We stood at a stump.
"When this tree was alive, it produced a layer of sapwood each year that can now be seen as a tree ring. When rings are close together . . . the conditions were tough . . . . If the rings are far apart . . . the tree had plenty of water and nutrients and grew a lot that year," I read aloud from the national park's pamphlet. For our summer holiday, we had come to explore Big Bear, and today we walked the Woodlands Trailhead.
Loyd and I stooped to take a closer look to analyze the rings.
Loyd's fingers tracked an area on the stump. He tapped a spot. "Look at these dense lines. The rings are so close here it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins." He slid his palm to the center where the rings were big and wide. "But look how fast this tree grew at first."
Suddenly, there in the pattern of the rings, I saw a mirror of our marriage, the story of our relationship. Like the tree, we enjoyed rapid growth in the first few years—a time of constant gain. I thought my love for Loyd would keep growing like those expanding circles.
But in the past 37 years, we've experienced catastrophes and felt the ruthless demands of life. I've learned that our focus changes, and I've discovered that good times give way to hard times and change to good, back to hard, and then good again. Growth spirals like the rings of a tree—stunted under times of drought and flourishing under times of plenty.
The first time our relationship grew dry
Our first drought hit four years into our marriage. It hit and persisted. We were remodeling our first fixer-upper, and we had two young children. To support our family, Loyd put all of his time and energy into work, work, and always work, while I stayed home. One day during the seventh year of our marriage, in the third dry year of this cycle, I woke up and considered the man in bed with me. Who is this man, and what am I doing with him?
I've read that drought stress may not kill a tree directly, but it weakens the tree and sets it up for more serious secondary insect and disease infestations. That was me. I was set up for temptation. I just wanted to feel good again.
This dry season in marriage is so widespread it has a name: "the seven-year itch." The flood of responsibilities at this stage makes life seem like all work and no play. Shocked as the enjoyable feelings drain away, many people start thinking they made a mistake, married the wrong person, and they scramble to escape.