Let's talk about the four seasons of marriage: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Usually we think of marriage as a relationship with our partner but it can also be the state of marriage solely within us called "the inner marriage." The inner marriage is an intimate relationship with ourself. We need a strong inner marriage of love, appreciation, understanding and respect for ourself in order to experience the serenity, joy, and connection attainable in an outer marriage.

The Spring of Marriage is when matrimony begins. We are often young and overflowing with boundless excitement, optimism and desire. We start this first phase believing – unconsciously - that our partner is here to save our life and fulfill every expectation we ever dreamed possible. We are full of projections. In this early stage of development we rarely see the essence of the man or woman before us because we are so blinded by the light of the mythological god or goddess who blocks our view. We take our wedding vows, "Please heal me of every pain and love me forever." Well, we didn't say that but that's what most of us thought. It's a young and hopeful dream. We are in love and often madly so.

The Summer of Marriage is when we often bring children into the world. These precious little ones fill our lives with love, fun, pressure and (ugh!) adult responsibility. As the children grow, husbands and wives may argue that the spouse is not who we thought they were! We may even wonder if we are who we thought we were. Enter the mid-life crisis. It can be a stressful time of struggle.

Later in this phase of the marriage cycle children will fly away from the carefully constructed family nest and into their brand new lives, just as their mother and father did. Husbands and wives now begin to surrender and let them go, albeit a little sadly. It's an emotionally healthy and necessary choice. "Sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days" go the words from Fiddler on the Roof. No wonder that song makes so many couples cry.

Then we look around. It's so quiet. The voice of Spirit whispers, "Something needs to change." We think the something is our mate. "If only he…, if only she …," Eventually we recognize it is not our mate but we who must change. We begin to understand that the inner marriage is of monumental importance. We commit to know ourself again. This commitment provides immediate insurance not just for us but for our couple relationship. It feels good. Understanding this inner marriage also makes boundaries clear, "I stop here and you start here." Sometimes people are fearful that introspection might separate them. It could, but at least it's honest.

When we work to connect the inner marriage with our outer marriage we begin to appreciate the real glory in our spouse. We also begin to see the first authentic wrinkles of responsibility for our own life, too, and we begin to grow up. Of course, sometimes it doesn't all work out and couples do separate permanently. But if that should occur at least each party has the satisfaction of knowing who he or she is and can apply it non-defensively for the good of the children and grandchildren involved. Not every relationship was made in heaven.

The Autumn of Marriage is about transition. We watch our children raising their children. We graciously step back and let them live their own lives. We give them space when they need it. We throw our arms around the joy our grandchildren bring and pitch in whenever we can help. Watching our families grow is so full of wonder we want everyone to stop growing! But respecting time's natural rhythm - especially when feeling astonished - helps us move right along with the changing tides as we consider what we want to do with our life now. Some want the pleasure of work, some the pleasure of play, and some want a combination. Being open to every new idea will see us through. That is key, keep it fresh.

The Winter of Marriage is when we enter into the final season of marriage with another or with ourself alone for death or choice or fate may have put us there. So we pray for everyone's good health. We are reflective and thoughtful. We live in our souls more. We recognize and give thanks for all the important moments in our life and for those we've met along the way who have helped us to transform, evolve and grow. We look forward to any final gifts of grace this season will provide. We reach for our partner's hand or put our hand over our heart to touch the symbolic hand of our inner partner. We read Yeats. We read Rilke. We smile. We pray. We make Every Day Matter.

Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP
Author of When Every Day Matters:
A Mother's Memoir on Love, Loss and Life,
Simple Abundance Press, Oct. 1, 2008
Available on Amazon

Author's Bio: 

Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP is practicing psychotherapist and Certified Group Psychotherapist and grief specialist for 29 years. She is inspired by wonderful writers, speakers and thinkers. This includes her grandkids because she also loves to laugh. Her personal losses and clinical experiences give her a heart for the work she does: help others process their grief and loss.

Oct. 1, 2008 her first book, When Every Day Matters: A Mother's Memoir on Love, Loss and Life was published by Simple Abundance Press. This book will help anyone suffering from loss to make it through his or her grief. Sarah Ban Breathnach says, "In her moving meditation on what matters most in life …M.J. Hurley Brant confronts the unthinkable with courage, compassion and candor…." And that this memoir "Is a gift of grace. For those who are hurting, a spiritual blessing awaits in between every line." Larry Kirshbaum, named Publishers Person of the Year by Publishers Weekly said, "This is a book that will break your heart and put it back together again. This is a story of a daughter who wouldn't give up and a mother who never lost faith. The reader can't help but be inspired by the indomitable human spirit that resides within Mary Jane Brant."

Mary Jane has been a guest on National Public Radio and Healing the Broken Heart Internet. She has been featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Suburban and Wayne Times, The Catholic Standard and Times, The Collegeville Way, The Spring/Summer 2009 Villanova Magazine, The Group Circle of the American Group Psychothrapy Assoc.