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I recently asked a couple who came to see me because their marriage of less than a year was already in trouble, if they had planted a vegetable garden and invested as much time and energy into it as they have in their relationship, what would their garden look like. She said, “it would mostly be a jungle of weeds” and he said, ” we would be lucky if had one small tomato.”

This question gave them pause. They began to think about the process they would go through if they decided to actually plant a garden.

  1. They would sit down and design the type of garden they wanted to plant, e.g., size, vegetables, herbs or flowers.
  2. Then they would have to spend time negotiating with one another as to what type of plants they wanted and whether they worked well together. They would even have to negotiate how they would maintain the garden.
  3. Once they established the size and type of garden and who would do what maintenance, they would draw a blueprint or plan for what plants would go where.
  4. At this point they could get busy cultivating the soil.
  5. Next would come the actual planting of the seeds or plantings in accord with their plan.
  6. And lastly, they would have to maintain the garden on a daily basis, especially when it was first planted. They would have to weed the garden, add fertilizer, give it sufficient water, and prune the plants as needed so that they would develop a strong root system.
  7. Only after they had engaged in all of these steps would they then be able to harvest the fruits of their labors.

As this couple thought about the garden metaphor they realized that they were not doing anything to create the marriage they wanted. They had spent no time talking about and planning the marriage they both wanted to create. They spent little time nurturing their marriage. And yet they expected it to magically flourish. They wanted the end result to look like their fantasy, but did not want to put the time and effort into designing, planting, and nurturing it to make it happen.

In my experience, most couples are similar to this couple. They want the happily-ever-after marriage of their fantasy. Simply fall in love, get married, and everything will somehow work out.

Marriage, or any committed relationship, requires planning and effort just like a garden. When two people decide to create a marriage, they must learn to work together collaboratively.They must learn to negotiate. They must spend time exploring each others values, needs, wants, and beliefs and jointly figure out how these will work together to create the type of relationship that both partners want.

Let’s follow the garden process and apply it to a marriage:

  • Step 1: The two partners begin by discussing and sharing with one another the type of marriage they each want, recognizing that not all marriages are the same and that there are various models for marriage. They ask the question, “what does your ideal marriage look like?” And then they the discuss their respective visions working toward coming up with a single vision with which they both can live. This becomes the design.
  • Step 2: Then the couple puts their design on paper so that they can refer to it from time to time to determine whether they are on track toward building the marriage they both said that they want.
  • Step 3: In a marriage the plants are the values and principles that they have each agreed to honor and live by. Such values and principles as integrity, learning to really listen to one another, abstaining from sarcasm, verbal or physical abuse, generosity of spirit, affection, respecting differences, developing communication skills, promoting romance and affection, being considerate, having alone time, procedures for dealing with finances, etc.
  • Step 4: They may have to spend considerable time removing the impediments (weeds and rocks) to intimacy. The impediments may be a function of their joint and individual history. If they are not removed, they may well interfere with the healthy blooms that can result from an intimate relationship.
  • Step 5: They must set aside time during the week to work on their relationship. They need time to discuss issues that are of concern to one another. They need time to have romance, affection, and emotional and physical intimacy. Tending to the relationship must be a priority for each party. The relationship cannot survive by the efforts of one person only.

As you might imagine, this process takes time, patience, and commitment. Just as with a garden, the time and energy expended in the early stages will pay handsome dividends in the future. And just as with a garden, your marriage will only thrive to the extent that you tend it. If you fail to exercise the steps suggested in this post, you are reducing your odds of having the relationship you want.

*****
[Dr. Dreyfus is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist, relationship counselor, sex therapist, and life coach in the Santa Monica – Los Angeles. The profits from his latest book, LIVING LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT along with his other five books, are being donated to charity through the website Book Royalties for Charity and can be purchased through Amazon.com. Please become a friend on his Facebook Fan Page by indicating “like” on the page by clicking here. You can also find more tools to help you experience a more fulfilling life by clicking here to visit his website.]