Weeding the Relationship Garden
“You must weed your mind as you would weed your garden.” ~Terri Guillemets
I learned about weeds before I learned anything about gardens. For my 40th birthday my husband built me a beautiful, secure deer fence and I was told to use straw to augment and lighten the heavy clay soil. The straw turned out to be hay and seeded itself heartily throughout the space. I was overwhelmed with weeds that I had inadvertently planted. Later, after the hay crop was removed, as a novice gardener, I planted several varieties of plants that I was told had “magical” properties. Although I didn’t know them as weeds, they infiltrated throughout the flowers and vegetable beds with their sticky seed pods. For many years, weeding and gardening were synonymous. Removing the weeds was the prerequisite to creating the space to grow the garden I had envisioned. It also became a worthy metaphor for working on my marriage.
Even after 29 years of living with the same man, I still need to do the work of weeding out the thoughts that pull me away from experiencing my marriage as it is. As in my gardening, often the worst case of weeds comes from an error in judgment I make within. In fact, over the years the single most threatening conflict to the stability of my marriage has been an inner one, which often arises when I have made some leap in my own development. Ironically, it is the moments when I have come through some challenge with my voice in tact and I feel really sure of myself, when the judgments about what my relationship isn’t most often overtake my thinking. This voice is familiar and compelling, resounding in my head like the truth with a capital “T”. Not unlike some of the weeds I have planted, these thoughts pollinate quickly and completely alter the landscape in what seems like days.
Often before I know it has even happened, my perspective on my relationship is completely altered and the smallest encounters between my husband and I become triggers, confirming my doubts about him and fueling my sense of entitlement about how I should be loved. I am unable to witness how my thoughts on what my husband doesn’t provide overshadows all that he does. I am unaware of the ways that I hurt him and the marriage that I have worked so hard to build. This inner weed dominated the early years of my marriage, almost to its demise. I spent so much time comparing what was to what I though it should be that, not only could I never appreciate the ways that my husband was giving to me, I could never trust the ways that my marriage truly worked.
I know I am not alone, wrestling with this deep inner conflict of comparing what we want and what is, which inevitably grows between most partners over the course of their relationship. Years ago as I worked to right my perspective of the relationship I was in, I had to make myself turn my head from the thoughts that made my relationship unworthy. Pulling weeds in the garden was a worthwhile activity at that time as I came to realize that the garden’s failings were also it’s beauty.
Too many relationships end because they cannot perceive and accept the ways that love is coming to them. As I learned to expand my sensing of what love feels like to include the ways that my husband’s silent presence didn’t leave me alone but actually held me, I got closer to experiencing my real relationship, not the one I longed for in my imagination. This is the natural maturing process that real love demands, this continual vigilance of being present to what is.
Standing in my garden, partially weeded, plants needing pruning or more fertilizer, these are the acts that make a garden an ecosystem of its own design. In my marriage, this growing acceptance of what there was between us, rather than what was missing translated into an appreciation for my husband that he could feel. In turn he became more responsive. As my skills of holding what was both loveable and challenging about him and our relationship side by side grew, so did my understanding that relationships do not exist to meet our needs, a perspective that our very wise marriage counselors had once tried to teach us.
Bob, our therapist used to refer to this as grown up love, this holding of the difficult with the loved is a way to see the relationship as its own ecosystem. As such, it became easy to recognize that the needs of the relationship are different from and more important than the needs of either partner. Keeping the relationship safe was the job of both partners, which meant not only accepting the ways each person showed up, but also taking responsibility for meeting our own emotional needs. While it isn’t unreasonable for me to want to feel beautiful or interesting in my marriage, it is unfair to everyone and to the relationship itself to have those feelings become a measure of our marriage.
Lasting relationships are not a stroke of luck, they are the collective efforts of vigilantly weeding your own thinking to stay with the relationship you have, not the one that lives in your mind. I married in the spring so that I would always be reminded of new life that is always at hand when you have the clarity to look for the good in what you are living. Pull some weeds, it will be good for your relationship.