Most of us don't 'design' our relationships consciously, we're more likely to stumble and/or bumble along in the hopes that they'll grow in the right direction. They usually catch our attention only when things have gone wrong and we scramble around trying to stop things from unraveling.
But imagine if we put the same thought and attention into building a relationship as we do to creating a productive, efficient garden, increasing our vegetable yields and improving water harvesting?
Here are some parallels I drew whilst recently learning about Permaculture and its relevance to relationship.
A relationship is a growing organism, create the right environment and it will thrive. Mulching offers several things including nourishment, protection and effective action with least effort. So how do you mulch a relationship? By paying attention and being more observant, learning to listen, understand & communicate more openly; simple gestures of care and affection can bring about amazing changes rapidly.
2. Greater productivity lies at the Edges
Relationships have their growing – and dying – 'edges'. Just before a relationship is about to move to the next phase there will be a great deal of productivity. Sometimes that can be arguments, disagreements, upsets and misunderstandings. It can also be feelings of deeper connection, greater love, more respect and trust.
Either way there will be an increase in emotional 'productivity'. Be curious about the emotions, about what changes are occurring, we can use this productivity wisely to build a strong and more resilient next phase.
3. Design for co-operation rather than competition
Make sure your companion planting takes everyone's needs into consideration! Just like a plant, we communicate our wellbeing by healthy productivity. It is really important to understand that some people compete to win and some to lose and those who compete to lose will do so in order to win later. Both styles of competition uses up nutrients in the relationship soil. A healthy relationship design is one where everyone thrives and feels valued.
4. Use the least effort to create the biggest effect
This translates simply as 'be authentic'. It is the small, genuine gestures that work the most effectively. The language of the heart is the communication that resonates most clearly, goes the deepest and lasts the longest.
5. The yield is only limited by the imagination of the designer
Every relationship is deserving of a Vision, what Vision do you have for your relationship? What do you believe is possible? What yield are you hoping for (closeness, co-operation, laughter, trust, forgiveness)? If the yield seems low, it may be time for you to study the relationship from a new perspective, to open up your imagination and get creative!
6. Appropriate technology is that which can be easily applied
If your relationships are hard work and feel like you're trying to push the river uphill, its a sign that you are going against the natural flow. Stop. Give yourself some breathing space and think about what is really being called for and what it is you are capable of giving, easily, authentically and wholeheartedly.
7. Start small and work out from well managed areas
It helps to assess what is working well and build on it. Trying to make big changes or address difficult challenges can seem frightening and overwhelming. Learning to chunk things down in to manageable pieces helps relieve the stress and creates a better focus.
8. Turn problems into solutions
Weeds and pests get into relationships too. They're made up of beliefs, thoughts and experiences we bring from the past and can take hold in a relationship, creating feelings of suffocation and heartbreak. 10% of pain in a relationship comes from the present, 90% is old childhood hurt being recycled. I often see relationships blossom when people discover that hiding beneath the pain is a new level of connection and friendship.
9. Mistakes are opportunities for learning
To embrace this principle we need to retrain our minds to see mistakes differently; not as a something deserving punishing but as behaviour that simply need correcting. It can be scary at first to open up and talk about mistakes and misunderstandings, it makes us feel vulnerable and defenceless.
The safest and most effective tool in relationship is empathy, it takes the charge out of situations and makes space for forgiveness. Forgiveness means being willing to 'yield' to 'give way'. But if we look at the productive concept of 'yield' you can see how forgiveness is a way to improve harvest!
10. Everything Gardens
To live a meaningful life it is important to give everything meaning. Everything that happens in our life, every event, every encounter is helping us to grow and evolve as individuals. We are all on a journey to fulfilling our potential; the events and lessons we are presented with are there to help us be more productive, if we have the eyes to see it.
Just like the Earth, relationships are a rich and precious resource. Once we view them as source of opportunities for growth and development, any emotion or experience becomes the organic matter to be composted and processed in order to promote growth, health and well-being.
With a strong focus on transformational communication and personal development Kim says "Human beings are wired for connection and built for relationships. I believe much of our unhappiness comes from a loss of connection. If we lack effective tools to communicate and problem solve about it, the increased distance deepens misunderstandings and prevents hurt feelings from being resolved. Sometimes it takes a little courage to learn new skills and reverse this trend – but the rewards are infinite".
Based in Hampshire, UK, Kim offers Relationship Training in innovative emotional intelligence skills.
Interested in this approach to permaculture? You may also be interested in People and Permaculture - caring and designing for ourselves, each other and the planet by Looby Macnamara.