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Do you have a favorite season? Most people experience seasons in a romantic relationship. In New England (the northeastern part of the United States) we have four seasons. Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. In relationships, especially long-term ones, we can observe similar seasons.
Other reading: on Trust in a Relationship.
The Four Seasons of a Relationship
Spring – In the spring of a relationship, we experience the thrill of discovery, obsession, and emotional (and often, physical) penetration that precedes new growth and attachments. Springtime offers a mad rush of delightful sensations. Remember what it feels like to touch someone for the first time? The easy laughter when you got tangled in your own shirt?
Most of us are good at dealing with springtime in our relationships. We forget our past unhappiness and revel in rediscovered emotions. Springtime is easy.
Summer – In the summertime, we get into the nitty gritty of growing a relationship. We might have a few dry spells (you know what I’m talking about) and some scorching hot days (unless you’re both the silent types) but the majority of time is spent fostering real growth in the relationship. The first days of summer are much like those of a regular season. We rejoice in the rapid growth of the relationship and delight in continual discoveries as conversation runs deeper.
Summer isn’t all fun though. As the days wear on, we begin to realize the–sometimes crippling–truth that Summer never lasts forever. Do you remember the first time you realized you offended your partner but decided it wasn’t worth bringing up to apologize for? That was the last day of summer in your relationship.
Autumn – After the last day of summer, a relationship grows colder with each passing day. For those with intense personalities and a low tolerance for conflict, spring and summer may take just a few months and autumn signals the end of the relationship. For those who handle conflict with more aplomb or are simply able to tolerate more pain, autumn is just the next step in a relationship cycle stereotyped to always end with icy fingers.
This is the time when the tendency to “pick battles” crops up most often (I’ve watched myself do this many times). When confronted with inconsiderate behavior or thoughtless action, the summer self would have immediately shared its discontent and asked for change. Not so now that the leaves have changed. Autumn sees both partners choosing to stifle complaints and file away grievances because anything else might spell a brawl.
Winter – The dreaded winter is the most common season in long-term relationships. Most of my parents’ friends (the ones still together after 30 or more years) live in a constant state of winter. If you ask them about it, their answers are often full of resignation. It’s as if their Narnian state came about through some magic or surprise attack and not deliberate steps.
You know it’s winter in a relationship when partners have no shame in revealing their dislike for each other. Spring’s quick banter turns to icy javelin-throwing and tears are shed alone without explanation. Some people push through wintry days because they have children to care for, a job that takes them away often, or very limited financial options. Others plug away for happier reasons. They insist on there being a way to start a thaw that will cause springtime to return again.
Is there hope for people stuck in perpetual winter? Is there a way for two people who have made a habit of ignoring, hurting, and attacking each other to regain some long-lost joy?
I could offer some formulaic answer. I could throw words in your face as if I knew the answer to this question… but I don’t.
I’d appreciate your contribution. What can you tell me about saving a relationship?
Image: Mathew Fang, Pieter Musterd