Would you believe it if I told you that a few weeks ago this fiddle leaf tree was on its last leg? The leaves were brown and black and dropping all over the floor after only living with me for about 14 days.
It seemed like a lost cause and I considered walking it downstairs and dropping it in the dumpster. But, I didn’t. I did change anything but used the “sit and wait” method to see if things got better. Of course, they didn’t. I was frustrated because I had spent good money on this thing,
I decided to ask for advice. I looked to google, my father in law, and colleagues for ideas on how to save my tree. I was given many ideas – “oh, it is getting too much water!” or frustratingly enough, “it is getting too little water!”, “maybe it is just getting used to it’s new environment” or “the sunlight isn’t right in this room”.
Although I asked for the advice and wanted to save my tree, my internal reaction to feedback was to ignore, become defensive (“I already give it enough water!”), or cast blame (” I bet they sold me a sick plant!)
I continued to let it go for another week, but then worried what my clients would think of me with this brown, deteriorating plant in my office. I decided to take some of the advice I had received and I committed to saving my plant. I moved it further from a window and that didn’t work. More leaves dropped. I gave it less water and that didn’t work. I gave it more water, and, you guessed it, that didn’t work either. My floor was covered in very large and dead leaves.
But, one day, I came into my office and my tree was revived. Something had worked. Maybe I finally moved it to the right amount of sunlight or figured out a rhythm for watering it. Or maybe it just adjusted to it’s new home. Perhaps it was both us.
I see this as a metaphor for relationships. When are relationships are in poor health we often have funny ways of reacting. Some use the sit and wait method. You look ahead to the future and think “when [fill in the blank] happens we will be happier”. This method rarely works. Wherever you are, there you are.
At other times we ignore. We distance. We pretend the issue is not there and hope one day that the dying leave won’t bother us as much.
And, yet, other times, we ask for advice. We are brave and we say “we are struggling here…what can we do to make it better?”. These types of couples are ready for change. They want it to improve. They realize they need action.
Then comes the frustration of change. It is a normal human reaction to resist change and the way that couples do this is to employ defensiveness and criticism. Defensiveness and criticism are two ways that couples send the message “it is not me because it is you” or “it is not me, it is something bigger than me and I don’t want to tackle it”.
With defensiveness we hear “What do you mean I don’t give you enough attention?” (what do you mean I don’t water you!)”. With critcism we hear “you are the problem here” (“I just ended up with a bad seed!).
However, when you are ready to recognize there is a problem, that it will take action to solve it, and that the best way to do that is to take responsibility for your part, then your relationship will grow and improve. It will certainly be trial and error but over time you will see regrowth.
Moral of the story: Don’t toss things unless you’ve given them your very best attempt at saving them.
Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT is Pennsylvania Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Center City, Philadelphia. She is passionate about supporting couples improve their relationships by increasing friendship, intimacy, and conflict resolution and by supporting them in developing a plan and dream for their future.
In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family and learning how to keep plants alive.