All relationships go through cycles. I’m well aware of this. And I don’t just mean the “honeymoon” phase when you’re walking around aglow and intoxicated, with everything else lumped into an unexplored bucket of “after.”
I mean the subtle ways we get inside each others’ heads and grow closer as a result, with the downside potentially resulting in too much familiarity. And then there are stages we go through with kids — yours, mine and ours.
Of course we experience the routine ups and downs that may in fact last longer than a week or two; you’re going through a tough time at work or with one of the kids; he’s got his own issues with an aging parent, or money problems, or something on his mind that he is working through.
This was as true for me during marriage as it has been in my long term relationships since. And we know these same cycles may occur in familial relationships as well — cool periods between parents and children or siblings, followed by a thaw, and a return to something more normal.
Possibly, even better.
But man, when the “winter of discontent” lasts for months, I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for spring.
Where Are You in Your Relationship?
Post-divorce dating, for me, was a wild ride with long, slow, DO NOT ENTER stretches that felt like I was on a lonely road in a dry desert. In other words, a flurry of first dates or maybe a second, and then nothing.
For months. MANY months. As long as a year.
Then there might be a flurry of dates again, a “something” that would spark, but fizzle after three weeks, maybe four.
There was the surprise of falling in love — it was long distance (very) — but it was a revelation. He was a revelation. The way we were together, for almost two years, taught me I was capable of trusting again, and also that I deserved wonderful treatment, which he gave me.
How many of us forget we deserve “wonderful” after a not-so-wonderful marriage and divorce?
There have been a few other relationships of note since then, and in each (that lasted any amount of time), I have again noticed what happens when the stress is extreme, extended, and applies not to one of us — but both of us.
We go from “doing great” to struggling to get along, fussing over little things, wanting space, space, space.
When Stress Hits
What I call “too much togetherness” — sharing many activities, seeing someone every day and every night, sharing vacations — is exactly right for a lot of people. Typically, we think that women want more “together time” than men, but this isn’t always the case.
My work requires quiet and long periods of time alone; I struggle with interruptions, which makes life difficult for anyone who lives with me (as I work from home).
My own preference is for some time in the quiet for myself – not working, that is – but when you work long hours, you need couple time, right?
All well and good; couples negotiate. For example, the man in my life has a more regular schedule than I, he likes more together time, and what we both wind up with is something in the middle. That’s called compromise, and generally, it works.
But when I’m under stress?
I need more quiet, more alone time, and time to apply myself to resolving the issues at hand – whether something with a child, work, money, whatever. My need to “pull in” is in direct conflict with my guy’s need for time together. If he is not feeling a squeeze of his own, he is patient with my need for solitude.
When he’s under stress and I’m not, I’m the listener to his need to talk. But when we’re both under time stress, work stress, personal stress?
It gets tough.
A Long Winter
I look back on marriage and realize that it was a long winter in many respects. There were the usual cycles of good periods and tougher ones, with moments of spring-like renewal that came from time to time. But it was predominantly a chilly climate beneath what appeared to be pleasantry and warm smiles.
But hey. They say you have to get your heart broken at least once, right? And if that’s the case, at least we can learn from what we did wrong — and what we did right.
In my current relationship, I can look back on periods when we struggled — work stress and money stress being the predominant reasons — and we toughed it out. We hung in. We did so because we both wanted to get to “spring” again.
We knew how good we were together in general. And we found our way to a new understanding.
Recently, after two months of my stress (work and health), his stress (work and life “crap”), and “couple stress” as a result, we were both so tired and irritable that we couldn’t help but find it oozing into the relationship.
I’d say we’re very ready for spring. And spring does seem to be within grasp again.
What I know is this: cycles are normal. What is critical is that both people want to hang in, accept each others’ flaws, and are committed to working through the challenging times. What awaits can be another beautiful season.