Special to OaklandCountyMoms.com
Contributor: Joelle Lucido and Megan Rotar
Like any good gardener will tell you, a well-tended garden provides the best fruit. Likewise, relationships that are well-nurtured tend to be the healthiest. It may take some effort to “prepare the soil”, laying the foundation for a meaningful relationship, but doing so has a significant impact on the quality of the “crop”. By doing this work early on, it allows deep roots to form. Well-established roots yield a bountiful “harvest” year after year as long as the soil continues to be cared for and nourished.
The type and quality of relationship you end up growing greatly depends on the seeds you begin with. Most of us know that love, respect and true consideration are essential seeds to a healthy relationship. However, loving and respecting your partner does not mean that you will love every one of his or her traits. Acceptance and tolerance of their idiosyncrasies need to accompany love so as to foster confidence that who you are is enough for your partner. There are also some seeds that go beyond our internal perspectives and involve communication with a partner. Conveying interest, appreciation and positive regard, both through verbal and non-verbal messages, can be done in many ways. In Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages, he describes that each of us want to receive love and appreciation in our preferred language. The five love languages he has coined are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. When each partner identifies and communicates via their partner’s preferred language, these seeds of love and appreciation can be planted efficiently and deeply.
Many times, we can overlook negative factors until it is too late and they have become “overgrown” and actually overpower the very thing we are trying to grow. In order to focus on growing a healthy relationship, we must be aware of these destructive factors, not only in potential partners, but also in ourselves. Growth includes pruning and most of us are susceptible to one or more of this pesky weeds. Leading marriage researcher, John Gottman PhD, explores four of the most deadly weeds to a relationship in his renowned book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. The first is criticism, where a partner is attacked with comments that are biting and hurtful. Defensiveness is the second weed that causes the couple to be unable to listen to each other and effectively problem solve. Beyond defensiveness is stonewalling, where a complete emotional shutdown occurs. This unresponsiveness and lack of participation in conflict resolution causes a great deal of frustration and disappointment in the other partner. Contempt is the most deadly of the four as it communicates a complete lack of respect and positive regard and often causes the partner to feel their esteem withering away.
There are other weeds that are quite insidious and indicate an unbalanced and unhealthy relationship. Patterns of jealous, possessive or controlling behavior, can lead to a relationship that is more volatile rather than stabile. In its most extreme form, these patterns can become abusive behavior, which may be emotional, verbal, sexual, or physical in nature, and is never an acceptable part of a thriving relationship.
Wise farmers know that to maintain a proper balance of nutrients in their soil, they must rotate their crops. Relationship must also rotate their form to meet the ever-changing needs we have as individuals. The day may begin with a business relationship where the couple discusses who is picking up the dry cleaning. It quickly changes gears into friendship when one partner calls to share some great news about a promotion offer. A playful email exchange makes one partner giggle. An intellectual conversation over dinner about politics of the day paves the way for an intimate moment when both partners feel a strong connection about their mutual dreams for their future. After an hour or two of vegging time in front of the television together, they adjourn to the bedroom for a sexual connection. Like a prosperous farm, a healthy relationship is one that maintains balance between these forms so that each seed has the nutrient-dense soil it needs for growth.
A consistent desire for growth over time, both individually as well as collectively, can be like water that feeds and nourishes a relationship. When poured over the right combination of seeds and healthy soil, which is being actively controlled for weeds, growth will occurs instinctively in a garden or a relationship … just as nature intended.
Joelle Lucido, MA, LLP, NCP, LLPC is the co-owner of the Mental Fitness Center in Rochester, MI and is a Wellness Counselor for individuals and couples. Megan Rotar, MA, LLP is a Holistic Wellness Therapist who works with adolescents and adults in individual and family therapy.
Contact the Mental Fitness Center at (248) 601-3111 and ask about our affordable home consultation program. Click here for the Mental Fitness Center website.