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Learning to Love After a Challenging Season

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Married couple about to kiss during a picnic
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Remembering the reasons we chose our spouse and focusing on the joy we can experience with them are good ways to start recovering from stressful seasons of life.

When you and your spouse are stressed and disconnected, learning to love again can start with simply spending an enjoyable time together.

One Fourth of July, my husband and I drove to Lenox, Massachusetts, for a day in the Berkshires and an evening performance by James Taylor at the Tanglewood concert venue. We had one goal for the day: to reconnect. Our marriage had weathered a lot in eight years.

The pain of transition in moving across the country, navigating infertility and experiencing multiple miscarriages had made for a challenging season. We loved each other, but the pain of the past year was like a fog that made it difficult to see each other as anything but an enemy.

Our pain resurrected old disagreements, and we wielded weapons that should have been laid down long ago. We were drowning in our feelings and hurting each other in our attempts to survive.

The getaway to the Berkshires was about recalling all the reasons we chose each other and learning to love as we had at the beginning of our relationship. We needed to remember that marriage was worth celebrating in the midst of our grief — that even though we felt like characters in a tragedy, we were living a love story, too.

We needed to apologize to each other for the words we had spoken from our pain. Some words were spoken in the heat of the moment — an accident; other times they were intentional. One of us had wanted to hurt the other. Now, it was time to take responsibility for how we each needed to grow and have the courage to walk toward each other differently.

Looking back to the start

My husband, Jimmy, was at the wheel as we drove the treelined, winding roads. I propped my bare feet up on the dashboard and thought back to our wedding day. Even now, eight years later, I could watch the day play out like a movie in my memory.

I remembered every detail and fluttering feeling. I could easily recall how I felt in my lace dress. I could see the citrus fruit peeking from the floral arrangements. I remembered our first dance, chatting and smiling as we danced to James Taylor’s “How Sweet It Is.”

As the car climbed higher into the mountains, I thought about the expectations I wore like an accessory on my wedding day. Though I knew many of the right answers about relationships, there was a large part of my heart that believed marriage would be the crowning gift that would allow me to never want for anything else again.

I envisioned feeling confident and secure as if knowing it would be enough for someone I loved to love me. I expected this to serve as a shield against pain — as if life couldn’t hurt me in the same ways it had before.

Perhaps love from someone else would make up for the ways that loving myself was difficult. Maybe it would even save me from doing the hard work of learning how to love myself. But not even the best gifts can fulfill such a wish.

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Having fun together

When we arrived at Tanglewood, we selected a few square feet on the crowded lawn to call our own and set up a picnic. People from all over the Northeast set up camp, many with patriotic flower arrangements, candles placed in candelabras, and place settings of bone china and crystal.

Our picnic was more like a sack lunch, but we didn’t care. We enjoyed people-watching until we made our way into the amphitheater, eager to find our seats and hear the music.

The lights dimmed, and James Taylor played one hit after another. He told stories and strummed his guitar with a comfort and ease that made us feel like we were sitting on the rug of his living room. Jimmy and I laughed at his jokes and sang along to all the familiar favorites. I had forgotten what it felt like to just have fun with my husband.

James Taylor was only a few notes into the last song when I looked up excitedly at my husband to see him smiling at me. He pulled me into the aisle to dance to “How Sweet It Is.” And as we danced, I beamed. I was learning to love again.

“Sweet” meant something entirely different to me at that point than it did when we had danced to this song years before. At our wedding, the sweetness was about the joy of finding each other and celebrating the love that we shared.

But as we danced to the same song at the concert, it was apparent to me that the sweetest part of life wasn’t simply the love between the two of us but the way our relationship had grown us and ushered us toward the love of Christ.

Learning to love in a new way

Sharing the pain of a difficult season — to have a companion in the waiting and the wrestling — was a gift. But for the first time, I could see that the relationship itself was not the answer to the pain.

When change and loss were added to the love we shared, we quickly realized that the love between the two of us wasn’t enough to carry these burdens, which shined the light on our need for Christ in ways we had not yet been willing to see.

This was the real sweetness: learning to love each other by pointing each other to a Love that is more powerful than either of us could give — a Love that can fulfill.

We were learning that we can deeply love each other, but we do not complete each other. The love that we share is meaningful but not powerful enough to heal the doubts and insecurities we each carry or fix what someone else broke long ago. Though we shape each other, we are not the source of each other’s identity and security.

Setting realistic expectations

When we said “I do,” we were saying yes to a person, not a plan. When we vowed to love each other for better or worse, we really had no idea what that would mean for us. We knew the concept in theory, but we had yet to discover what our particular version of that vow would be. We still don’t know.

Although we can choose our partner for the adventure, we can’t select the adventure itself. Remembering the reasons we chose our spouse and focusing on the joy we can experience with them are good ways to recover from stressful seasons of life.

As the fireworks boomed above us after the concert, I rested my head on Jimmy’s chest. How sweet it is.

Read more from Nicole Zasowski in her book  From Lost to Found: Giving Up What You Think You Want For What Will Set You Free.

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