4 Stages Of Keeping Your Marriage On Track

“A doctor can bury his mistakes,but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.”Frank Lloyd Wright

A couple of years ago we decided the front of our house needed some improved "curb appeal," so we followed Mr. Wright's advice and planted a vine.

This plant, a trumpet vine, has grown well and promises to do its job of improving our home's appearance, but this process is not a low-maintenance endeavor.


There is a wildness to this vine where it continues to veer away from the path I imagined it taking.In fact, I feel as if I'm taking on Bill Murray's Caddyshack characteristics as I constantly manage the plant's "wandering" tendencies.

I feel like I'm forever dragging out the ladder and reworking the branches into their proper spots.  This week, my efforts coincided with the meeting of our newlywed group and I realized this vine is an apt metaphor for marriage.

Stick with me on this word picture...

1. Establish a framework

My vine is planted to the side of my garage.  Left on its own, it would have naturally climbed the walls, stairs, apple tree -- EVERYTHING. However, I wanted this vine to crawl and soften the look of one specific, steep brick wall.

To get the plant there, we had to embed wires up the side of the bricks and build a wood trellis across the front of the house. Without these hard-scape additions, the vine could cover the house and still not do its job.

In a similar way, marriage thrives when there's a structure or a framework of boundaries.

My favorite book on this topic describes boundaries as a way of "taking ownership of your own life so that you are protected and can love and protect your spouse."

Boundaries act like a property line for your relationship and establish what's in and what's out. They are the framework for growth.

2. Pay attention

After I trained the vine to climb the wires last summer, I expected it to be in great shape this year.  In fact, I didn't even notice how far up the wall the vine was growing until my daughter pointed out the stray branches! (see picture above)

How had I missed that change of direction?

There were several reasons: I had been traveling, the rain kept me inside, and I simply wasn't looking.

In a similar way, every couple experiences "drift" at some point in their relationship. This is the season when you stop connecting on a regular basis.

The reasons for disconnecting vary: maybe life's too busy, feelings get hurt, or apathy sets in.  Whatever the cause, the surprise is how small little steps add up to significant movement.

3. Climb the ladder

Vines, like relationships, need work.

When you finally notice something growing astray, the correction isn't usually as simple as changing your mind (though that can be a starting point).  Most of the time you have to DO something.

You have to engage.

You have to get the ladder off the hooks, carefully moving it past the cars to prevent scratching. You have to call a kid or neighbor to hold the ladder for you. You have to set down the mail, ditch the purse, lose the high heels, and climb that wobbly ladder. You have to peel the tentacles of the vine off the brick and lay them on the trellis (swatting bugs as you go). THEN you have to climb down, return the ladder, dismiss the child, pick up the mail, grab the purse and shoes...and hope the vine stays on the right track.

I have yet to feel entirely comfortable with the process.

If you've been married for more than six weeks, I don't need to explain how working through conflict with your spouse feels exactly like climbing the ladder and training the vine in this process. I know you get it.

The motivation for making the effort is stage four...

4. Commit to growth

Growth is always messy.

However, when you married your spouse, implicit in your promise to be married was to grow.  Sometimes this commitment feels like a discipline.  That's not romantic, but it's true.

Part of being a grown-up is dealing with life as it is, not as some sort of fantasy.

In real life, vines can be a headache, but they still solve architectural problems and provide beauty in the process.

Your marriage will challenge you in unexpected ways.  This is a truth.

However, remember this:

If you build a healthy framework, If you pay attention, If you climb the ladder, and IF you are committed to growth, you're already well on  your way to something beautiful!