Elaine is a marriage counsellor, even though she says she is a coach!” says the uncomfortable farmer after a coaching call. I tell my clients that “counselling is about recovery, but coaching is about discovery.” I want farm couples to discover what will work for them to be happier in their relationship as a couple, and as farm partners. Sometimes I ask hard questions that irk people, but they know they need to deal with making their marriage foundation stronger.
As you know, I love books, and my current recommendation is John Gottman’s book The 7 principles for making marriage work. Gottman talks about developing friendship in your marriage and learning to make repair. Buy a copy for wedding gifts, and anniversaries, and one for yourself.
Here’s some of my top-of-head tips on how to love a farmer:
1. Respect him. Author Emmerson Eggerichs (Love and Respect) has suggested that men are looking for respect and women need love in a relationship. I suspect that your man needs to hear words of affirmation from you that you are “proud of him and appreciate his character and decision-making ability.” Filling up the emotional bank account for each person in your family just takes courage to speak truth and love into the other person’s life. Be intentional about doing it, not just on special occasions. Do you currently show respect to your farmer?
2. Cook. “Hot meals” is on the top of my farmer’s caring list. We took the time to explore the 12 ways we each like to be cared for, wrote it down and laughed. Wes feels deeply loved when he walks into the house and can smell something good stewing. Only 21 per cent of Canadians still cook from scratch, so affirm your cooking skills and show them off to your family. When was the last time you cooked your hubby’s favourite supper? He cares. You can also love your farmer by cooking healthy foods and not stuffing him full of sugary sweets. Love your physical hearts with smart cooking.
3. Time. Smalley and Trent use the concept of “word pictures” to convey strong meaning in marriage. When Wes reports that he feels he is getting “leftovers” he is telling me I am spending more energy on my clients, readers and audience than on him. I don’t like to hear about this kind of leftovers, so I need to check in and ask how he is doing regarding the time we are spending together, enjoying each other and being connected. Quality time is one of the five love languages that Gary Chapman writes about. Are you spending more time with grandchildren and neglecting the time needs of your spouse? Could you block off at least one hour a week as “marriage time” to work on the state of your union? Walk. Date. Talk.
4. Service. Someone suggested that “clutter is energy constipation.” Our lives can be cluttered with busy activities and taking care of too much stuff. If you are ready to simplify things, how about attacking a project together as a couple. I know a wife who was thrilled to see the ugly old barn burn down (on purpose) as it was part of the view from her home she hated. When I mentioned that the patio furniture needed to be parked away for the winter, I felt deeply loved when that same day the guys hauled it away to the shed on the flatbed. Small acts of kindness really mean a lot to a weary heart. How tidy and clean is your home sanctuary? Clean up together. Mending is also a sign of love. Patches anyone?
5. Candy under the pillow. Do you still know your farmer’s favourite treat? Is it licorice, almonds or chocolate? Buy these next week when the Valentine fervour has passed, and keep some on hand to pop into the lunch kits to the field. A small treat communicates, “I am thinking of you and I care about you.” (Nuts don’t have sugar, just fat, oh well!)
6. Discuss debt together. Please talk about spending large sums of money and what impact that will have on the family. Women are tired with off-farm jobs subsidizing the farm cash flow only to discover that their opinion was not brought to the loan-negotiating table. Disaster looms when debt is hidden and not openly discussed to explain the “why we are doing this” factors. A young hurting farmer confides that he has been separated due to a large dairy debt that was not ratified by his wife. She was deeply hurt that she was kept in the dark. Women, are you using too much “retail therapy” to compensate for marriage deficits?
7. Make repairs quickly. Nip conflicts in the bud, and don’t let stresses simmer. Have a 10 o’clock rule that you will commit to resolving conflicts before bedtime, so that you can enjoy intimacy and not let the sun set on your anger. Some days you may not be able to resolve things in a day, and may then work to agree to “park the issue” until the next business meeting or coffee time.
8. Redemptive separation. Addictions like alcohol may require time apart for therapy and rehabilitation. The intent of redemptive separation is to practise tough love to get the person you love to change behaviour, and come back to the marriage in a healthy way. If your marriage is carrying issues that need counselling therapy, a doctor’s diagnosis or spiritual care, get help now. I love my farmer so much I check to see if he is keeping up with his medical care. When is the last time you saw your doctor? Do you even have a doctor? Drugs and alcohol are not good stress relievers. They cause more harm and hurt to farm families than many people know.
9. Kiss often. I don’t need to say more.
Have fun loving your farmer and put the “zest” back into your marriage this year. Resiliency for farming starts with a strong marriage foundation… and for those couples who are cohabiting. We all want to love and be loved. †