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When working to make sense of complicated things about life, nature can offer wisdom if you know where to look. While contemplating the different phases people go through in their relationships, I look to the seasons. Having lived my life in areas that have four distinct seasons helped me conceive of relationships in this way.
Relationships begin in spring. Spring brings discovery as couples explore each other and delight in the discovery of new things. Summer is associated with support and autumn with challenge. In his book The The Breakthrough Experience, Dr. John Demartini writes about love as being a combination of support and challenge. Without both, love is lopsided and flawed. Winter is a time for regrouping and renewal. This is a time when couples regroup from the challenges of autumn and find their balance again.
Spring = Discovery
When a couple first gets together, it is springtime. They are discovering each other for the first time. Everything is new.
This season can be both awkward and exciting. You are getting to know a new person. When the discovery is fun and you appear to be compatible, it is very exciting. If you have many differences or conflicts early on, you may choose to end this relationship in the spring.
In the spring of a relationship, most people put their best foot forward. They are nice, kind, polite, attentive, and interested in the things the other person likes. They want this new person to like them.
Spring usually feels great and often leads into the summer.
Summer = Support
During the summer season, couples increasingly spend more time together. As their relationship progresses, they are very supportive of each other, they enjoy each other and share many things. God help the person who speaks against their partner!
Support means being someone’s best friend—seeing their faults and loving them anyway. Support is being positive about the things your partner wants to do, even if they don’t include you. Support is listening to your lover’s hopes and fears. Support is keeping your partner’s secrets. Support is being your partner’s coach and biggest cheerleader. Support is providing a place of refuge for your partner, a place where he or she can find peace.
What if your loved one wants to do something that affects you in a negative way? How do people stay supportive when their partner wants something that they don’t want him or her to want?
When you truly love someone, you support their goals and direction even if they conflict with what you want. You certainly have the right to ask for what you want, but once the decision is made, you need to support it even if it isn’t what you asked for.
Know that your significant other isn’t doing what they are doing to intentionally hurt you. People generally do what they do because it meets their needs. Does that mean you aren’t important? Absolutely not! It just means that your partner has needs that may have nothing to do with you.
Take responsibility for meeting your own needs. If your partner decides to do something when you were hoping for something else, determine what need would be met for you if your partner did what you wanted and plan to do something that will meet that need in a responsible way.
Autumn = Challenge
The autumn season brings challenges to overcome. After the smooth sailing of the summer, autumn introduces new conditions into the relationship. Some possible relationship challenges include moving, the birth of a child, job or career changes, financial stressors, an affair, caring for elderly parents, children leaving home, or death, to name a few.
Some relationships cannot survive these challenges and couples separate. Other couples stay together but separate emotionally. Successfully navigating the autumn season means you face the challenge together, get through it, and emerge stronger on the other side.
In healthy relationships, challenging your partner is always done privately in a loving, supportive way. If you think your partner is wrong about something, ask him to explain his thoughts. Remember, you still may not see things in the same way based on your individual values, perceptions, and experiences, but the goal is to seek to understand, even if you disagree.
If there is something your partner wants to do but lacks the skill or confidence, be encouraging. Encourage your partner to be the best they can be, particularly in the areas they want to excel in. Do not encourage your partner to be a doctor so your standard of living can improve when they want to be an auto mechanic. Don’t encourage your partner to be a stay-at-home parent when they want to continue their law career.
Winter = Renewal
Winter is a time for renewal. After the challenge of the autumn season, it is time to regroup and restore your relationship’s equilibrium. If you have successfully navigated the challenges of autumn, then you and your partner need a dormant period to reconnect and assess how you are different—individually and as a couple.
Going through the challenge of autumn has its effects. You will likely be changed by the challenging experiences. Your relationship’s equilibrium will be disturbed and you will need quiet time as a couple to determine the new parameters and balance of your relationship.
Some couples will get through autumn and find that they don’t have any basis left for a relationship. Other couples will come through the challenge of autumn and become stronger.
Once they reestablish the balance in their relationship, they will reenter the spring season of discovering who they are now, after going through their respective changes. It can be an exciting time again.
And the seasons repeat, over and over again, for as long as the couple remains in a long-term committed relationship.
What season are you in and which mindset does it require: discovery, support, challenge, or renewal?
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