Gardening Your Marriage Having a successful garden that flourishes means tending to it frequently and taking care of what you’re growing, much like your marriage. Use these 8 tips to help grow your relationship to a higher level. BY DR. CARLA MARIE GRECO
Nature can do some amazing things if left alone, but the best gardens, like marriage, are those where a little attention has been paid.
“ As much as we might want to let nature take its course and expend as little effort on the home front as possible, a healthy marriage requires careful tending.”
There’s no time like spring to take a fresh, invigorating look at your relationship. As the cold days of winter fade away, we take off layers of winter coats and sweaters as we prepare for gentle rain and sweet sunshine. This is, after all, the time of year that new growth begins to take root. Yet, as much as nature takes charge to "do its thing," a skilled gardener knows that a top-notch garden is carefully cultivated and well-tended. Although we might get a gorgeous crop of tomatoes or a massive load of zucchini now and again as a result of sunny skies and a dose of good luck, we also realize that skill, patience, and dedicated effort bring about the most wondrous and consistent results.
Garden analogies can shed revitalizing light on relationships. The principles that bring us bountiful gardens often apply to the creation and maintenance of vibrant marriages. It can be tempting to think that the couple next door has it made with hardly any degree of effort, yet—more likely than not—those successful relationships you admire are the result of effort and dedication. It doesn’t require "hard work" in a draining, demanding sort of way. Just as when you’re in the right frame of mind, it can feel good to garden.
Once you put on your favorite worn jeans and roll up your shirt sleeves, the "work" can actually become therapeutic, enjoyable play. With the sun on your shoulders, time melts away as you weed, dig, and sow seeds. Anxiety, worries, and stress disappear as you tend to your garden in peaceful, quiet reflection. It is reassuring to know that nature’s processes can’t be forced or hurried. Nature knows what needs to be done, and it works its magic continuously. With water, nutrients, sunlight, and a gardener’s tender care, there is no stopping the extraordinary growth that unfolds. Gardeners know that the reward is not merely the bountiful harvest of fruits and vegetables, but also the dedication, joy, and tenderness that was cultivated along the way.
Our personal relationships often parallel the interactions that naturally occur in the outdoor environment. As much as we might want to let nature take its course and expend as little effort on the home front as possible, a healthy marriage requires careful tending. While chemistry and natural affinity play a part in successful relationships, it is dedication and effort that create truly healthy, bountiful marriages. So, pull out that sun hat, make a glass of lemonade, and read on for some tips that will nurture your marriage for years to come.
A Reason for the Seasons: The four seasons allow us to appreciate the cycles of nature. Each season gives rise to the next and each one, in its own way, is essential. It is the same with the fluctuations within marriage. We often slip into the expectation of having a marriage that is consistently sweet and spring-like or filled with warm, summery passion. Yet marriage also has essential periods that are much like autumn and winter; these are the times when things seem mundane, quiet, or lacking in fire. It is important to remember that these periods are often necessary to allow reflection and appreciation of the more intense and fiery seasons of life. These seemingly unexciting periods allow for rejuvenation and often precede vital bursts of new life and increased tempo. When you feel that your marriage is in the midst of a boring or inactive phase, remember that these times are both temporary and necessary. No marriage can sustain being in a constant state of exploding spring or vibrant summer. Learn to notice and treasure the important, quiet seasons of your marriage. Use the dormant times to gently fuel yourself and your love for those around you.
Sow the Right Seeds for Your Marriage: Every garden is unique, and even the same garden space yields subtly different crops from year to year. Marriage allows this same freedom and creativity. If seeds are sown haphazardly and wild nature takes its own course in the garden space of marriage, less than optimal conditions result. Carefully selected seeds, planted in the proper space at the right time, create a magical garden without intense, overwhelming effort. While this type of careful selection takes planning, forethought, and effort, the payoff is amazingly substantial. It’s never too early or too late to evaluate the seeds you’d like to select and then sow in your marriage. A few hardy favorites are thoughtfulness, romance, open communication, honesty, playfulness, kindness, and shared interests. Add your own ideas to your gardening list with care. Notice what works best in your own garden and plan accordingly. For example, do you need more play or romantic time together? Does your spiritual or religious time together need cultivating? Could you use more exercise time together? Will your marriage benefit from alone time to nurture individual interests? Talk with your spouse about sowing new seeds and revamping your garden to give it fresh life. With loving, creative energy, you can cultivate the marriage of your dreams.
Make Time for Weeding: Even the most perfect garden requires weeding now and again. Those pesky weeds can sneak up out of nowhere and choke out the desirable seedlings. Each marriage has its own type of weeds that can be a threat to the relationship. What works well in your best friend’s marriage may end up being a troublesome nuisance in your relationship. Pay attention to the little irksome things that tend to crop up over time. These are often the issues that build up even as you try unsuccessfully to ignore them. Does your partner have little habits that drive you nuts? Does he or she do things that you feel you have to "swallow" to keep the peace? For example, do you quietly fume when he is late over and over again and forgets to call? Does it secretly drive you crazy when she sneaks in a text to her girlfriend at the dinner table? Does it seem like the television or computer gets more attention than you do? Before too long, these annoying "little" issues can grow—seemingly overnight—into contentious battles. Notice these weeds as they arise and make time to talk about these issues in an open and caring way. It’s easier for partners to listen—to really hear concerns—when the focus is on the health of the relationship rather than on what your partner is doing wrong. As an example, you might say, "Honey, I love sharing dinner with you so much. It’s the one time of day that I really get to talk with you and gaze into your eyes. So, after missing you all day, I feel a bit hurt when you text during dinner. Do you think we could agree to leave our phones in the kitchen until after we finish dinner?" It’s important to talk openly about what you want more of in your garden (such as quiet dinners, romantic dates, or evening walks). As you address the weeds, remember to also notice and comment on the positive seedlings that enliven your marriage!
Fertilize with Special Care: Gardeners know that the most bountiful harvests rely on having the right amount and type of fertilizer! Each marriage has its own needs when it comes to enrichment and nourishment. When it comes to fertilizing your marriage, think of those special, more extraordinary activities and behaviors that add extra zest and life to your marriage. Is your marriage infused by an annual vacation just for the two of you? Would a semi-annual couple’s retreat invigorate your marital life? Can a quiet, inexpensive camping trip be just the thing to bring you back into harmony with each other? Would a rare, unexpected Sunday in bed be exactly what your darling needs to decompress and remember the sweet haven of your marriage? Think outside the box when considering ways to nourish and nurture your marriage. Marital fertilizers needn’t be expensive; the most delightful ideas tend to arise from simple ingenuity and creativity. When getting back to basics, it is loving thoughtfulness that goes the longest way toward optimizing the health and growth of the most successful marriages.
Prepare for Droughts and Storms: Nature is incredibly resilient. Gardens survive through periods of drought and heavy storms. Although it is natural to prefer temperate weather, changes and challenges are unavoidable. It’s easy to get stuck in patterns of worrying, being angry, or avoiding impending problems, yet these behaviors do not help us prepare for difficult times. When storms and droughts are on the horizon, it is essential to have an attentive and proactive attitude. A stormy onslaught of bad news and worries can leave the most stable of marriages on somewhat shaky ground. Periods of drought can sweep in and leave a once-vibrant marriage feeling dry and lifeless. Become proactive by learning to attend to the patterns in your marriage. If bills are piling up, the kids are falling behind at school, or work is going awry, beware that a thunderstorm might be in the making. Take preventive steps to work with your sweetheart to notice the difficulties and take measures—one by one—to head off the storms. Carve out a Sunday afternoon to troubleshoot and make a plan. It can be amazing to watch worries subside when you, as a cohesive couple, tackle the troubles as a united front. The same theory holds if you sense a drought is in store. Sit down with your spouse to talk about the parts of your marriage that feel dry and desert-like. Without blaming, brainstorm to find ways to rejuvenate and enliven your relationship. Although we can’t control the challenging storms and periods of drought, the difficult times are more manageable when faced with loving, proactive awareness!
Attend to Pesky Insects: Habits are similar to garden insects. Most habits, like insects, are not inherently "bad;" it is the unwanted effects that are troublesome! This is a perfect time of year to consider the habits that have invaded your marriage. Are there small changes you can make to tidy up your part of the relationship? Take a few minutes to think of the little gripes your sweetheart has made over the last year. Are there some pesky habits that you can let go of for the sake of a happier marriage? It’s often easier to make slight changes when you realize that irksome habits have a way of becoming giant pests in the minds of loved ones. The overall health of your marriage is so much more important than habits, such as leaving the toilet seat up or being "right" in each disagreement. Strive to adopt an attitude that allows the more harmless bugs to remain while the damaging pests are shooed away with patience and conscientiousness.
Essential Sunshine: We all know that sunshine is essential to plant and animal life. It’s interesting to consider that sunshine is also vital to the health of your marriage. Quite literally, sunshine can do wonders for relationships! First of all, exposure to sunshine increases the brain’s production of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, that is linked to feelings of happiness and well-being. Depression and many symptoms associated with depression are often thought to be connected to low levels of serotonin. Appetite and wakefulness are also affected by serotonin. Exposure to sunshine also helps regulate human circadian rhythms (the sleep-wake cycle) and fosters the body’s synthesis of Vitamin D. What marriage wouldn’t benefit from greater feelings of happiness, well-being, better health, and improved sleep cycles? So, take your sweetie by the hand and sit in the sun on a weekend afternoon. Try a sunlit walk in the park or take a hike on the hillsides. Enjoy Sunday morning coffee on the front porch. Meet for an impromptu, sun-infused lunch in the midst of a busy week. Leave behind distractions, such as cell phones and other electronics to take full advantage of the healing, rejuvenating effects of the sun’s rays. Note: Sunscreen and hats are recommended!
Perfectly Imperfect: Nature is perfectly, gorgeously imperfect. A visit to the local farmer’s market or your own backyard garden reveals the marvelous imperfections of life. Naturally grown fruits and vegetables often have tiny markings, scars, and discolorations. These small, natural blemishes are a testament to nature’s power and beauty. Humans, too, are wonderfully and distinctively imperfect. As relationships endure and weather rigorous periods, scars and blemishes result. It is these imperfections that make every couple a unique, inimitable pair. Resist the urge to compare your garden to the seeming perfection of the neighbor’s next door. When you look into the eyes of your partner, you both know that you share secrets, stories, and wonders that are yours and yours alone. Your perfectly imperfect marriage deserves your continued loving cultivation. After all, it is yours.
Learn to enjoy every aspect of your gardening journey—that's the secret! The reward—a lifelong marriage filled with joy, love, and intimacy—is well worth the effort. Smile, put on those gardening gloves, and enjoy the delights of a well-tended marriage.
Dr. Carla Marie Greco has her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and a private practice in Santa Rosa, California. Dr. Greco specializes in the treatment of anxiety, trauma, depression, grief, and life transition issues. Her greatest goal is to offer services to those in need, offering select appointments on a "sliding scale" for those who have serious financial constraints. Pro bono services, including EMDR, are available for our veterans suffering from issues such as combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Complex PTSD. Dr. Greco is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Redwood Psychological Association. For more, visit www.drcarlagreco.com.