Most people have an appreciation for and an acceptance of that fact that a relationship doesn’t run smoothly on its own. It takes work, but how many people actually do any work? The answer is very few.
I find that people are coming to me with relationship issues over and over again. When I ask for some history or background, I inevitably see that there is no ‘relationship maintenance’ being done by either partner.
“Relationship maintenance” can be equated to a beautifully kept garden. It didn’t just grow wild and appear beautiful overnight.
It’s more than likely that there were some foundations put in place — for example, a strong surface to hold the garden seat in the peaceful sitting area. Some other areas where beautiful plants are blooming need less preparation. Places where where more wild or natural plants are living freely don’t require as much effort from you. In some parts of the garden there may be a special feature, maybe a water feature or sculpture.
These elements all go into making a garden complete. On their own they don’t look like much, but together they give the garden form, design and a life that can be interesting through all seasons, even when it’s cold.
All this takes time and effort, work and thought. It doesn’t just happen, even if money is thrown at it. It takes time for plants to bed in and settle, to see if they like their new environment.
Relationships are very much like gardens. They need time to settle. They need creativity. They need interest that will see both people through over the long term, not just in the good times.
There are times when your relationship can be left to its own devices, as the wild part of a garden is, but your relationship needs to be cultivated. Old and dying parts need extra care, weeds and bugs need to be monitored and if causing a problem, removed.
One of the best ways I know to create a good relationship is the same philosophy I use in my garden. I look at it over a period of time and see it as a project. Are there times when it looks drab and abandoned or is it always in as good of shape as it can be?
Of course there will be times when both our garden and our relationship will be ravaged by challenges. For the garden, those challenges usually involve extremes of temperature or storms. For our relationships, it’s the things that life throws at us, what I call life’s challenges. We have to work together to overcome them and we have to respond before too much damage is done.
Good relationship maintenance is essential to create a happy and fulfilling environment.
One great way to do this is to have regular weekly or biweekly ‘check-ins,’ regular chats about the state of your relationship. I find it’s best done over coffee or a cup of tea, when you will not be disturbed or distracted and can give your partner your full attention.
It should last only 10 to 20 minutes; if it’s a regular thing, there won’t be a need for long drawn-out chats. When things come up that need addressing but for which you lack the time at the moment, schedule them for your next check-in.
Check-ins are a good way to keep molehills from becoming mountains and it really is a good feeling to deal with things when they are still small and less troublesome.
I have been using the garden/relationship metaphor in my life for several years. The garden may change, but the work needed to maintain it doesn’t. My friends will always ask me, ‘is everything in the garden rosy?’ Of course they know that a garden full of roses would be boring. They have gardens too. Many have check-ins with their partners and most are in healthy, happy relationships.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Mar 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Parkin, P. (2013). Zen & the Art of Relationship Maintenance. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 21, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/03/09/zen-the-art-of-relationship-maintenance/