Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Farm Couples, Hang Together Or Else Hang Separately

January 20, 2003

Couple A: For Better or for Worse. This couple struggles with keeping up with the overwhelming demands and daily challenges of complicated and stressful lives. They really don’t connect on an emotional level but are busy parenting, being a contributing member of the church and community and meeting family obligations. The farm crisis comes and for the first time in their life they are feeling overwhelmed.

The dragon of drought, debt and poor cash flow is coming for them. They turn to each other, open their hearts and confide deeply as they sort out their priorities. The crisis humanizes them. They comfort and shelter each other. They soldier on together. They face problems together. They reach out to others.

Everyone in life needs at least one confidant. Whether they work their way through the crisis or have to leave the farm, they treasure and cherish each other. The crisis on the farm was another opportunity to turn to their partner in an hour of need. They are one. They discover there are deeper meanings in life than success or failure on a farm.

Couple B: The Lone Ranger Rides Again. The farmer in this relationship is stressed out, irritable and dealing with unending frustrations. He lives by an ethic of being strong, independent and having to solve problems by himself. He doesn’t know own to relax, play, laugh or lighten up.

The stress dragon comes for him everyday and he feels it is his duty to fight the dragon alone. He grows silent and keeps his fears and confusion to himself. He is too wrapped up in his own fight to notice or care for his wife.

She fights the same dragon too - by herself - but she wants him to reach out, talk about the fight, comfort and soothe her. She also worries about him and his emotions. She sees depression, anger and blame. She wants to help him but he won’t let her in. She is alone. So is he.

Couple C: Welcome to Donneybrook Farm: This couple has a history of conflict and arguing. There have been many instances over the years where each has felt betrayed and abandoned by each other. They have withdrawn emotionally from one another but they keep on out of a sense of duty and obligation. One partner may have felt particularly hurt and says words like, "My partner doesn’t care for me, not really. Never again will I put myself in that position of needing him or her."

The hurts are there like giant wedges between them and they won’t go away. Along comes the farm crisis and not only is the dragon coming for them but they see each other as the dragon too. The crisis tears away at their relationship even further.

There is no end to this misery and battle unless one partner breaks down and finally can’t take it anymore. A nasty divorce adds to their woes.

Couple D: The Man Who Loves Farming Too Much: This farmer loves the challenge of farming. It is number one in his life and always has been. He is good at it, finds identity and meaning in work, has his ego and pride involved and justifies a workaholic lifestyle by the demands of farming.

His wife feels short-changed in their marriages by the love, energy and time devoted to farming compared to the time and energy invested in marriage and family life.

The dragon isn’t necessarily a financial crisis but aching years of loneliness and neglect. Couples like these split apart because the wife isn’t getting her emotional needs met.

She knows she doesn’t have a companion at her side when the dragon comes. Life is too hard and too lonely to face alone. She lobbies unsuccessfully for counseling, tries pouring herself into her job, friendships, service opportunities and being a good mother to their children. She is prone to depression.

Couple E: Two Horses Pulling in Opposite Directions: This couple grows apart. The farmer is a crackerjack farmer who works hard and meets his goals. His wife has her own profession. His business arrangement is with his family and she doesn’t get involved.

They are competitive, independent, headstrong and stubborn. He doesn’t care about her profession and finds disloyalty and frustration in the way she makes her priorities. His own drive toward success is powerful in his life and he longs for a traditional, nurturing wife to meet his needs. His takes little interest in her work and offers little in the way of emotional support.

Her emotions are not in farming. She isn’t included or else chooses not to be included. The family connections upset her. When the dragons come, she is critical and shows no loyalty to the farm. She is not supportive of his ideas.

They are both busy. Too busy. They don’t leave enough time for each other and when they do, they tend to clash. Their children are OK but they are not.

Marriage isn’t meant to be lonely. Marriage becomes hard and painful. There is no other place to turn for comfort, soothing and deep confiding. Farm couples need to learn how to get on the same side and be there for each other when the dragon comes. Farming, like marriage, is too hard to do alone.