We all understand that our marriages go through their ups and downs, but we often don’t appreciate that they also go through fundamental changes over the years.
We have come to realise that we have actually had several marriages already in our 26 years together. For example, there was the ‘newlywed marriage’ where we were building a new life together, living overseas and redefining ourselves as a couple. There was the ‘new parents marriage’ where we learned the world no longer revolved around ourselves and sleeplessness uncovered some of our rougher edges. There was the ‘big family marriage’ where we lived the busy life, side-by-side but often disconnected, as we took five children on the journey to adulthood. And there was the ‘“where’s Dad?” marriage’ when work demands and extensive travel meant there were days and weeks when it felt like we were separated rather than married.
With this realisation comes the knowledge that there are more yet to come. We had dinner recently with friends we were trying to redefine their marriage as they came suddenly into the ‘the empty nest marriage’.
Our marriage is redefined not just by the more obvious external influences such as children and work; it is just as much redefined by our own journeys of individual personal and spiritual maturation. These journeys impact the marriage precisely because marriage is the outcome of two persons in intimate connection. Moreover, who among is really thinking about this… we weren’t until just recently.
None-the-less, it all plays out with or without our conscious awareness and it has a three-fold impact.
Firstly, because most of us think of our marriage as a static thing, we don’t expect it to change, and hence we are unprepared for the change when it inevitably happens.
Secondly, usually neither of us is aware of the changing personal dynamics that lead to transitions in our marriage. While the wedding day and the arrival of a first child mark obvious transition points, most of the time no one is ‘blowing a whistle’ to alert us a transition is underway. What we do notice however is that the marriage is suddenly complicated and even painful; that what was working no longer seems to work.
Thirdly, our lack of expectation for change, and lack of awareness that change is underway, leads us to conclude that the marriage itself is struggling. Of course when this is happening because one of us is going through tough personal growth (such as the death of a parent, unemployment, illness, a career change or midlife crisis), challenges in the marriage are both an additional and an unwelcome burden. Without the realisation that our marriage is simply transitioning to a new stage, we unwittingly conclude that it is failing.
This is why thinking of ‘having many marriages to the same person’ has been such a helpful mindset for us. While this may not make the transition any easier, we now realise what is happening and can choose to embrace the growth.
After all, marriage is meant to be a dangerous adventure!