because I wasn't able to tell him why in a way that made sense to him, other than saying over and over again how unloved I felt and unimportant I felt and how this was becoming such a huge problem, he was only hearing the emotional side of things.
4. I can't change him, only myself. Are there things about him that drive him crazy? Oh you bet there are. In that past, I haven't been too afraid to let him know what they were either. I've come to realize however, it isn't productive for either of us. Nor does it show him how much I love and appreciate him. He has a million other qualities about him that I do love; from his calm and steady demeanor, to his willingness to cart the kids or myself wherever we need to go no matter how busy he is, to the way he brings me a cup of tea every night as we are wrapping up our day. There are a million things about myself that I don't like and need to work on, and he never brings them up. Ever. In fact, when I ask him, he is hard pressed to think of any and would rather change the subject. What I can change, is how I respond to those things about him that drive me crazy. I'm working on it.
5. We aren't perfect. Every day we get up, and we make a new commitment to each other and our marriage. Sometimes however, we fail. Either each other, or ourselves, or both. We are both learning better ways to work through these failings, how to forgive each other, and move forward. After 17 years of marriage, I can say that I wish we had gone through this season early on, but how could we? We were young, and didn't have the life experience or maturity to weather the storms. I honestly think if we had gone through a year like this at the beginning of the marriage our stories would have turned out a lot differently. Instead, we are learning, and growing, and doing the hard work. Together.