This is a question that I often put to couples who attend the premarital workshops I present. I like the question because it requires what are called “higher order thinking skills” – a more effective way of engaging new information that simply receiving it in a rote learning format. The answers I receive to this question are often quite insightful. Following are a few of those insights.
Successful marriages, like gardens, must be cultivated. What sunlight, soil and water are to a garden; respect, trust and cooperation are to a marriage. Without these key ingredients neither a garden nor a marriage can survive.
Successful marriages, like gardens, need to be tended. One would not reasonably expect a healthy harvest by merely throwing seeds in the ground, then ignore them. Time and effort are required to watch over the growth of those seeds. Adjustments are made depending on perceived needs. More or less water and/or nutrients may be required until the seeds mature to become healthy plants. Just like fruit, neglected marriages can also die on the vine. One need not do anything outrageously inappropriate to kill a relationship, one need only neglect it long enough for it to whither and die.
Marriages like gardens also need to be protected. One must be vigilant to ensure that nothing is allowed into the garden that would harm it. Fences are often put around gardens to keep intruders out. This is necessary to avoid losing what one has worked hard to create. Marriage must also be guarded. Unhealthy friendships, over involvement in too many activities, excessive use of technology and social media can all threaten the sense of connectedness between spouses. Instead of making each other the first priority, these activities and interests can take precedence. Like an unwanted vine entering the garden, the wrong influences can choke the marital relationship. When such influences have slipped in, they too must be weeded out.
Some marriages, like plants in a garden, occasionally require pruning. When part of a plant becomes unhealthy, the unhealthy piece may need to be removed to ensure that the healthy parts of the plant receive the full nutrients. This is necessary to ensure the ongoing survival of that plant. In the marital relationship, boundary setting may occasionally be required. This setting of boundaries is in a sense, a type of pruning. Any activity or behaviour which is perceived to be harmful to the relationship must be cut off. Those behaviours which threaten relationship respect, trust and cooperation, the very foundation of what makes a marriage healthy, are especially damaging. Under these circumstances, one may even need to severe the connection for a period of time until such destructive behaviours have stopped.
Finally, marriages and gardens both require nurturing. The ongoing investment of love and care for something is often directly proportionate to the outcome one receives. When one loves and cares for a garden, one reaps a healthy and bountiful harvest. Again, I think there are similarities to nurturing one’s marital relationship. Plant lovers will often tell you that by attending and talking to your plants you help them to grow. I believe that the same principle applies to our spouses.