Nothing tastes better than a vine-ripened tomato in the middle of summer. Summer is when the gardener reaps the benefits of what was planted and nurtured in the spring.
Summer marriages are characterized by feelings of happiness, satisfaction, accomplishment, connection, and fun. Life is beautiful. We're reaping the benefits of our hard efforts to understand each other and to work together as a team to see the dreams of spring fulfilled. While the initial excitement may have waned, our sense of connection has deepened. We have fewer misunderstandings, but when we do, resolutions come more quickly.
We may or may not have reached our financial goals. We may or may not have children. We may have good health or poor health. Our occupation may be satisfying or frustrating. But if our marriage is in the summer season, we'll share a deep sense of commitment and satisfaction, secure in each other's love.
Summer marriages are much like flowers: they're beautiful, but they must be watered. Couples who are successful at having an extended season of summer in their marriage have learned to maintain what they've attained. Almost without exception, couples who say their marriage is in the summer season also say they have a desire to continue growing. Candace, who's been married to Tim for five years, says, "I'm living with my best friend. I really enjoy it. But I realize we must continue to nurture the romantic part of the relationship. Otherwise, the busyness will push us apart."
Beware of yellow jackets
Yellow jackets live in underground nests. If you get too close to the door of their castle, you'll be attacked. Yellow jackets are analogous to those unresolved conflicts that nest beneath the surface of our daily lives. While we might be in the summer of marriage—enjoying life together, watching the flowers bloom, doing a bit of weeding around the edges of our relationship—there's another, unseen, level of our relationship: an underground nest where we've pushed our unresolved issues. When one spouse ventures too close to the door of the nest, the yellow jackets come flying out and we find ourselves arguing in the middle of summer. Ultimately, you must take time to deal with these issues or your summer marriage may quickly turn to winter.
Creating and sustaining
What are the actions that create and sustain a summer marriage?
Constructive communication—communication that fosters understanding and resolves conflict. Jeremy and Ruth, married 30 years, are in a summer season. "When we married," Ruth told me, "we had the traditional vows but privately, we had some extra vows that we try to live by. One is an open-door policy. We agree that if anything is bothering one of us, the other wants to be approached to talk about it. We've gone through some real problems over the years, but we've talked our way through each of them."
Why is communication so important? Because it's the process by which spouses get to know each other and learn to work together as a team.
Grant each other freedom to be different.While differences are inevitable, they don't have to be divisive. Couples who desire to continue in summer will consciously give each other the freedom to think, feel, and react differently. Lauren and Dean are both in a second marriage. Dean said, "Both of us learned from our previous marriages that if couples don't accept differences, they'll spend the bulk of their time fighting. We agreed that we'd rather be lovers than fighters, so we give each other the freedom to be different." Learning to accept those things your spouse cannot or will not change is key to keeping the flowers of a summer marriage blooming.
Focus on spiritual growth. Many couples have indicated that the most significant factor in their ability to have a summer marriage is that they've found ways to stimulate spiritual growth. Because God instituted marriage, it makes sense that couples who seek to learn from him would have the best possible marriages. Research indicates this is true. Keep your hand in God's hand and you'll enjoy the flowers of a summer marriage. mp
Gary D. Chapman, Ph.D., a marriage and relationship expert, is author of The Four Seasons of Marriage (Tyndale) .
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