During our 44 years of marriage, Jan and I have been married to six different people. How can this be, you ask? Well, psychologists tell us that as we age we are changed by our life experiences and they tend to break these into seven-year periods. Therefore, we are different people as we age. This is why some people feel like they wake up one day and realize that the person they are with is not the person they first married!
In the first seven years of our marriage, Jan and I lived in eight different apartments or houses. (yes, we were well-traveled.) I was an Army officer with three different training schools and then an engineer and Jan was learning how to be a spouse and a mother. And together we were learning how to leave our parents and cleave to each other. Most of our struggles during those years were learning how to become a couple, how to cooperate in raising two children, and how to get established in a new neighborhood and church. We were also learning how to fight (I mean discuss) fairly.
In our next seven years, I was advancing in my career and in various responsibilities in the church. Jan was busy with the children and her various church roles. As a couple, we had started in a new ministry of training couples in how to have better marriages. This certainly helped us to learn a lot of good relationship skills and our marriage went from happy to very happy.
The teen years of our marriage had the typical trials of the children going through their teen years and of hosting foreign exchange students. In addition, Mark was changing jobs every couple of years! Despite the chaos of the times, we were able to maintain a happy marriage. Primarily, because we were leading couples through Marriage Enrichment workshops as a couple. Working together in this ministry certainly strengthened our relationship and helped us through these times.
During the teen years of your marriage, it is important to find a ministry or long-term project that you do together. Working together not only strengthens your relationship but will also help prepare you for the upcoming empty nest period of your marriage.
The beginning of our “Empty Nest” period started with a job change that had us moving to northern Pennsylvania. Once again forcing us to find a new church family and friends. While we continued with our marriage ministry we also served in similar church ministries as well. This helped us to maintain some continuity in our lives. As “Empty Nesters” we were also able to once again start exploring the woods and waterfalls around us as a couple rather than as a family. Many of our excursions were now “dates” where we could enjoy each other's company and interests.
We became part of the “Sandwich Generation” during our next seven years. Our parents moved into senior complexes and the children got married and had children, each needing help in different ways. Now our dates were spent with our parents, children, and grandchildren. Our conversations were now centered on schedules and other’s needs. Scheduling time for each other became much more important to keep connected and supportive of each other.
Our sixth seven-year period saw us leave the “Sandwich Generation” with the death of our parents. We also moved down to the Philadelphia area to be closer to our children and grandchildren. Thus being able to spend more time investing in our grandchildren's lives. We have also found that we are both more interested in serving others and becoming part of the church family. This has helped us to stay connected to each other and enjoying our time together.
Now that we have given you a look at our lives in seven-year periods, why don’t you take some time and think about your different seven-year periods and how you handled them as a couple? Were there times when you were working well together and other times when things weren’t so good? Hopefully, you are currently in some of the better times together. If not, and you want to get an “outside” look at your relationship try checking out the www.betterlove.com website/inventory by Les and Leslie Parrott. It can help start some good conversations.