5 ways farm couples can improve their marriages now
Whether you love celebrating Valentine’s Day or not, February is as good a time as any to sit down with your spouse and take stock of your marriage. Discuss what is and isn’t working. Resolve to work together to fix what needs fixing and to build on what’s already great.
As with so many things, Extension offers solid advice in this department. The National Extension Relationship & Marriage Education Network (NERMEN) is a collection of university Extension experts from more than a dozen states working together to support healthy marriages.
The Marriage Matters publication series from NERMEN explores marital issues and offers the following action steps to help couples avoid or overcome obstacles.
1. Work Around Work Conflicts
Every farm couple knows that the work is incredibly demanding, and often the timing is so critical that it can’t wait. How many date nights have been spoiled by a heifer having trouble calving or livestock on the loose? If it’s planting or harvest season, even thinking about a date is probably out of the question.
The conflict that may arise when farmwork jumps ahead of couple time may have less to do with the actual hours spent working and more with how it’s handled.
Action: Acknowledge the problem and the disappointment, and find ways to make up for missed or delayed events. When that heifer with bad timing interferes with date night, adjust plans and agree to meet up afterward for popcorn and Netflix on the couch.
2. Make a Bid for Connection
Newlyweds are generally better than those in longer relationships about carrying out positive interactions: asking how the other’s day was, holding hands, smiling, and hugging. These things tend to fall by the wayside the more we feel stressed by work and family pressures.
Action: For the next several days, make a conscious effort to reach out to your partner with more bids for connection, and then respond positively to your spouse’s bids. Return that smile, turn a touch into a hug, and look each other in the eye when discussing your day. Pay attention to how this makes you feel, compare notes after a few days, and keep the connection going.
3. Look for the Positive
Being around people who think negatively can bring your mood down, and a consistently negative spouse can bring a marriage down. Being kind, focusing on the strengths of your relationship, and sharing happy events leads to greater couple satisfaction, according to Marriage Matters. Simply being aware of positive actions and words from your spouse and showing appreciation can improve the relationship.
Action: Share what you appreciate about each other and what you miss most when you’re apart. Write a note expressing thanks for an act of kindness. Did your husband feed your chickens during a storm so you didn’t have to go outside? Did your wife drive to town to get parts so you could keep working on the tractor? Share your gratitude in a note and commit to showing appreciation for special and everyday kindnesses.
4. Learn to Talk About Money
Financial worries cause a great deal of stress, which can lead to arguments. Remember you are partners, so work together to identify obstacles and find solutions. Keep emotions in check and discuss only the problem at hand.
Remember that your tone and your words can fuel or diffuse an argument. Don’t say, “You never record your checks in the checkbook.” Replace the you with I feel, when, and because. Try saying, “I feel frustrated when checks aren’t recorded because it stinks when we have to pay for overdrafts.”
Action: Schedule regular financial meetings and share feelings, wants, and needs, without interruption or criticism. Discuss what is and isn’t working and seek solutions together. Set financial goals, including changes to spending and saving.
5. Fight Fair
One difference between happy and unhappy couples, according to Marriage Matters, is whether both partners feel heard and understood when discussing problems. Fortunately, constructive conflict management is a learned skill. The first rule is to listen with an open mind. If one or both parties are angry, cool down before negotiating. Stay focused on the issue at hand, don’t blame each other, and don’t bring up the past.
Action: Ask yourselves if you’re able to compromise, if you ignore issues, if you allow minor issues to become major ones, and if you have different ways of dealing with problems. The time to learn to resolve conflicts in a healthy way is when you’re NOT in the middle of one.
Click here to access the Marriage Matters series and other NERMEN resources.