Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Rural Romance Turns Sour: The Alternatives

December 15, 2005

A reader writes "About two weeks ago an article appeared about a young woman who married a farmer who seemed kind and gentle. It turned out that this was a detriment because he couldn't stand up to his father on behalf of his marriage. The young wife eventually left him."

He saw similarities in this situation and one facing his brother. He needed more information on how to help his brother think through his options so that something like this wouldn’t happen in his family.

Another reader writes, "Your column, ‘When Rural Romance Turns Sour,’ could be my life, except I haven’t left my husband." She relates a story of sacrifice and loyalty to his parents that in the end was met with unfairness, blame and rejection. "Right now, I’m really angry and have a lot of bitter feelings and it feels lousy. I cry a lot when I am alone. ...Thanks for listening, there is no one else to talk to."

The "just" of the story is this. Domineering parents use succession and inheritance of the land as a control mechanism to make their son dependent and beholden to them. Their daughter-in-law agitates for changes and long term security. Her husband proves incapable of confronting his parents and severe marital problems ensue.

The discouraged wife leaves her husband and takes the children with her. Her husband chooses to stay and continues to farm with his parents. The ex-daughter-in-law is blamed as a greedy trouble-maker who never understood farming. A pretty sad ending.

But does the story of a husband unwilling to assert his rights with his family in a family business - to his own detriment and to the detriment of his marriage - need to end this way? Can the love story ending be rewritten with a happier ending? Here are three different scenarios to get to a better result than a separation and divorce.

Scenario A: Leave as a couple. The couple entered counseling. It took a lot of work, love and give-and-take to break away from the ties and guilt that held the son to the land and to his family.

It wasn’t easy. There were heartaches and tears to endure. They made their own mistakes and won their own battles. It was scary but they managed. But they became their own people, not puppets or slaves.

The husband found direction and energy in a new career, adjusted to a new lifestyle and flourished now he was out from under the domination of his parents and the stress of farming. In the end, they healed the wounds and rebuilt the fences with his parents and lived a happy and normal life.

The couple also created a better legacy for their children as they grew up seeing a happy marriage. They also saw a father who felt comfortable sharing his opinions and feelings and had a feeling of positive self worth.

Scenario B: Confront the parents and make necessary changes. The husband, through counseling, builds up his self-confidence and assertiveness enough to confront his parents with his need for improved communication, respect, growth, fairness, concrete plans and boundaries in both his business and family relationships.

He has an alternative plan for leaving the farm if the needed changes don’t happen. His willingness to leave is real and the parents sense this. They didn’t really change until they had to and they knew they had to for their son and family to stay with the operation. Change by one person can force the dynamics of the relationship to change.

The son and his wife can also enlist the help of a mediator to help define the problems and encourage the discussions of needed changes for the couple to stay.

The couple and the parents enjoy their new working relationship. The father becomes more aware of his mouth, his reactions and how he needs to share decisions and management. He makes real strides as a true farming partner and as a father.

Scenario C: The wife lives with the hurt and carves out her own happiness. The wife concludes that her husband’s inability to stand up for himself with his parents or siblings is his problem and not hers. She has a meaningful job, makes friends with many other women and keeps busy in the community, school and church. She has a support system with her parents, siblings and her friends who are in similar situations.

She works hard to help her children to be strong, independent and to take personal responsibility for their actions. She engineers a move to town and moves away from the farmhouse owned by the in-laws.

She adopts an attitude of not having much to do with her in-laws and keeps to her own life. She keeps a healthy perspective and remains aloof from the family turmoil even if her husband doesn’t come around. She builds a wall and doesn’t allow herself to be hurt by the in-laws. She keeps on loving her husband and her life even though things are far from perfect. Things are what they are.

She survives by letting go of aspects of her life she doesn’t control and making the most of what she does have control over. It may not be a "happily ever after" ending but it is an ending she can live with.