Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Nurturing your relationship

There once was a beautiful hibiscus hedge in front of an apartment I lived in. During the dry season, when the earth was parched and water became scarce, I would awake to a daily miracle – red and pink flowers, radiant in the sunlight, swaying gently in the breeze. I used to feel secure behind its shield. I never needed drapes and could walk around semi-clothed with no bother of Peeping Toms.

Compared with my neighbors who were both excellent gardeners, I was a negligent caretaker. The full extent of my care consisted of bringing in a creaky old gardener who charged way too much for lopping off the top branches when they threatened to tangle with the electricity wires. I cannot underscore how much I took this plant for granted.

Then one day my hibiscus became invaded by parasites. They ravaged the plant, spreading an ugly white coating on its leaves, quickly killing off the bloom.

At first I refused to accept the obvious, so desperate was I to believe that the plant could survive. But eventually, accepting its inevitable death, I hired the same old gardener to spray, cut, and burn. I absented myself during the operation, realizing belatedly that I cared more than my haphazard approach to gardening indicated.

Afterwards, contemplating the dried stumps where the hibiscus used to be – detritus of a war fought and lost – I found myself reflecting on a similar battle I myself had lost. Another woman had invaded a relationship I was involved in, and before I knew it, the man and I were history.

Of course I considered her a parasite at the time, but in truth, her invasion was only part of the story. Clearly he had been ready to move on. After all, he had not made any attempt at resisting her attentions.

And I have since remained fascinated by the manipulations that some people use to invade the relationships of others. And although one hand can never clap – these folks succeed only because one or both parties in the relationship allow them to – you have to admit that there are some seriously manipulative folks out there who will stop at nothing to exploit the crack in your bond.

I have also observed some interesting gender differences in techniques of invasion. Some women insinuate their way into a man’s relationship by whispering sexual promises of things they would or could do that his mate apparently will not. Others use the pity approach, getting the man to feel sorry for them, confiding in him all of the awful things that their current or past partner did or should not have done. Before he knows it, our boy is playing the role of the rescuing hero. And presto he’s hooked.

Some men use the subtle technique of bad-mouthing. They sit back like a cat and wait for the woman to open up about her relationship. And as she begins to complain – and which women doesn’t at some point? – they pounce, and exploit her insecurity.

Regardless of gender, the worst kind of intruder is the one that invades your relationship while pretending to be your friend. These are the true parasites. They invite confidences and make other pretences at friendship, all the while stabbing you in the back.

Can a relationship resist this kind of invasion? Of course it can. But it takes teamwork. Both partners must maintain the same focus – achieving a parasite-resistant union. It helps to never take the relationship for granted. To pay attention to its needs so that it can develop and grow. To maintain an emphasis on nurturing. To cut back and discard all dead weight to allow new growth. To prune and fertilize regularly. To never let the relationship wither. But not to overfeed it either because this too can be toxic.

It helps also to spray regularly to avoid parasites. But use approaches that are friendly to the environment. There’s no need to kill off these bugs. Simple repelling will suffice.

Finally, aerate the soil so that the roots of the relationship can breathe freely. Never become so fearful that you don’t give each other room to grow. Relationships, like plants, need space to breathe.

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