Surprising marriage lesson from a palm tree climber – it’s not pruning

I am writing from Hawaii, Ellyn’s and my favorite place to reorganize, reprioritize, and regenerate.

I was walking back to our unit and stopped to watch a gardener climb a very tall and quite thin palm tree to prune some dying branches at the top.

He used spikes on his shoes and a rope around the tree trunk. 

He climbed and cut gracefully and fearlessly with a very sharp machete.  

When he returned to terra firma, I asked him how long it took to become fearless in this job.

“Three months.”

Then I asked if anyone taught him.

“No, I learned it myself.”

Like most curious folks, I had to ask how he did this.

He said, “When I started climbing, I could not look down or my legs would begin shaking. I had to keep looking at the top of the tree. 

After about three months I could climb the really tall ones, over 100 feet, even if they were bent from strong trade winds.”  

I asked if he was told this was going to be part of his job when he was hired. He nodded affirmatively – and added that was thirty-five years ago. 

He is the only tree trimmer at this resort, which has a lot of trees. 

It looked like he had about 2% body fat and I commented he looked like he didn’t need to go to the gym, and he laughed at that preposterous idea. 

The lesson for most marriages 

A key principle to overcome fear of conversations going south and crashing is to keep your focus on the positive outcome you seek for yourself AND your partner. Think about what is required for YOU to create that outcome. 

Here’s one way to keep your eye on the prize.

On an index card or piece of paper, write down 3-4 qualities you aspire to in order to create a constructive conversation. Keep the card where you can find it in a moment’s notice.

You might write:

  • Listen
  • Ask questions for clarity
  • Recap what I’m hearing because that may be different than what my partner intends to say. 
  • Speak up without blaming, shaming, or guilting.
  • Look for and express areas of agreement.
  • Breathe deeply and often. I’ll get more oxygen to my brain and think more clearly.

This is the equivalent of looking at the tree top because that is where you need to go. 

Don’t bring up negatives from the past. That is the same as looking down. Don’t look down when climbing.

Be patient – it took three months of climbing every day for the palm tree trimmer to get comfortable. 

As you become a better “climber,” you will be able to prune some baggage memories, and once again you will be swaying gracefully even in strong winds.   


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Great story & helpful analogy!


I just wanted to say thank you for all your wonderful posts. I am a woman and I found it very refreshing to read about marriage from a man’s perspective. Keep it up!

Pete Pearson

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