And, like the work required in a garden, relationships require dirt under the fingernails and sweat on the brow. It is the part we often try to avoid or don’t want anyone to see, but it is a necessary part of cultivating something great. Great marriages and great relationships don’t just appear and stay that way forever — but when we commit to the relationship, study what it needs to grow well and scatter seeds of acceptance, love and gentleness, beauty can run wild and take our breath away.
So, the first step needs to be commitment. Does your partner know you have his or her back no matter what the situation? Will you run at the first sign of a “bug” or a “weed?” Those pesky things will come and you have got to pay attention to those little pests or they will grow and try to choke a relationship out.
A healthy garden is more disease resistant. When a garden is strong it can fight off those things that threaten its ability to flourish. At the same time, it is important not to obsess in the quest for perfection trying to eradicate relationship “weeds” or “pests” with too much commercial chemical, when what is needed is just a little bit of household vinegar.
In your relationship garden, commit to being a better listener and try not to jump to conclusions. Think before you speak. These are some good ways to ensure our gardens flourish. Have strategies for how to handle the weeds and pests and be committed to using them well.
Study what your relationship garden needs. When we like someone’s haircut or a special dish a friend makes, we ask about it. It should be the same with marriages. If you know a couple who are doing it well, ask how they got there. It’s so wonderful to share our stories and learn from others’ experience. It seems rare for people to be vulnerable in the messy areas of relationships, but there is power in turning over some of that soil and shouldering up with someone who can show us that beauty really can come from rocky soil.
So what kind of seeds are you scattering in your garden? Any gardener knows if you want a good garden, you have to use good seed. You can’t be constantly scattering criticism, negativity and insults — and hope to cultivate praise, encouragement and love from your spouse. And don’t wait for the other person — be the first one. Dig down in your seed pouch and pull out kind compliments. You might think there aren’t any down in there, but there are. Find them. And generously scatter them. Scatter them for others to see and hear also. A cheerful word can go a long way in times of stress and anxiety. It doesn’t have to be a sappy sermon, just something like, “Together we will figure this out. I love you.”
Relationships are living entities. If you want your relationship to grow and be exciting, you have to treat it as such. You have to care for it. And it is so satisfying to sit back and see the fruit of your labor and watch the relationship thrive because it is being given what it needs. My favorite gardens really are the ones that aren’t so perfectly manicured. I like the ones with old fountains that have a chip or crack here and there.
Beauty is not just allocated to the perfectly manicured garden; sometimes it is the vines and mix of flowers all tangled and mangled that is beauty. Relationships have so many different shapes, sizes and textures to them. I encourage you to explore and embrace your relationship garden. May you hold hands with your partner and wander about it together with a sip of something yummy in your cup. It is ok if there’s dirt under your fingernails and some bark is falling off your tree. It is yours and it is beautiful. Keep going. Commit to it, learn as much as you can about it and throw life-giving seeds everywhere you can. You won’t regret it.