Regularly take the time to consider the season of your marriage.
A few years ago, when my wife and I dropped off our youngest daughter to begin her college career, we were officially empty nesters.
It was a significant milestone. I realized a few months beforehand, as Jenni and I talked about it, that this change would have an especially big emotional impact on her.
I knew it would be really important for us to spend some time processing the changes that would come with the new season, so I found a deal on a very rustic cabin a few hours from our home. I booked it for the weekend immediately following when we’d be dropping off our daughter because I knew it would be important for us to get away from our normal routine to pray over and process the season ahead in beautiful and tranquil surroundings.
Discerning the Seasons
Fall is approaching. Kids are back in school. The stores are already stocked with all things pumpkin. It’s a new season.
Marriages also regularly encounter new seasons. Some new seasons are triggered by significant life events, like a child being born or leaving home, a move to a new city, or caring for a sick parent. Other seasonal changes might be more subtle, like increased work stress, minor illness, changing churches or jobs. Seasons also change as we age, with extra ailments and hormonal shifts, which can be especially challenging for women facing changing hormone levels through menopause.
Whatever the cause, it is important to discern the changing seasons.
Start by keeping an eye on changing circumstances. Realize that changes can often impact one spouse more than another. My wife’s reaction to an empty nest, for example, was quite different than my own.
Even small changes might trigger a need to examine where you are and where you are going. Keep your eyes open. Stay watchful over your spouse and your marriage.
It might be helpful to watch for signs like these:
- Do you or your spouse withdraw emotionally for long periods?
- Has the frequency of your sexual interactions dropped off?
- Are there seemingly unprompted emotional episodes (crying, anger, fear or anxiety)?
- Have sleep patterns changed (excessive or inability to sleep)?
- Does one spouse seem to need more than usual (physical or emotional connection)
Even if there haven’t been any big changes in a while, it is a good idea to periodically spend time together prayerfully examining your life and marriage and asking some important questions. Jenni and I have been through several significant seasonal shifts even since becoming empty nesters.
Responding to the Seasons
It is critical to be proactive in communicating about, responding to, and adapting to each new season. Here are just a few suggestions for how to dialog about changing seasons:
- Ask your spouse, “What do you need from me in the coming season?”
- Identify how needs and priorities may have changed from the past. Don’t assume.
- Get specific. Ask, “What would that look like to you?”
- Consider how you can stay connected and maintain emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy.
- Talk about lifestyle changes that might need to accompany the new season.
Importantly, spend time praying and especially listening to discern God’s heart for you, your spouse, and your marriage. He is eager to guide you lovingly into your future.
I am going to say something now that will likely ruffle a few feathers. I believe that part of the mantle of caring leadership God places on husbands is to be watchful over the changing seasons of your life and marriage. Part of that responsibility is to ensure that the two of you regularly engage in meaningful conversations through such transitions.
Yes, I know conversation isn’t a strong suit for a lot of us husbands. It’s not for me. Do it anyway. You will find that it’s worth the effort. You won’t get better at it until you put forth effort in that direction. If you aren’t sure where to start, use the questions above as a starting point.
I’m not saying that wives shouldn’t also be watchful and aware of seasons. I think most women are naturally more attuned to such things anyway. What I am saying is that a husband who steps forward in this effort will make his wife feel loved and taken care of in a significant way.
My last point about changing seasons is that it is extremely important and valuable in transitions to remind your spouse who they are. Sometimes circumstances send us reeling, causing us to lose our identity and our sense of self and purpose. Gentle, encouraging reminders about your spouse’s true God-given identity can help ground him or her.
What new seasons has your marriage faced lately? What have you and your spouse done to keep your marriage strong in response? Share your insights with the rest of us.