Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.
There was a record snowstorm here in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains this winter. None of our neighbors had seen as much snow in all the years they had lived here. It tore down parts of our roof under the weight of the snow. Our forest didn’t fare much better. It took us more than a month to even be able to venture out because of the depth of the snow.
We finally got out there this weekend. Trees and branches lay across the abandoned logging road behind our house, crisscrossing for nearly half a mile. My husband casually remarked, “This is what makes a healthy forest,” and I remembered back to the arborist who had come out to check on the forest's health.
A healthy forest needs the right combination of air, new growth, and decaying trees to keep the balance necessary for growth and renewal. Too many trees and the forest is choked. Too few and the trees grow too big, preventing new growth from coming in. This storm had brought down hundreds of old trees and branches. They lay low in the undergrowth decaying, preparing to feed the younger trees that had survived. The forest was opened up and more air and sky were visible through the trees. I felt a mix of sadness and hope walking over all the fallen trees on our walk, missing the beautiful larger moss-covered trees but looking forward to seeing the new growth in spring.
So too for our relationships. We need to let the old go to create the needed room for the new things that will keep our relationship growing and vibrant. We need to clear out what no longer serves us to allow the space for the growth we must make to evolve and strengthen. Taking time to evaluate whether our habits, rituals, and traditions are still serving us and letting go of some old ways of being together is important to create a relationship that grows and expands.
Yet we become attached to our routines. In our everyday overwhelm, watching a show every night after the kids go to bed, getting on our phones to check Instagram, or going to the same restaurant every date night becomes comforting and familiar and easy. To find a new restaurant, to put down the phone and have a—gasp — conversation feels like a lot of work and can feel awkward and uncomfortable if we are out of the habit.
In staying in the familiar and easy routines we use to manage our stress, we let ourselves go to sleep in our relationship. Challenging ourselves to grow in our relationship becomes a foreign thing. It grows strange and uncomfortable to try new things and we aren't even sure why. As this happens, it feels easy and even necessary to just go through the motions from day to day, not even noticing that we may be growing bored and listless with each other. While it may be comfortable to watch TV when it is cold and dark outside, we do not connect or interact and the distance grows between us. Next, the spark needed for the passion we crave goes to sleep like the plants outside under the snow.
We all go through these phases. In times of challenge, we need more ease and rest. Winter’s dormancy has great value. It is the needed time of rest before the renewal of spring. But it is important to use this time to take stock and determine what in our relationship no longer serves us. Compost the routines and habits that are not promoting our growth, and create new ones that promote greater learning, connection, and passion. If you want the blossoming and aliveness that is possible in a long-term relationship, you must invest the time and effort to make it so.
Invest the time together to look at the parts of your relationship that you have outgrown. Cast aside habits and routines that no longer serve to bring vitality to your relationship and are just taking up space needed for new growth. Talk together about goals and hopes you have for the coming seasons— what you would love to do together and how your relationship would feel. Imagine the ways your relationship can be with the space, time, and energy needed and implement a plan to create it. Ready yourself for growth required to create the relationship of your dreams, commit to making it happen and watch it come to life as Winter leaves and the new growth of Spring brings you to new places together.
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