The Marriage Tree

Growing in different directions is not only good, its healthy.

Terri Hill

3/3/20234 min read

man under tree during daytime
man under tree during daytime

I live in the Piney Woods Forest in East Texas and while there are certainly a plethora of pine trees we also have a vast variety of oak, elm, sweet gum, iron wood, cypress and many more. And when I say I live in the forest, please understand, except for the open pastures we have for our livestock and the beautiful pond, our home actually sits in the woods, and it is magnificent to be surrounded by trees. I adore watching them transform with each season. The tiny buds in the spring, the deep green leaves of summer, then the oranges, reds and yellows of the fall, followed by the bare naked branches of winter. Each season they remind us to enjoy each moment and relish the day because change is inevitable.

One thing in particular that I have come to notice about all the trees is the patterns in which they grow. I already knew that more branches will grow towards the south as that is the direction which receives the most sunlight. However, while walking the dogs one morning before a spring storm arrived, I noticed something else. The tallest and strongest trees often branch off and will have branches growing in opposing directions. Now, part of this is obviously because of sunlight availability, but it's also to balance the integrity of the tree and it's root system. A wider stance, so to speak, will help it stand stronger. The tree is still acting as one, but each side is doing it's part independently to ensure the safety and longevity of the specimen. No one ever walks by a tree growing big beautiful limbs in all directions horizontally and criticizes it for not growing uniformly and straight up together. By spreading itself out, that's where the beauty lies.

But how often do we criticize ourselves or second guess when we want to do something different than our spouse or even our friends? There has been this unfair and often unspoken rule that a couple has to have similar interests in order to have a happy and healthy relationship and you must find a partner that thinks just like you do. While similarities and agreements of some issues are absolutely vital, complete agreement on everything is wishful thinking. Like the trees, we too can branch out and explore our own interests, separate from our spouses or significant others. And we can encourage them to also have their own interests and hobbies. It doesn't make our relationship weaker to enjoy different paths but it actually helps our foundation grow stronger. If we are always only building on top of one another, we may reach height, but we will not gain strength and balance. Then one strong storm and guess which tree is most easily knocked over?

When we have our own identity and interests, we build a separate strength from the marriage. Something that helps define us and keeps us going when things get rough. It can allow us to be stronger for our spouse when they are going through difficult times. If you are always depending solely on each other for strength and support, you will be sucking the nutrients out of each other and there will be very little chance for strong roots to grow. By spreading yourself and finding your own sunshine, your roots stretch deeper and in turn, that is helping the tree ensure it's longevity and ensuring it's ability to weather the toughest storms.

Strengthening ourselves will always strengthen our relationships with others. To be honest, when I am feeling my husband and I are not on the same page or we are fussing over something, the best thing I can do for our relationship is not to try to immediately find resolution. Instead, I will step back and focus on doing something to distract my mind that has nothing to do with my husband or the issue. I'm stretching my branches out and getting my own sunshine, so to speak. I'm "feeding" myself so I can strengthen my core before going back to dealing with the problem. Sometimes I will go for a walk or a drive or I'll retreat into the kitchen to cook something. I've plopped down on the sofa with the dogs - we have seven - and binge watch something on Netflix. If I'm really angry I'll clean house or do a workout. First, this allows me the opportunity to calm down. It also gives me time to formulate my thoughts and words, but mainly it's for me to take a breather and not say something in haste I will later regret. During this time, I am not working on controlling my relationship, but rather I'm working on controlling myself. I'm tending to my own branches and my own root system. Sometimes this takes a hour, and sometimes, if I'm being perfectly honest, it can take days or weeks. It is ok to love your partner and want to stay connected to them forever, but in the meantime, to also need your own space.

Relationships are hard in general. Marriage can be positively glorious with all the beautiful milestones you share as a couple and a family, but it can also be very difficult. There can be just as many agonizing, tearful and infuriating milestones as well. The sign of a successful marriage or relationship isn't the absence of conflict, but the ability to ride through it and come out stronger. When you consider how the overwhelming majority of trees are built to withstand hurricanes and tornadoes with very little permanent damage, it's not so far fetched to believe that we are built similarly.