Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Creating Unity In Farm Marriages

June 2, 2008

Perhaps there is no other profession quite like farming that challenges people to be disciplined and to keep life in perspective.

Among other things, farmers react to weather, organizing and attending to demanding work just outside their doorstep. Plus there is the stress of marketing, financial record keeping and management, mechanics and repairs, keeping up with technology, and coordination with employees and partners. Add a little male ego and a strong work ethic to the mix and you have a recipe for making work the dominating subject of one’s thoughts, priorities and emotions.

Farm women have equally busy lives with their contributions to management and farm work. In addition, record numbers of farm women have entered the workforce for personal fulfillment and/or to complement the farm income and to meet their family’s financial needs.

Husbands and wives are also committed to the responsibility of parenting and family life as well as meeting each other’s emotional needs. Those roles are more meaningful than their respective work and business lives.

Having infants, preschoolers, teenagers and elderly parents who need care can add to the emotional stress, physical work and time demands of already busy lives. Emotional strain is amplified when there are marital problems, struggles with farm debt or children with health, learning, emotional or behavioral problems.

Facing the challenge. How do farm families integrate a hands-on, management intensive, labor-intensive home-based business or businesses with marriage, family and community life? How much priority does the farm assume? Are important marital and personal needs being met? Is the farm a catalyst for close relationships or a point of contention and division?

Learning to unify. Being unified means being a true partnership among equals. The farm isn’t a private domain but a joint enterprise managed by equals. Share the dream and the challenges. A wife’s off-farm job and daily responsibilities share equal billing and deserve the same kind of support, interest and encouragement.

Decisions are made together after you have formed a consensus - a win/win solution. This requires listening, patience, respect and consideration for what each other’s needs. Each of you should be amenable to the influence of the other.

Negotiations and compromise isn’t the answer to everything. Sometimes there are trade offs. Sometimes you just plain give in or defer to the partner who has the greater emotional investment. Sometimes you gather more data or wait for circumstances to help you get closer to a decision. Sometimes you seek outside guidance.

Differences should be aired with respect and mannerly discussion. How problems are talked about will tell more about your unity and mutual concern than the actual decision you come to.

Giving encouragement and support. Another way to show unity is to cooperate willingly with providing support and assistance to your spouse’s priorities. Husbands and wives need to be flexible in their gender roles and assist each other with demands and pressures.

Coordinate schedules and be reliable in following through on commitments and agreements.

Reconnect after you’ve been apart. Set your mood, compartmentalize your work stress, and shift to a nurturing role as you re-establish your couplehood at the end of a workday. Show by your greeting that you care for each other.

Show you care by your non-verbal warmth, smile, eye contact and touch. Show interest in each other’s day and concerns. Get to know the details of your spouse’s emotional life. When each other’s work lives aren’t shared or understood, tensions grow and emotional distance is created.

Show appreciation to each other for the special efforts, talents or accomplishments he or has made. Words mean a lot and show that each other’s contributions are noticed and valued.

Here are some other suggestions on how to unify as a couple.

- Work hard, play hard. Plan for family fun and leisure, "couples" time, time away from the farm, plus hobbies and personal interests to replenish your energy. It needs to be scheduled or it may not happen. "All work and no play makes Jack and farming no fun at all."

- Lighten up. Having a light-hearted, playful and humorous approach to life can reduce the stress load immensely.

- Manage your stress. Control your emotions, blame, anger and frustration. Don’t let work related stress spill over into your family relationships.

- Simplify life where you can. Say no to things that don’t fit with your main goals. The choices you make may be in making your volunteer work compatible with your spouse’s and children’s needs and activities. Family time is at a premium.

- Make your marriage close and intimate. Avoid criticism and conflict. Take time to talk. Share your personal thoughts and feelings. Be affectionate. A mutually satisfying physical relationship will cap off the emotional unity and teamwork from other parts of your relationship.

- Find spiritual meaning and uplift through faith and service to others. It is how you think about life and the meaning you give to events that help set your emotions. By serving others, you lighten your own burdens.

Farm life can be great. When successful, it is the basis for the strong affection farm families have for farming, raising children on a farm, a rewarding the partnership between husband and wife and having a sense of community with their rural neighbors and relatives.