Seven Lessons about Relationships from Mother Nature
We are fortunate to live in an agrarian community, particularly in Kentucky where the crops and foliage all around us go through four such gloriously distinct seasons. Some of the things we see in the natural world around us teach us a lot about living things that we can’t see, such as relationships.
Different kinds of relationships have characteristics unique to them. At first glance, there seems to be more differences than similarities in relationships between lovers, friends, parents and children, and relationships and the business community. But all four of these kinds of relationships have a lot in common, similarities they share with other living things.
You may not think of relationships as living things, like a plant or tree. But to me they are all living things: they were born, they grow, they need to be fed, they may get sick, they produce fruit, they reproduce new life, and they will die. As I continually encounter all four kinds of relationships in my office that need some attention, here are some lessons I have learned to teach them from Mother Nature.
- Relationships need to be rooted. They cannot withstand the pressures of human life without being rooted in a supportive community of traditions, family and friends. Like plants that are blown over by the storms of life from lack of depth in their roots, relationships will dry up, unless they care about the context from which their human resources draw their life.
- Relationships need to be fed. To keep them alive, people need to feed their relationships continually, by sharing progressively more of themselves with each other. A healthy relationship diet includes nutrients such as time, effort, money, sacrifice, and communication.
- Relationships need a balanced diet. Just as crops need their water, sunlight, and soil nutrients to be in careful ecological balance, so do relationships need to be fed a balanced diet. Too much or too little of one nutrient in proportion to another puts stress on a relationship.
- Relationships need to adapt to their environment. They must continually adapt to meet the changing needs of their partners in responding to their ever-changing lives. New communication and experiences are like the fresh foliage, fruits, and seeds that a plant creates out of what it contacts. Unless a relationship is growing this way, it is dying.
- Relationships need to be pruned. Plants that are not pruned periodically will not bear much fruit. Likewise, a healthy relationship must be pruned by detachment, by periodically removing those commitments, experiences, people, policies and programs inside it which were perhaps once helpful, but which now drain the relationship of its personal fruit (its caring, warmth, loyalty, honesty, creativity, wisdom, optimism, resilience, etc.).
- Relationships need protection from outside threats. Taking new people and experiences into a relationship needs to be done carefully, to screen out disease. Like spraying crops with herbicides, healthy relationships must be protected from others who like weeds and parasites would choke out their life. They need to avoid close alliances with folks who were never their supporters, and those that once were, but now threaten to infect, strangle or compete with the relationship.
- Relationships need time to grow through their various seasons. Long-term relationships are like perennial plants. Over time, they will go through periods of starting new purposes and phases (springtime), getting very efficient and productive (summer), sharing the fruits of their labors with other people (harvest), and then resting from active relationship (in winter, plants need to lie dormant and fields need to lie fallow).
Failure to allow wintertime rest leads to relationships getting overheated and burned-out. For example, some lovers fall in love with a pain-killing rebound partner, instead of taking time to rebalance their personal lives after losing a previous partner. Some businesses wear out their employees by not providing enough vacations, sabbaticals, or time away for retraining. Many parents refuse to let go of their children by giving them the space they need when they leave the nest, and again when they get married.
Winter in marriage is complicated in that the two have become one, partners for life, with ongoing closeness typically considered a goal and ideal. Some marriage partners don’t give their mates enough privacy, independence, and space, enough winter when they need it. And when might that be? It might be when one gets emotionally or physically ill, one goes to school or starts a career, one’s parent dies, one’s business gets demanding for awhile, or a child needs one parent’s intense involvement more than the other’s for awhile.
One problem with all relationships is they tend to get stagnant, to forget that they need to adapt and change. That’s when it’s great to go walk outside and see how natural it is to be rooted, to be fed new experiences, to be pruned and protected from outside threats, and to grow through various phases that may require giving each other more space, and for a season, a different diet. It’s all natural, it’s all good, and there is a time for every purpose under heaven.