I heard on NPR radio this morning on the way into work, that people who are in relationships are happier than those who are not. Yet studies have shown that people are less happy with their marriage the longer the marriage goes on. However, most trends are that after the kids have left the house, and the couple can focus on their relationship and what makes them happy (like the early dating and honeymoon stage), they find older couples that have focused on their relationship are even happier than younger couples. And so it seems that there are ups and downs in relationships, and different stages.
I find this true in my marriage and also in my relationship to the church.
This section of Ulrich's article from FAIR summarizes the stages I feel I'm going through, and am currently working on stage 4 in both church and my marriage:
http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences ... ience.html
Wendy Ulrich, PhD wrote:"Believest thou...?": Faith, Cognitive Dissonance, and the Psychology of Religious Experience
by Wendy Ulrich, Ph.D
These relationships, these pearls of great price, are worth the sacrifices and the disappointments and the askance looks of our friends who wonder what we could be thinking.
And so we say with the father of the lunatic child, "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief." We recognize that our beliefs matter more than our doubts, though we will have some of both. We recognize the need for commitment despite uncertainty, frustration, and disillusionment. In fact, people who study long-term marriage relationships tell us that they go through four predictable stages that include both high hopes and deep discouragement. Psychologist Allen Bergin proposes that these stages are equally applicable in all long-term, committed relationships, including relationships with children, parents, the Church, and God.
The first of these stages is a honeymoon stage of blinding idealism, in which we delight in our new partner and are sure that the problems faced by other couples, other parents, other believers will not bother us. We are in love, full of hope, enthusiastic about our new relationship. ... We finally know how to be in a relationship, or how to get answers to prayers, or how to be part of a community. We are happy, sure that little problems that come up will be readily resolved. This stage lasts weeks and sometimes years, but it intermittently gives way to the second stage of committed relationships, the power struggle.
As the power struggle gradually takes over more and more of the relationship we begin to wrestle for control. We may try any of a number of old or new tactics to try to coerce, cajole, reason, manipulate, blackmail, convince, bribe, punish, or flatter our partner in the relationship into changing to give us what we want, whether what we want is a spouse who does the laundry or a God who explains Himself to our satisfaction. ... We want the world back the way it was when we were innocent and full of hope and before we had discovered the snakes in the grass, but He evicts us from the garden and tells us to keep walking. ... We are sure that if we could just change them we could get things back to the honeymoon, not realizing that this is not only impossible, but unhelpful.
The third stage of committed relationships, which usually comes after years of vacillating between lingering idealism and the increasing futility of the power struggle, is withdrawal. At this stage we essentially give up, although we may not leave. We resign ourselves to not really getting what we want, not really changing the other party, and not really being happy. We are tired of fighting, but we can't recoup our lost idealism. ... This is a risky stage, a stage when some people decide there is nothing to hold onto because they are no longer in love (stage 1) and no longer have hope for change (stage 2). But as we continue to work on ourselves, see reality more clearly, and resolve our own issues we have a chance of moving toward stage 4.
The fourth and final stage of committed relationships is about renewal. Not exactly a renewal of the honeymoon, but a more mature, realistic, and truly loving renewal. We come to accept our spouse or our parents or the Church, and we come to accept ourselves. We allow God to run the universe, and we become more content to let go of things we cannot change. A deeper, more mature love begins to emerge, with fewer power struggles and less disengagement. We do not need to see all the answers, and we do not need perfection by our standards in order to not be embarrassed or ashamed of our Church, our partner, or our God. We reinvest in the relationship, not because we have decided to risk yet one more time that we will not get hurt only to have the rug pulled out yet one more time from under us, but because we have learned that hurt can be survived, that this is a risk worth taking, and that it does not mean we cannot be happy or that we are irrational suckers or that we are doomed to failure because we take another chance on trust or because we fail or are failed again. We see ourselves and our partner more realistically, and we do not run from either vision. We recognize that we can be hurt by being betrayed or we can be hurt by not trusting, but we don't get the no-hurt choice because there isn't one, at least not until we simply choose not to read betrayal into every ecclesiastical failure, or abandonment into every unanswered prayer.
I am re-engaging at church...but I am not trying to go back to my stage 1 faith as Bergen and Ulrich desribe it (or Fowler's stage 3 faith).
I appreciate Ray's description of comparing my church and my marriage. It is very fitting.