In Parker Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak, he talks about how we use the word “make” a lot. We use it when we talk about making friends, babies, and love. But in order for these things to be healthy, we need to be growing them instead. We need to be growing friends, babies, and love. That’s how real development happens.
The same is true for our relationships. Healthy relationships aren’t made. They’re grown. Kute Blackson writes,
“The real purpose of a relationship is about two people coming together to serve the growth and evolution of each other’s soul.”
A healthy relationship is like a plant. It can become stagnant, wilt, or die when we fail to take care of it. Like a plant, our relationships need the following things to be healthy and grow:
Our relationships need happy, joyful times, and positive experiences. They need the light of open communication and honesty. If there is anything troubling us, we need to bring these things into the light. If they remain in the dark, the problems become like a fungus that harms the relationship. As Louis Brandeis said, “Sunlight is known to be the best disinfectant.”
For a plant, water provides structural support and moves minerals to all the right places. In a relationship, the challenges that arise are like water. When handled well, challenges can bring two people together and provide opportunities to give each other much needed support. They also help us move our attention to the places that may need work. And like water, we need just enough challenges over time to build a healthy relationship and support structure. Too much and we drown. Too little and we not be able to handle the water load if a bigger challenge hits.
Within our relationships, we need space and freedom to be who we are. Without enough space, we feel closed in and cannot grow into the person we are meant to be. This means accepting people for who they are, not who we want them to be. We can’t make a daisy be a rose. We must allow the daisies in our lives enough space to grow and be the best daisies they can be.
Along with space, a relationship also needs a defined sense of what works and what doesn’t. Boundaries are about teaching each other how we want to be treated. Without a clear sense of what’s okay and not okay, relationships can potentially lose shape and grow in unhealthy ways. This involves communicating to each other what’s acceptable and what’s not.
When problems arise, they need to be addressed and taken care of as they happen. If they aren’t, they can quickly overtake the relationship and become much bigger problems. Pluck those weeds when they pop up.
Most importantly, healthy relationships need a foundation rich in trust, honesty and communication. Without good soil, a relationship will struggle to survive. The soil of a relationship needs to be fed regularly to keep it from becoming depleted. This involves taking the time to regularly talk and actively listen to what matters to each person, then demonstrating to others with our words and actions that those things matter to us as well.
Above all, relationships need to grow and change as the people in them grow and change. You must grow together or you will grow apart. Sometimes growth is hard. Sometimes it’s messy. But if we take the steps to care for it, a relationship will grow in healthy ways and be a place for both people to thrive and bloom.