One of my earliest memories of moving out from my parents and into my own place is of buying a plant.
I’m not sure if it was actually my first plant (as people may have given me some previously), but it was the first one that I bought. I had stopped at the mall on the way home from school, and there were some tables set up with a couple of old ladies selling things as part of some church fund raiser.
I was initially drawn to the table for the baking (because really, who doesn’t love cookies), but while there I also bought a small fig tree.
When I bought the plant, it was a twig with a few leaves on it. I loved that little tree, and it came to represent a change in my apartment. This little touch of green added some life to my apartment, and as I changed apartments a few times over the next few years it was one of my constants. It continued to thrive and grow, eventually hitting around 4 or 5 feet tall.
Wherever I was, this tree helped me feel that my apartment wasn’t just a little concrete box that I rented. Instead, it was my home.
I live in a diverse climate with four distinct seasons. Our summers tend to be sunny and hot. Our winters on the other hand, well, they’re pretty damned cold.
Unfortunately one of my many moves in those years happened during winter; and even the trip from apartment to moving vehicle back to new apartment is not kind on plants.
Over the next few days my fig tree dropped all of its leaves, until there was nothing left but branches. And then, even they started to wither and die.
I was pretty upset. Most things to me are just that – “things”, and easily replaceable. But this tree had come to mean more.
My roommate told me it was dead and said I should just throw it out. But for some reason I didn’t (I’m still not sure why, likely just stubbornness on my part). I continued to water it, and as branches died I trimmed them down.
Then one day I saw green again.
The tree as it was had died. It was gone, and wasn’t coming back. But from the roots a small shoot had come up.
Above ground the tree had died. But the roots were still alive, and were strong enough to support new life.
I believe this happens in relationships all the time.
Long term relationships are difficult for a number of reasons, but hedonic adaptation is probably the biggest killer of all. It’s human nature for the good in our lives to become our new normal, and when this happens we start taking the good for granted and instead start seeing the flaws.
If you think of the relationship as a living entity (such as a tree), it’s very common for people to stop putting in the effort that nurtures growth. We put all this effort into building the relationship, but once we actually have it we feel safe, and we stop putting the effort in.
Instead we neglect the relationship and put our energies into other things. The kids, our jobs, our hobbies, our friends, maintaining a household. All these things are important, and “have to be done”, and with a crunch on time our relationships are the most common casualty.
We stop putting in effort. Then one day we find ourselves both surprised and hurt to find that our relationship has “died”.
The passion is gone.
The love is gone.
The simple enjoyment of being around each other is gone.
We find ourselves asking, is this all there is? Is this what marriage really looks like?
Some resign themselves to this, believing this is just what happens over time. Others withdraw even further into individual pursuits, not realizing they are just making things worse and laying a foundation for potential affairs (on one or both sides). Others accept that things the relationship has run its course, and split up.
I don’t believe any of those options ever has to be the outcome of a struggling relationship. Loveless relationships aren’t just what happens over time. You should always be able to find enjoyment and joy at continuing to build your relationship with your partner. No matter how things are, they can always be improved.
My old fig tree IS dead. It’s gone.
But I was able to bring it back to life (In fact, that’s a picture of it at the top).
Because under the surface the roots were still alive, and from those roots a new tree has grown.
This new tree is not the same as the old one, and that’s alright.
It may not be the same, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.
It’s been over 15 years since my fig tree “died”, but the new one is vibrant and thriving.
When relationships “fail”, rebuilding it is often the hardest choice.
Because in order to rebuild, you need to believe that it can be beautiful again. And depending on what you’ve been through, that can be very hard to do. It becomes almost impossible however, if you are unable to let go of your visions of how it used to be.
Truly, it will never be the same.
But it doesn’t have to be.
The question is, is there still life in the roots of the relationship? Do both people still care, and are they willing to put in effort?
If so, a new relationships can be built.
When a couple is able to put aside hurt, ego, and still choose each other, the new relationship they build can be even stronger than the one they had before.