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When change and uncertainty come, renew your marriage.

In many parts of the world, fall is the most colorful season of the year. The hills are painted with swatches of yellow, red, orange, and burgundy. Most of us enjoy nature's work of art.

What we don't usually talk about, but know without a doubt, is that this display of color is temporary. Soon the chilling winds will rip apart the vibrant canvas, and the leaves will fall to the ground until the trees are bare. One interesting phenomenon is that the leaves don't all fall on the same day, but over a period of four to six weeks, the beauty fades and the forest is left unclothed.

The falling of the leaves is an apt analogy of what happens in the fall season of marriage. In early fall, the marriage looks fine externally. Outsiders may even comment on how happy the couple seems to be. But inside the marriage things are changing, and when the chilling winds arrive, the deterioration of the marriage is obvious to all. Fall becomes the prelude to winter.

Couples in the fall season are aware that things aren't right, though they may or may not express their feelings to each other. They're troubled by the state of their relationship. The emotions of fall include sadness, apprehension, loneliness, fear, and sometimes rejection.

Margie is in the fall of her marriage. "I feel a lot of insecurity. My husband doesn't seem aware of what's going on, but I'm unhappy. We've put the children, his job, and others above each other. And now that the children are gone, we're slipping apart. It's scary, and I'm not sure what to do about it."

A fall marriage is filled with concern about the state of the relationship and uncertainty about where things are going. Couples recognize that changes are taking place, and they feel uncomfortable with what seems to be happening to their relationship. They may blame each other.

Fall can come early in a marital relationship. Joan and Will had been married only eight months when they entered fall. Joan told me, "It's fearful. I wonder if I fit into Will's life and whether or not he even loves me." Will had allowed his family to interfere during the first few months of their marriage, which caused trust to be broken or never really created.

They're now trying to follow Scripture's advice about "leaving parents and cleaving to each other" in order to restore their relationship. But the damage early on has created a lot of insecurities. Whether they move from fall to winter or from fall to spring will depend largely upon the actions they take.

The number one contributor

What do couples do that bring them to the fall season of marriage? Without a doubt, the number one contributor is neglect. The underlying assumption is that marriage will take care of itself. Husbands and wives have separate interests, and they forget to do the things that foster a positive marital relationship. While the leaves have changed color and are slowly falling from the branches, they fail to recognize it because they aren't in tune with each other.

When I asked Kimberly, who's been married 20 years, "What do you think brought you to the fall season of marriage?" she replied, "Lack of communication, not spending time together, having nothing in common, and leading separate lives." What Kimberly described was large-scale neglect. When a husband and wife allow their relationship to drift, they'll always drift apart. When they drift apart, life becomes uncertain and scary. If they do nothing, they'll drift into winter.

Moving out of fall

What actions might a couple take to move back to spring and summer rather than drifting into winter? First verbalize the issue in a positive way. "I'm concerned about our relationship. I feel as if we're drifting apart. I know we both love each other. Can we talk about it?" Requesting a conversation about the relationship is more positive than simply throwing out condemning words such as, "You don't ever spend time with me. Sometimes I wonder if you really love me." Condemnation drives a couple further apart. A request to talk about the relationship has the potential for leading you back together.

Once you've surfaced the concern, focus on rebuilding the relationship: For what do we need to apologize? What lifestyle changes do we need to make? Hopefully you'll both be motivated to reach out for help. You may agree to attend a marriage seminar, seek the help of a counselor, or read and discuss a book about marriage. One young wife said, "I never thought I'd come for counseling, but I'm concerned about what's happening in our marriage. I know we need help, and I don't want to wait until it's too late." Just as the colors of nature's fall signal a change, so the uncertainties of a fall marriage can prove redemptive if a couple turns in the right direction.

Gary D. Chapman, Ph.D., a marriage and relationship expert, is author of The Four Seasons of Marriage (Tyndale).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Change; Insecurity; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Fall, 2006
Posted September 12, 2008

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