The Four Seasons of Marriage (by Gary Chapman)

I've come across - and enjoyed - two or three books by (or co-authored by) Gary Chapman over the past few years. He has some interesting perspectives on life and relationships, and I was interested to learn that he had written a book about the 'seasons' of marriage. There's a website devoted to this topic too, with a questionnaire that enables people to have an idea of which 'season' their marriage is in according to Chapman's theory; I found the brief notes intriguing enough to prompt me to buy the book.

As I had gathered, 'The Four Seasons of Marriage' looks at analogies with the four seasons of the year. Every marriage, the author contends, goes through different seasons. This is not necessarily in the chronological order of seasons, and certainly not necessarily repeated annually. Any couple can remain for any length of time in any of the seasons, it seems.

The early chapters cover in some depth each of the four seasons as they relate to married life. The author begins with Winter, the most negative season according to his theory, when love and life seem to be all but dead, and many couples decide to separate. He gives anecdotes about people he has known or counselled (changing names and situations) showing that even in the worst times, there is always hope. He explains how a couple can arrive at this phase of life, and what can be done to help them emerge from it.

The next chapter looks at joy of Spring, which often takes place during the honeymoon period, and at other new beginnings during the course of a marriage. It is unlikely that any couple would remain in springtime for a long time, but entirely possible that they would return to this stage regularly. The third section is about the contentment of Summer; a peaceful, relaxed stage where a couple are comfortable with each other, relating well and enjoying life. Many older retired couples who have weathered storms can find this a long-term season in their marriage, if they make the effort to keep communicating and expressing their love for each other.

The fourth season covered is that of Autumn (or Fall - this is an American book) which features concerns and changes, nagging irritations, and a tendency to drift apart. During each chapter, Gary Chapman looks at reasons why the more difficult times come, showing in some detail the kind of situations or reactions that can cause a relationship to turn sour. He looks at ways that it can be possible to move out of winter to spring or summer, and - where possible - going from Autumn to a happier season, avoiding the neglect that can lead to winter.

After fairly lengthy chapters about each 'season', there are seven chapters about different strategies for helping an unhappy or stressful marriage to improve. None of these strategies were new to me - focusing, as they did, on love languages, empathic listening, and more - but they were all useful reminders of how easy it is for neglect and distance to creep into even the best of relationships.

There's a strong Christian emphasis throughout the book, which underlies the author's beliefs and reasons for his strategies, but the principles of helping marriages change for the better could apply to anyone. Indeed, much of the content could probably be used to think about seasons within parent/child relationships, or even close friendships.

There's a brief questionnaire for couples to determine what 'season' they are currently in, which seemed more helpful than the online one as it focuses on words most often used in each seasons. At the back of the book are some thought-provoking discussion questions for couples or groups who want to think about the topic in more depth, relating to their own situations.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 13th August 2011

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