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.
11 thoughts on “When Roots Run Deep”
I’m so glad you made this concept into a log post. It’s wise and true and beautiful. It has value.
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I’ve been thinking about this one for a few years now. When things kind of fell apart for me, I knew that we had a lot of good and I wanted to try to find a way to keep things together while improving on whatever was the source of problems for us. I recognized that no matter what happened, the future would not look like the past and I needed to be able to accept that – which is what got me thinking about my tree.
I know, it’s just a tree. But for years now it’s been symbolic to me on what CAN happen.
Not sure if you followed the link to “it will never be the same”. That’s a personal favorite post which has barely any views. But it touches on this in a slightly different way.
Thanks for the comment.
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I’ll have to look for it! don’t think I’ve seen it before.
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I posted it over a year ago, and I linked to it in this post. But the direct link is https://thezombieshuffle.com/2015/06/06/it-will-never-be-the-same/
About to celebrate 15 years of waking up every day and choosing to love. It is a journey and it is not for the faint of heart. And it is definitely not mushy or flirty. It is sacrificial. Love this! Love your writing.
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The way I see it, love changes – but MANY people have a hard time reconciling that and start to believe something is wrong when the romantic/discovery period has faded.
I think a lot of relationships fail unnecessarily, and people would be much happier if they could accept their partner for who they actually are instead of focusing on who they are not.
Congrats on 15 years!!!
I really like reading your blog always giving me some insights and so true! Yes, I did the same with my old plants and believing it will come again which happened and leaving it to my friend in NZ when I left the Country last year. I agree with you about relationships as well.
You said: “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.”
This is so true! I think it’s the hopelessness that can be the hardest thing to overcome. Especially if you’ve been stuck in a bad pattern for years. And tried lots of things that haven’t worked.
Everyone is different of course but for me it helps me to read books, resources etc. so that I can see that there is a way out of the hopelessness.
Lots of different things to try. Things that have been proven to help improve marriages.
There is a lot that can be done with only one person in the relationship. Because you change the relationship when you change yourself. But ultimately both people have to be willing to exert some effort to change to get to a really healthy marriage.
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Yeah, I agree with everything you’ve said here.
In many ways, I don’t understand hopelessness. I’ve always believed that the only thing in the world I can control is my own choices, and my own responses to things around me. However just that gives me a considerable amount of power over my own life and happiness. So hopeless? Nothing is ever really hopeless, and no matter where you are things can always improve. Belief in that is huge to me.
Marriage is a tough one though, because it involves two people. And although I can control my own choices and actions, at best I can influence someone elses. You are right that one person can do a lot to change things. There comes a point though that you can only try to lead by example for so long. If your partner isn’t working on things in the way that you want, the only thing you can really do is choose to accept things (and them) as they are, or decide the relationship is no longer one that is healthy for you to be in.
You have a great advantage over many people if your brain sees hope and change in situations!
I have to fight my dysfunctional thoughts to get there. I’m a big problem solver person. Have a problem? Come up with 5 different ways to solve it. It’s all good if one of those work out. The hopelessness comes when the problem is still there or worse after much effort.
And as you said it’s REALLY hard when another person is involved. And their way of doing or not doing things makes it worse for me.
That requires a huge amount of maturity and resilience to keep going. To dig deep and keep working.
And there is a cost benefit calculation too. Some relationships are very one sided in the effort. And then the effort must go into seeing if that can be changed by not over functioning or setting boundaries or whatever.
It’s hard sometimes to figure out what the “right” thing to do is. How much do you accept? How much do you change yourself? How much is just not acceptable?
I don’t have those answers because they are subjective. What one person finds intolerable another would be ok with.
And many different styles of relationships can be healthy. Though some fall outside of style differences into abuse.
So I’m focusing on tolerating style/opinion differences. That’s my latest push towards individual maturity. But the amount of effort I put into tolerating depends on the relationship involved.
I put a lot of effort into tolerating my mother’s opinions that I find offensive but I put little effort into tolerating the same opinion from a stranger for example. I just try and remove myself.
Otherwise you have no energy left for your important relationships.
And even with my mother I’ve had to set boundaries and limit time since it floods me so much and then I have little energy left for my husband or my kids differences.
And I have to limit some of it with my husband and kids or else I have none left for myself. It’s all very hard to balance sometimes.
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I’m also a big problem solver, and (to my detriment at times) have a fairly analytical mind. One of the biggest things for me has been accepting that some problems can’t be solved, and that’s alright. Because it all comes down to trade-offs (see today’s post).
There is no perfect, ever. Everything has good and bad, and if I want to have the good I need to be able to accept the bad as well.
What you mention about effort, and being one sided is definitely an area of challenge. We all want equality. But really, how in the world do you even start to measure that? Even if we could accurately measure it, effort will never be 50/50 – and it shouldn’t have to be. The problem for me becomes, what’s acceptable? Is 60/40? 70/30? 95/5? At different times, depending on what it happening in life, people will only be able to handle different amounts. And I guess that’s part of the beauty of marriage. At the times when you are really struggling for whatever reason, hopefully your partner will be able/willing to pick up more of the slack for you.
Effort is HUGE to me though. Things may not have to be equal at all, but I HAVE to see that someone is actually trying. And not just them saying “I’m trying”, I need to see it, and see evidence of it in some way.
You mention balance, and I think that’s probably the biggest struggle of all in relationships. Balance. What is the balance between me and we? Between being a parent, and being partner. Finding a balance is SOOO hard. And I think a big struggle in many relationships is that with all the other demands on a persons life, the relationship is often prioritized last. There’s a thinking that “we see each other all the time anyhow”, so minimal effort is put in to growing or even maintaining the relationship.
Then one day a couple wakes up and realizes the connection has broken down, and they don’t really know each other anymore.