I am no green thumb. I can readily kill anything I plant. Somehow, that gene missed me. My mother has always been great at growing green things. She can get a shoot of something off the side of the road and have it quickly be a thriving plant in her yard. The difference between us is apparent to me: She loves it and I, however, do not.
Don't get me wrong, I want our yard to look nice, but I simply have little desire to get it to that point. And for the past six months, that has worked out just fine because I had little to do. But, as it always does, a new season has come. Spring has sprung and now so has our yard.
In my little cul-de-sac, there are three houses in a row that show very different approaches to their yard. First, my immediate neighbor. She absolutely loves to work in the yard. Every chance she gets, she is out pruning and planting. Her attention shows throughout the yard. It is immaculate—the mulch is fresh, the plants are growing, the shrubs are pruned and the grass is all green, free of weeds.
On the other side of her house, the neighbors have long ignored their yard. The lawn is more weed than grass. The shrubs have overtaken the windows, and the plants are either dead or overgrown weeds.
And then there is our yard. When we moved in, the landscaping was, at best, minimal. No mulch. Just volcanic rock and the shrubs were dead or dying. It truly detracted from the house. So, my wife and I set a plan to re-landscape.
Over a couple of weekends, we tore out plants, gathered up rocks (and trust me when I tell you that volcanic rock is not pleasant to clear out!), tore up old flower beds, and replanted the yard. It took some time, but the yard began to look better.
I have to go out and cut the grass (did that yesterday, just before the rain), prune back the shrubs, put down mulch, and tend to some watering. But once we got it set up, it was a simple matter of keeping up.
As I watch marriages, I notice that relationships fall into these same categories. Some marriages are like that one neighbor. The relationship has been neglected. The care and communication have been ignored. I doubt it was on purpose. This family leaves early in the morning and returns late at night, running a business. Thus, their yard is at the end of their list.
And for many couples, the marriage relationship is at the end of the list—behind work, kid activities, hobbies, exercise, friends, and anything else that might keep them distracted.
One day, I noticed the neighbors had decided to work on the yard. They pulled and cut and pruned. They weeded and mowed. They even bought bags of mulch. At the end of the day, I could not tell any difference. The shrubs were cut back, but because they were so overgrown, they now looked scalped. The mulch sat to the side, still in bags. It is still there, waiting to be spread.
At some point, a couple will realize that a marriage is in trouble. They will begin a huge "remodeling." But it only lasts for a short spurt. It may become too frustrating and overwhelming or perhaps the old habits just creep back in. Pretty soon, the relationship is not only neglected, but both people are also frustrated. Secretly, they blame each other, each one sure that he or she put in the effort.
Many marriages are more like my yard. The relationship does not get enough attention. And when it does get attention, there is some grumbling. Oh, sure, both people want to have a great marriage, but taking action to make it a great marriage means taking time and attention away from other things.
Often, these couples pay attention because the marriage requires them to. They may begin to feel a bit out-of-sorts, a bit disconnected, so they schedule some time for a date night. Maybe they just set aside some time to clear the air and get back on the same page. The reward is a relationship that feels good. It may not be optimal, but it keeps moving forward.
This is the space of many marriages. It isn't optimal, but it isn't dying. Both people recognize the need to tend to the relationship and it may not always be with great joy, but they both enjoy the effort, once it is invested.
Then there are marriages like my neighbor's yard. They spend lots of energy on the relationship and the relationship looks great! It shows that they have made the relationship a priority. Over time, that relationship takes effort, but four things have happened:
They have the habits to support keeping up the yard. It doesn't become work, rather it becomes a normal part of life. They reconnect regularly and predictably. This connection keeps the relationship healthy, even through tough times. "Bad weather" and "draughts" of life are survived because of the care.
They have the tools they need to take care of issues as they arise. Have you ever let a yard project slide because you don't have the right tool —and pretty quickly, the problem is too large to handle easily? My neighbor has the tools she needs to care for her yard. When something small arises, she takes care of it before it gets out of hand. The same is true for these marriages. They have the tools to address problems. They know how to have constructive discussions, they know how to make decisions as a team, and they know how to reconnect in ways that bring both into the connection.
These couples see issues quickly. My neighbor, partly because she is out in the yard, notices when something is amiss. I have a number of mole tracks on a hill in my backyard. Those trails have now created an issue when it rains. The dirt pours out of those holes, requiring me to rebuild the hill in several spots. My neighbor has no mole tracks. When she noticed one, she took action and those actions kept it from getting out of hand. Couples that are like my neighbor's yard are quick to identify when something is not quite right. A small disagreement does not get out of hand. issues don't become personal and problems are simply solved as they emerge.
These marriages are built on habits, and momentum keeps them moving forward. This is perhaps the key to shifting a marriage to this level. My neighbor has a habit of taking care of that yard. She walks it and keeps an eye on it. She has a regular schedule for fertilizing and mulching, for cutting and planting. It is just part of her routine. Great marriages are based in habit. Remember, it is a habit to NOT connect, to NOT be intimate, to NOT be kind and civil. And it is a habit to do those things. he question is not whether you have habits in your relationship, but whether you have the habits you want to have in your relationship.
The great thing about this is that habits are built. It may take some effort and it may take some research to build those skills. And like any habit, it requires repetition. So, the real question is whether bad habits are allowed to grow like weeds or whether good habits are grown like a great garden. The choice is always yours.
If you are ready to learn how to grow a great relationship, come visit me at Save The Marriage.