[image by the Welsh Poppy]

In a marriage, changes abound.

The couple may move houses. They may move states.  They might have a child, or two, or three, or more.

The mom may work as a stay at home mom. Or maybe even the dad might take up that work (I did for a short period of time–easy change, but super hard transition).

They might change jobs, or go back to school.  One of them might get cancer.

Change is going to happen, and the couple is going to have to adjust to the changes.

But what they might not do is transition.

Perhaps a couple has kids that begin to go to school, and the wife/mom who has always worked full-time as a stay at home mom is now re-entering the work force outside of the home. That is a huge change. But I wonder how many couples work through the transition of that? And why is that important? Because though the change has happened, dealing with it psychologically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, etc. is a whole other aspect of that change.

What happens when that mom goes back into the work force full-time? Does the dad expect the mom to continue on not only with her new job, but also all the same things she did before she worked outside the home? If expectations are not discussed, and are different, then their roles need to be re-defined and re-negotiated, because the change brought about a transition they were unprepared for.

What To Do?
People change and grow and evolve, and so it only makes sense then that so do marriages. Couples need to sit down and look at the evolution of their marriage and how what originally helped them define their roles has perhaps changed. In recognizing that things have changed, then a couple can begin to assess and negotiate how things might now look.

With change in a marriage not only comes the need to transition, but to possibly re-define and re-negotiate the roles. I feel like this is a process that my wife and I are constantly in as we continue to work through changes in our own marriage. When I resigned my job as college pastor at Bel Air Presbyterian Church in 2008, that was a pretty easy change. But it was a super hard transition. And there was a re-defining and re-negotiating of our marital roles. We went from both working, to one working, to me being the primary caregiver, and my wife the primary breadwinner. Easy change. Hard transition. Lots of re-defining and re-negotiating.

Look at some key areas of the relationship that have perhaps changed over the course of the marriage, or that you would like to see change.  Here are some that come up fairly often in my work with couples:

  • Re-Defining and Re-Negotiating the tasks around “keeping house” (i.e. laundry; dishes; cooking; cleaning; yard work, etc.)
  • Re-Defining and Re-Negotiating parenting roles
  • Re-Defining and Re-Negotiating vocation roles (one income/two income; part-time; full-time; etc)
  • Re-Defining and Re-Negotiating hobbies and activities (helping a partner make time for them and achieve them)
  • Re-Defining and Re-Negotiating dreams, goals (travel; volunteer work; retirement; passions; etc.)
  • Re-Defining and Re-Negotiating spiritual life (place of worship; certain beliefs/practices; etc.)

When couples engage one another in the practice of re-defining and re-negotiating roles in their marital relationship, they are also giving their partner the ability to begin to dream again of some things that they might want for their life.  Things that have possibly never been discussed, or that have laid dormant for years.  “Many times, spouses, are willing to make sacrifices for each other and the relationship, but are unaware of what the goals and dreams of their partners are about” (The Essential Humility of Marriage by Terry Hargrave, pp. 193).