Valentine’s Day Special - Resilient Relationships
In permaculture we often contemplate what it takes to create a more resilient system when designing a sustainable ecology. The more bonds or connections we can create between various elements, the stronger the web or network connecting the system as a whole. The same principles can be applied in so many other facets of life, and human relationships are no different. As Valentine’s Day approaches, I wanted to touch on this topic briefly, as human partnerships—romantic or otherwise—can be among the most important factors to our survival.
The relationships we share with our loved ones can be considered living systems in the same way as a thoughtfully designed garden or forest ecology. In either arrangement, the more connections we create, the stronger the whole system becomes. So how are these connections formed? Anyone somewhat familiar with permaculture will recall the ‘needs and yields’ analysis we often perform when considering the arrangement of different elements in a design. For example, planting pole beans next to corn creates multiple connections which aid the growth of both plants. The corn needs nitrogen—a yield fulfilled by the bean. The bean needs a structure on which to climb, yielded by the corn plant, and so on.
So, let us consider how this might relate to human pairings. Many of us have likely pondered the needs of our partners on a somewhat regular basis (hopefully). Consider how your yields mesh with those needs, and if they don’t quite mesh perfectly, that is what we can build upon (and let’s dispense with the essentials of acquiring shelter, food or sustenance, and clothing and move up the needs hierarchy to more social, emotional and personal needs for this discussion). Some needs we might consider here are the need for recognition, understanding, the need to be appreciated, to be heard, or supported in our endeavours, the need to feel that we matter—the list is endless. The good news is, anyone can fulfill these needs at any time—it might just take a little careful thought and work.
For example, maybe you can recollect a conversation you had with your partner about a comforting childhood memory, let’s say, where a relative cooked a special meal for them or took them to a special restaurant where they were served that meal, and it has been one of their favourites ever since. Now either you are an experienced cook or you are not. This is where we start to build on our yields. Even if you have been known to burn water on the stove, you can learn to cook. Take a class, or if that is not possible, the internet and library are great places to start. Learn everything there is to know about that meal and surprise your partner with a delicious and romantic display of prawns korma, daal, and gulab jamun to finish or something like tourtière, mixed greens, and gratin dauphinois—or maybe simply home-made cinnamon buns (anything is great by candlelight)! The point is, in doing something involving careful thought and consideration for who the person is, we have fulfilled at least 2 or 3 of the needs mentioned above and maybe more.
Another area to consider is your partner’s favourite music. Let’s say she loves Latin music. If you can get away once in a while (in secret so as not to ruin the surprise factor) take a crack at some Salsa or Merengue lessons (or for the more adventurous there is always Bachata). One day when you have reached the point of being comfortable with the dance, on a quiet night at home turn the lights low and if she doesn’t know the dance well, her own personal lessons are about to begin! On the other hand, maybe you can’t quite get away with the element of surprise. Why not take lessons together? This is a wonderful way to make sure you make time for each other.
If dancing or cooking is not your thing, consider learning various massage techniques. Maybe your partner has constant neck or back tension. Everyone needs a massage! All this information is readily accessible at very minimal cost. Other ideas are easy enough to come by. Educate yourself about your partner’s culture (if it is different from your own). Learn more about their life. Have deeper conversations. Find ways of supporting them in the goals they’ve always dreamed of accomplishing—that’s the recognition, and the part about being heard, respected, and understood.
Yes, I have made this sound way easier than it is. Relationships are complicated ‘ecologies’ whose resilience depends on far more than mere needs and yields. This is just a starting point. I am only planting a few seeds here in the hopes they will germinate into something far more beautiful and life-giving. Nowhere have I taken into account those relationships which may be beyond the point where this article could benefit, nor have I acknowledged the ones who already think along the lines of “needs and yields” and simply may not realize it yet—good for you if you have! Of course, you’ll notice I have not even touched on the topic of sex, but that would require another long article altogether (I will just say two words: ‘Kama Sutra’). The point is, just as an ecological garden cannot simply be a spattering of plants co-existing in the same space, a healthy relationship must be more than two people simply co-existing as such. Every relationship is different, but our needs and yields as human beings are more similar than we might at first recognize. Nevertheless, reflecting on your partner’s specific requirements and then planning how to answer these desires with a course of action that is both thoughtful and loving, is a giant step toward relationship resiliency.
Ted Bahr is the founder of Prairie Sage Permaculture