What’s good for your garden may also be good for your relationship

“Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex,the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”

― Bill Mollison, Founder and director of the Permaculture Institute

The other day when I was out for my morning walk I saw the season’s first crocuses peaking their bright yellow heads out from the still muddy, cold ground. And so, spring is on my mind, even if it’s not exactly in the air yet. And in our household spring means tending to our garden that will nourish us well into the fall.

When planning our garden, we had to take one very important factor into account: We are both pretty lazy gardeners. We would much rather spend time at the table relishing in wonderfully fresh fruits and vegetables that come from our garden than we would toiling away pulling weeds and watering. Fortunately, we took this into consideration as we planned our garden and we designed much of our garden around the principles of permaculture.

In permaculture, the idea is to design self-maintained and sustainable ecosystems which are modeled from the natural environment. In other words, keep it simple, tend to the basics, and follow the path that mother nature has charted for us.

And it turns out that works well in the garden, may also serve us well in our relationships.  I recently came across an article by Kim Millar, a relationship coach in the UK and an avid permaculturist, entitled “Do you mulch your relationships?” In it, she talks about how various permalture principles such as designing for cooperation rather than competition, and using the least effort to create the biggest effect, may be just as effective in producing abundant, sustainable relationships as they are at producing abundant, sustainable gardens.

One of the core ideas in permaculture is to start with identifying a long-term vision for what you eventually want your garden (or in this case your relationship) to yield. That vision then guides how you design the environment so that it will naturally nurture what you are wanting to produce.  Permaculturists are in it for the long haul. This is not the kind of gardening where you choose some pretty already-in-bloom annuals from Home Depot and watch them die in a few short months only to have to start all over again the next season. Creating a vision means being intentional about what you ultimately want to work towards; in ACT we would call that your “values”.

As you read this post, you might take a moment to consider the following questions: How sustainable are your relationships? Do you find you’re putting in more time “working on them” than you are relishing in their bounties? If so, you may want to take a few pages from the permaculture playbook. Yes, relationships take work. You do need to tend to them in order for them to thrive. However, when relationships are built on a solid foundation, when we are intentional about their design, and when they are regularly nourished and nurtured, they can be sustainable and can nourish us for years to come.

Author: Jenna LeJeune, Ph.D

Jenna LeJeune, Ph.D. is co-founder and President of Portland Psychotherapy Clinic, Research, and Training Center in Portland, Oregon. As a clinical psychologist, Jenna specializes in working with clients struggling with relationship difficulties, including problems with intimacy and sexuality, trauma-related relationship challenges, and struggles people have in their relationship with their own bodies. She is the co-author of the forthcoming book, “Values in Therapy: A Clinician’s Guide to Helping Clients Explore Values, Increase Psychological Flexibility, and Live a More Meaningful Life.” Jenna is also a peer-reviewed ACT trainer and provides ACT trainings to professionals around the world.


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