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Tending The Garden of Your Marriage

     One key separation between humankind and the animal kingdom is our creative ability to fashion utilitarian tools.  Working the hard, dry soil of a new garden on hand and knee with only bare hands is unnecessary in a world where evolving design development has given us every manner of pruners, hoes, rakes, and shovels.  Since I have not proven to be a highly successful gardener, and did not inherit the family green thumb, it is crucial for me to read and research all that I can before using any tool to dig up the soil in my back yard for the lush vegetable garden I’ve always wanted.  Fresh, deep red tomatoes, long dangling string beans and plump squashes will not sprout themselves without my tilling, seeding and watering the soil.

     And yet, many couples today enter marriage without a single tool to make the relationship thrive.  One of the main keys to my marriage has been our combined desire to read and research the ways others have cultivated healthy marriages when ours seems to be choked off by weeds.  I cannot understand the stigma that continues to permeate our culture that seeking counsel is a sign of weakness.  That is like saying that using a sprinkler system to keep your lawn green is weakness; or like me getting down on my hands and knees to dig up the ground for a garden, and ignoring my neighbor’s advice about the soil in our region.  No tools.  No investigation.  Just plunge right in, and if it doesn’t work out, well, then I’ll just sell the house and move to another backyard with other soil I can muck around in.

     This has been America’s modern approach to marriage.  Despite the fact that many of our peers have lived in families where marriages around them have failed, like a dead, wilted and unwatered garden, men and women still expect their own unfertilized, unmanicured, un-cared-for relationships to bloom… supernaturally?

     If my husband and I had not at least started out with an elementary set of tools, we would likely have stopped tending the marriage at all when we hit the rockiest ground, and left each other holding dead and dirty weeds. Thank God we were digging at it with something together, by reading every book, session, seminar or video that we could get our hands on!

     Think about your own relationship.  Have you really done everything you can to equip yourself?  When you have found a deeply rooted mess that you cannot take care of, have you believed the lie that you’ve come across an unsolvable situation, and should run the other way?  Or, have you been a student of marriage?

     As I believe we are all responsible to be our own best health practitioners, I believe we can each be our own best advocate for a healthy marriage.  There is no other relationship in your world that you have chosen and vowed to uphold like your marriage.  You don’t get to choose your parents, your siblings, your neighbors, your coworkers, the commuters who travel the same direction to work, or the service people in your community who may one day rescue you from a life-threatening situation.  While you do choose your friendships, it is extremely unlikely that you set up a day with crowds of witnesses and hired songbirds to commit to remain friends forever!  Instead, friends move away, or you move away, or you come to some impassable crossroads in your friendship, and you find new friends.  For any that last a lifetime you are deeply grateful, and might even express your relationship as one of love.  But, in a marriage two people stand boldly before one another with those closest friends beside them, and make a bonding commitment to each other.  Can you think of another relationship in your life surrounded with ceremony?  Some might point to a religious ceremony: a bar or bat mitzvah, a water submersion baptism or confirmation.  But, other than commitments to God and congregations related to religious affiliation, I cannot think of any other chosen vow in a person’s life.  Marriage is a unique relationship in this way.

     In our “modern” society words like promise have lost their impact.  Corruptions in politics, industry and family have obstructed the concept of a vow, covenant, or promise.  There was a time when a person’s word was lasting, trustworthy and valuable.  We can choose, again, to invoke meaning in this concept.  We can choose to live up to the commitments we make, and dedicate ourselves to being people of integrity.  I want to be a trustworthy person, and I think the best, first place to practice this is in commitments I have already made.  Namely, the one I made to the tall handsome man I fell in love with in 1993.

     One blaring question you might have, now, is Why marriage, anyway?  Why not give up when things turn difficult?  Why try to develop a lasting union?  What’s the point?

     Marriage is unique.  We each crave the security of one enduring love; one other human being who knows us better than anyone else; the same warm body to lie beside each and every night; a person to share our hopes, dreams and future; one we can grow old with; someone we can share with our families; maybe even a partner who will parent our children with us.  When it comes down to it, people enter marriage for many different reasons, but when we stand at the altar and consider our choice to get married, we each expect marriage to last.

     Personally, we believe it is a relationship designed by a relational God.  In marriage we learn selflessness, service, compromise and responsibility—important characteristics that grow us into better citizens for all of society’s sake.  Statistics prove that children raised in once-married/always-married households fare better in all aspects of their own lives - Their grades are steady, their emotions are less volatile, their own romances healthier.

Mixing Metaphors . . .

I think most couples read or recite their vows with a sincere intention to fulfill them.  Unfortunately, however, I don’t think we listen too deeply to our own words as we say them, or consider whether we can truly live up to the commitments we’re making.  In the workplace I would be cautious to commit to a project I might see as overwhelming, or beyond my ability.  I would seek guidance from others in areas where I was weak, because there is a monetary compensation for success that motivates me to be my best.  If I am capable of accomplishing the tasks laid out before me, then I may even be able to advance.  Don’t we tend to be wiser in business than in our marriage relationships?  Aren’t we more protective of our true abilities and capabilities on the job, so that we don’t fall short of our superior’s expectations?  We enjoy challenges so long as they will not bury us in failure.  We enjoy risks because they often deliver exceptional rewards.  We could take a lesson or two for marriage from the business world!

     What is the bottom line in your relationship?  Dividends.  Always dividends.  But the key shift in mentality is from dividends for me to dividends for both of the primary investors (you and your spouse) and all additional parties.  Your marriage is truly not just made up of the two of you, but of a network of friends and family who have also committed to recognizing the two of you as a partnership.  When you choose to walk away from a marriage, it is not only your investments that are lost.  Your parents, your siblings, and the social circle you have developed together–all these, too, must readjust their relational definitions.  They must withdraw from the partnership.  It is devastating to more than just you two.  And if you have children, the effects of the failed merger lead to long-term bankruptcy for them.  You know this, because as a product of “Generation X or Y,” you or your spouse was likely relationally bankrupted at some point from the dissolution of one of your parental partnerships. 

     In our generation’s favor is the fact that we have experienced the pain of divorce through our own childhoods, so we know the bitter taste already.  We really don’t want to go through that again.  And, yet, we often find ourselves incapable of avoiding it, because we feel unequipped to keep it together.

     Congratulations on opening the door to a whole hardware store full of marriage gardening tools!  I am so excited that you want to do everything you can to grow and nurture your marriage, so that it blossoms and thrives!  As you work through the toughest rows to hoe, you will build muscle, and tan in the sun, and others will see you glow with strength. You can serve as an example to newlyweds that no soil is impossible to work, no weeds are impossible to pull, and no marriage should be impossible to save!

Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate. Mark 10:9 NIV

Copyright © 2008-2015 Lisandrea Wentland

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