What Do Relationships and Trees Have in Common?
Healthy relationships are like plants – they blossom when they are nurtured. Just as professional networks are a critical part of business success, our personal relationships are vital to living a happy fulfilled life. Our relationships help us learn, grow, and thrive.
But do all relationships deserve our tender loving care? What of those people who come into our lives and take without ever giving anything in return? You know the ones. If we’re honest with each other, we’ve all been this person at some point in our lives. True?
So, which relationships in life are worth fighting for and which ones no longer serve you? Do you know how to tell the difference and how to nurture and grow the important ones?
The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special too.” ~Ernest Hemingway
The 1st Key To Healthy Relationships Requires Awareness: Know When To Let Them Go
I love Tyler Perry’s Madea skit where he uses a poignant metaphor to encourage his nephew who is upset about losing his girlfriend. He tells his nephew that relationships are like trees.
He explains that some people who come into our lives are the leaves on our tree – they bring beauty and interest to our lives, but they change directions with the wind and soon leave. We will suffer if we try to hang onto these shallow relationships because they were only meant to bring us joy (or learning) for a season. Learn to let them go.
Don’t let your fears of self-doubt and loneliness make you try to hold onto these seasonal relationships. Appreciate what these people brought into your life and release them with the wind. For their purpose has been served, and just as the spring promises new growth, so you shall find new joy.
“I know I am but summer to your heart, and not the full four seasons of the year.” ~Edna St. Vincent Millay
Other people who come into our lives are the branches of our trees. They stick around a little longer and help us learn something new (or learn from us), but they too are gone during the first bad storm.
Often times, we are not sure why they left, but we assume we did something wrong. Or we fall into the trap of blaming the other person for things not working out. Trying to hang onto these relationships can also cause us suffering and despair if we are unwilling to see the benefits that each person gained and acknowledge that this relationship was not designed to weather the storm. Here again, it is critical for our growth to bless and release them.
Don’t let your fears of loss and rejection prevent you from recognizing that these relationships served a valuable purpose for both parties. These types of relationships are necessary for learning and growth, so don’t take these losses personally or try to shift all the blame. These negative responses (and your preoccupation with the past) prevent your growth by forcing you to remain stuck in suffering. Be thankful for the lessons learned or taught and move forward.
Then there are the people who are the roots of our tree – they run long and deep, grounding and centering us. These are the people who know us better than we know ourselves and who stick with us through good times and bad. These are the people in our lives who see things in us we don’t see in ourselves, who love us when we feel unlovable. Just like roots, these relationships are deep and meaningful and they are the connections we must cherish and nurture.
Think of the current relationships in your life. Who are your leaves and branches? Who are your roots? Are you able and willing to let go of the relationships that no longer serve you? Or do your fears prevent you from blessing and releasing these people so you can move forward?
The 2nd Key To Healthy Relationships: Own Your Faults
With important relationships, we sometimes find ourselves focused on changing the other person rather than focusing on the changes we need to make in ourselves.
If you find yourself struggling with an important relationship and you’re placing blame or judging the other person, it might be time to pause and look in the mirror. Often times, the shortcomings we detect in others are a result of the things we don’t like about ourselves. It’s hard to admit that this is true. But it is.
Psychologists refer to this self-protective behavior as “projection,” a term coined and defined by Sigmund Freud. This defense mechanism comes into play when we project our own uncomfortable thoughts and feelings about ourselves onto others to avoid dealing with these painful emotions. So, ‘I don’t love me’ becomes ‘you don’t love me’. It’s easy to see that this approach won’t help you sustain lasting relationships because it invalidates the other person’s true feelings.
Don’t let your fear of acknowledging the truth about yourself blind you. Creating lasting healthy relationships starts with being honest with yourself by accepting and dealing with your own shortcomings versus projecting them onto others. If you find yourself placing all the blame on the other person, ask yourself, “How is this grievance also true about myself?” and “What changes can I personally make to accept and deal with my own shortcomings?”
The 3rd Key To Healthy Relationships: ALWAYS Put The Other Person First
True compassion is giving freely to the important relationships in your life without expectations. When you expect to get everything back in return, you tarnish the gifts that you have given. Focus on the other person’s needs versus your own.
A great example of this can be found in the 2008 movie, Fireproof, about a fire fighter whose relationship with his wife is figuratively going up in flames. Both Caleb and his wife, Catherine, are frustrated and dissatisfied with their relationship. They are ready to throw in the towel, even if it means getting divorced.
But Caleb’s father convinces him to make one last effort through a 40-day experiment known as the “The Love Dare.” In this challenge, Caleb must shift his focus (from himself and what he’s not getting out of the relationship) to expressing unconditional love for his wife for 40 days without expecting anything back in return.
Although Caleb is discouraged when his wife initially ignores and even shuns his attempts to show her his love, he stays true to the cause, focusing solely on fulfilling her needs. By the end of the 40-day experiment, their entire relationship is transformed by his unconditional love and Caleb discovers how much his wife truly desires and loves him. This is the transformative power of focusing on the other person in a relationship.
“Forgive the past. It is over. Learn from it and let go. People are constantly changing and growing. Do not cling to a limited, disconnected, negative image of a person in the past. See that person now. Your relationship is always alive and changing.” ~Brian L. Weiss
Our life is enhanced by the relationships we build, but not all relationships are created equal. Identify those that are most important to you and invest and nurture them so they thrive.
Don’t let your fears prevent you from letting go of the ones that no longer serve you. Every relationship serves a purpose and offers each person a valuable life lesson. When a relationship dissolves, take what you learned and make any necessary changes in yourself so you are ready for the next one that comes along.
When you find yourself struggling with a “root” relationship, preserve and rekindle the connection by being quick to listen and slow to blame, owning your own faults, and always putting the other person’s needs in front of your own. You will be surprised how this can turn the tides and open you both up to giving and receiving more than ever before.
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