Our house was built in 1968, and whoever did the landscaping was most definitely not thinking about the mature versions of our trees and shrubs. We have two spruce trees in our back yard, both of which are way too close to other plants. The yew that was planted at one corner of our shed to provide balance to the yew at the other corner is enmeshed in one of the spruces. And our beautiful lilac bush blooms only on one side because the other side is stuck in our other spruce and it is growing through the fence (which needs to be replaced). We have several other shrubs that were planted right at the property line on the other side of the yard and are now pushing the fence over.

If you’ve ever done any landscaping, you know you need to be future-oriented. Good planting requires you to think about the size and needs of the plant at maturity. It can be hard to imagine. Those cute little baby trees and bushes look so lonely when they’re planted at their proper distance.

Approaches to Landscaping

When I’ve driven through neighborhoods with new construction, the landscaping is practically non-existent. There will be grass seed or sod laid out across the dirt, and there will often be quite a few homes where this is all the landscaping there is for a while. Every year, one or two items are added in these yards, and the landscaping slowly grows into itself and takes shape.

I often see some homes that look like full landscaping sprouted overnight, with all the spaces filled in so tightly that nothing looks empty at all. These are the ones with the trees and shrubs all planted too close together simply because they look nicer that way now—but nothing has room to grow.

Sometimes, though, I’ll see a yard that has been fully landscaped overnight, but with the proper spacing between plants. The saplings still look a little lonely, because room for growth was part of the design.

I’ve listened to people talk about doing their landscaping:

“Yeah, I know you’re supposed to plant them farther apart, but I just figure I’ll make it look nice for now and when it gets too crowded later, some of them can come out.”

“It says to plant them ten feet apart, but I don’t see what the big deal is.”

“I have the shovel out anyway and might as well just put everything in so I don’t have to worry about it later.”

You know, it isn’t exactly an easy thing to remove a tree or dig up a shrub or move something to a better spot. How things look above ground doesn’t always give an indication of the space a tree’s roots need to grab hold and sufficiently nourish the tree. Even though it’s nice to do the big bulk of landscaping at once, you still have to pay attention to things going forward. My husband and I weren’t good at pruning for several years, so while all the landscaping challenges we face were caused by short-sighted planting, our lack of pruning has made some things a bit worse.

Someone planted our yard looking at the short term rather than the long term. Now we’re stuck having to get rid of plants that are causing big problems. We’ll remove both the yews at the shed and keep the beautiful spruce nearby. I’m keeping the lilac bush (because I love lilacs) and getting rid of the spruce next to it (which isn’t in good health anyway).

Those landscaping homeowners made short-sighted decisions that caused us long-term challenges.

Landscaping Your Marriage

Working on sexual intimacy in marriage isn’t too different than landscaping, is it? When I began to make some changes, it was hard. I felt like I was constantly shoveling and trying to create space for these big things I hadn’t bothered to plant earlier in our marriage. I wanted to figure out how to do all the work at once so I would be done with it. Although I moved slowly, I wanted quick results—just like homeowners who want a completely filled-in landscape to develop in just weekend.

As I dug into the roots of my refusal, I was able to see how tangled up and compacted the roots of my sexuality had become. I’d lived my young adult life with little eye to the future, crowding together a lot of experiences I wasn’t ready for. Landscaping my marriage required me to do the hard work of digging out some things that were interfering with what needed to be nurtured in my marriage.

I landscaped slowly. As I began to see the fruits of my labor emerge in the form of improvements in other areas of our marriage, I was able to see what was needed to nurture further growth. The space between the different pieces of digging and planting gave me room to grow into the new version of who I am as Big Guy’s wife.

As I began learning more about what God designed marriage to be, it became easier to do the marital landscaping work with the future in mind. Instead of just growing for the sake of getting it done, I began to understand that I was growing toward something—toward a filled-in, spiritually mature marriage.

Plant for Your Future

If you are working on the sexual intimacy in your marriage, be sure to keep your eyes on where you think your marriage should be when you’re done with the work. If you’re able to make the changes quickly while being sure you leave yourself room to grow, then do that—and just make sure you nourish your on-going growth. If you need to make the changes slowly, that’s fine, too. Add one or two things at a time, and even if the growth looks sparse for a while, know that you’ll grow into your marriage over time. Be sure to tend to your efforts through pruning, so the small things that begin to emerge don’t begin to take over.

Just be sure not to lose sight of the future you’re growing toward. If you do too much too soon, with no consideration for necessary growth and nourishment and no willingness to continue tending the plants going forward, you’re going to end up with an overgrown landscape, with no shape, boundaries pushed over, and a lot of work still to be done.

Do you know what your filled-in, spiritually mature marriage should look like? Are you making efforts today that will help you grow toward that marriage?

Image courtesy of scottchan /

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4 Comments on “Marriage-scaping”

  1. Thank you. I needed to hear these particular words on this particular day. I am at the one year point and feeling frustrated, tired and discouraged. At times it feels like a tree I have replanted moves back to its original spot and I have to dig it up again. Your encouragement means a great deal to me.

  2. Hi Chris – This is a great analogy and beautifully written, as always. Thanks for sharing it with the Let’s Get Real party.

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