Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships


Dear Dr. Farmer,


           I am a ranch wife of 39 years. I married a 3rd generation rancher. I well knew the land and cattle were here long before me and if they were to continue here I would often have to take a back seat. The operation has to come first, unless you have one good full-time hired man with a wife who understands, which isn’t likely.

            Our operation isn’t large enough to afford that, and we do most all of our own work. I have been content knowing these facts, realizing there were no week long vacations; and many a weekend getaway was foiled by natural ranching problems that had to be tended.

            Many an evening my husband came in dog tired and worn out. All he needed was a warm meal and hot bath. Not a needy, whiney, complaining wife.

            A wise older neighbor lady told me when I was expecting our first child, “If you go into labor at the same time as a cow; he’ll take care of the cow first.” Yesterday’s women accepted those facts. And the family farm lived on.

            Today’s modern high-maintenance woman would agree with you wholeheartedly I am sure. Our son is married to one of those; and they are headed to marriage counseling as I write this. Their problem is not that she hasn’t been assertive enough as you suggest.

            The problem is we have become a society of “self” first and nothing else is acceptable. The pioneering spirit of women has almost died out, and that’s what it takes to survive on a ranch.

            My question to you is ...‘Did you and your wife ever own or manage or live on a farm or ranch??’ Too many farm wives read articles and books written by doctors like you and are convinced their self-serving ways are correct. And the problems are not solved, but grow and continue on. - Wyoming ranch wife

Dear Wyoming ranch wife,

            No, my wife and I never owned or managed or lived on a farm or ranch. What I have learned, I have learned in my work with farm and ranch couples over many years of counseling.

            I have great admiration and respect for the range of expertise and complexity of a farm or ranch enterprise. On top of that, management has to take into account weather and seasonal work demands that are far from ordinary. That is a given.

            Farm and ranch women understand that, or they are indeed misfits. Women who don’t have farm or ranch backgrounds need about 3-5 years to learn the demands, timing, and rhythm of an agricultural enterprise where schedules are adjusted to pressing needs.

            Their husbands work hard. They carry a lot of stress. They have lots to think about. This isn’t an ordinary life.

            I’ve also seen examples of single-minded, self-centered, workaholic men who justify their actions with the virtuous rationale of economics and survival. However, it goes beyond survival. Their egos are involved. Their pride and reputations are on the line. The work comes first. The cows come first.

            They fail to be nurturing, caring husbands or fathers. They don’t have a sense of proportion to life. Their needs, real or fantasized, are paramount. They can be bossy, distant, preoccupied, overwhelmed, or stubborn.

            Marriage is neglected. There is no partnership. There is little or not enough love.

            Female expectations. A woman from Plentywood, Montana once wrote me, “The trouble in our community is that all of the women here are liberated and none of the men are.”

            What does that mean, “liberated”? I think that means that women have higher expectations about marriage. They don’t want to be treated as secondary objects in the drama of male accomplishment and survival. It is about wanting partnership - a true partnership in every sense of the word.

            Partnership is about:

- having respect, being listened to, being taken into account, and sharing decisions.

- being cared about, thought about, and being considered.

- sharing emotions, goals, and dreams.

- having appropriate boundaries and loyalty to each other and none else.

- giving as well as receiving.

- being valued, supported, and appreciated for contributions and for who you are.

- having a marriage that gives happiness and satisfaction.

            If assertive communication is needed in order to get a true partnership, I am for being assertive.

            Wives who are not good partners. I have met farm or ranch women who are self-centered, “high maintenance” drama queens. They put their own needs and comforts first. They don’t fit in with multi-family operations and fail to appreciate how their behavior impacts others.

            They don’t have a sense of proportion to life. They come across as “whiney, needy, or complaining.”  There is no partnership. There is little or not enough love. There is not enough understanding or give-and-take concerning the realities of farm or ranch life. They don’t share the dream.These women don’t have a problem with assertiveness. They are bossy and stubborn enough.

            What farmers and ranchers need is a true partner - one who is equally invested in surviving and thriving on the land, one who loves the lifestyle and does her part to make it happen.

            Narcissism doesn’t fit well with either gender. “Momma’s boys” and “Daddy’s Little Princesses” have a hard time with partnership - or marriage for that matter. Throw a ranch or a farm into the mix and even more sparks will fly.