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A matter of trust

Problem Submitted By F.K., Wisconsin

My parents, older brother, and I worked the family farm for many years. For almost as many years, I stewed, simmered, and did a slow boil about how much say was given to my younger brother, who couldn't get away from the farm fast enough. At 17, he joined the military.
Many years later my dad told a neighbor (who later told me) that my dad wanted to give the whole farm to my younger brother.

I could fill an encyclopedia with hurt feelings, but what I gleaned from these trying situations was to always take a step back and look at eternal things, rather than fiscal or emotional things.
What I learned was to put a lot of faith in my life in order to cope with the loss of faith in my family.

I read a bumper sticker once that said, "Whoever dies with the most toys wins."

How many toys is that?

This all taught me that the only thing that matters is family. Don't let toys divide and conquer your family. My question is how do I live with this belief AND stay on the farm?

Dr. Jonovic's Solution

Family farm partners often live with stress and disappointment caused by parents who play favorites, by unfair estate plans, or by siblings who won't do their share, yet feel they do more than they should.

Usually, when they talk about their lives, these disappointed partners mention a loss of trust in other family members. F.K. doesn't trust his brother's commitment to the farm, nor does he trust his father to be fair.

Retreating to a focus on family won't address his unhappy day-to-day situation. He remains in a stressful and unrewarding partnership.

Clearly, family is central to F.K., and he wants to stay. To do that in a healthy way, he will have to ask and answer two questions: What caused the broken trust? Can the break be healed?

Here are four ideas to keep in mind about trust.

  1. Trust is not the same as love, which can remain even after trust is gone. A loss of trust doesn't have to mean a loss of family.
  2. Regaining trust begins with open conversation. For F.K., the only real chance of keeping the family together and his career rewarding is checking his assumptions, establishing a working understanding with his brother about commitment, and clarifying his dad's plans for the future. He's operating now on impressions and hearsay. What he learns by talking with them may surprise him.
  3. Once causes are better known, trust can be regained, but it requires bracing and support (like a broken bone) to heal. The support needed here is clear agreements and written understandings. Likely, these won't be everything F.K. hopes for, but clarity is still the only path to real agreement among partners.
  4. Healing is only possible if we or others don't reopen the wounds. Once addressed, it's critical to let those conflicts vanish forever from conversation. Old arguments are a swamp. Turn the focus to structure and give trust the chance to heal.

Regaining trust requires group effort. If that effort isn't there, F.K. may have to leave to save the family relationships he loves so much. Love can prevail through a lot, but trust is fragile. It needs a lot of help from everyone involved.

--Dr. Donald J. Jonovic

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