Divorce on the farm: its impact on farming families and what you can do to manage stress

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Divorce is never easy. But with up to 50 percent of all marriages ending in divorce according to the American Psychological Association, it's likely that you or someone you know within the farming community will go through this intensely stressful life experience at some point.

For farmers and ranchers, divorce can introduce added constraints that married couples outside the agricultural community don't routinely face. Here are some things you should know about divorce on the farm, including some practical strategies for managing stress and working through marital conflict. 

The many impacts of divorce

Here's the thing:

A divorce doesn't just affect the couple directly going through it—it also can affect that couple's children, parents, friends, colleagues and other individuals in their lives. So, it's important to remember that many can feel the impacts of a single divorce. These impacts are wide-ranging and can include:

  • Emotional impact: divorce can trigger intense and often-overwhelming emotions, including anger, frustration, fear, overwhelm, sadness, anxiety and depression. 
  • Physical impact: extremely stressful situations like divorce can take a toll on one's physical health and lead to complaints such as headaches, stomach upset and digestive problems, bodily pain, poor sleep, impaired concentration and changing appetites.
  • Spiritual impact: many individuals experience guilt and shame if divorce is not a part of their spiritual belief. They may wonder why their higher power allowed their marriage to deteriorate and can start to lose hope for the future. A sense of pervasive loss and abandonment can lead to deep inner conflict and tests of faith or personal identity. 
  • Financial impact: the financial impact of divorce can be especially intense for farming couples simply because of the amount of land, equipment and other assets that are often involved. In some cases, family farming operations are not able to financially survive a divorce, culminating in the end of a lifestyle and a legacy.
  • Social impacts: couples tend to share friends, colleagues and other social circles—so when divorce happens, their social lives can feel completely upended. How does one maintain and nurture these important relationships? If friendships change or end as a result of a divorce, how can one cope with the added stress? These are tough questions that many people experiencing divorce must grapple with. 


How to support yourself and your loved ones when dealing with divorce

Even if the decision to end a marriage is mutual, divorce can still be incredibly painful for everyone involved. To help cope, it's important to seek help and use available resources to manage the many impacts of divorce and get through this difficult time. 

Whether you're involved in a divorce directly or if you're witnessing someone close to you going through one, here are some strategies that may help:

  1. Talk with someone. Being able to express your full range of fears and emotions to someone without judgment can be incredibly helpful during a time of crisis or massive change. So resist the urge to isolate yourself and reach out to someone, such as a trusted friend or family member, a pastor or a licensed counselor.
  2. Navigate the divorce with a problem-solving approach. As a farmer, you're already used to problem-solving and taking focused action. Lean on those skills as you approach difficult situations that will come up in the divorce, including financial and parenting decisions. This is very different from dealing with issues from an emotional place, which can inhibit your ability to think rationally and come up with effective solutions. 
  3. Keep communication as calm as possible. It might be hard, but do your best to focus on the issues at hand rather than bringing up past hurts or "what if" worries about the future. Things that can help you stay calmer and clearer-headed include slow deep breathing, frequent rest or walk breaks and even note-taking during important meetings and conversations.
  4. Remember self-care. When going through a divorce, nothing about what you're experiencing is going to be easier if you're not taking care of yourself. And while it can be tough to practice good health habits during times of high stress, it's worth it to take a step back and be intentional about wellness strategies that will support your physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health. Do your best to drink plenty of water, eat nourishing foods, avoid alcohol and drugs, get enough sleep, surround yourself with people who are good for you, lean on your higher power and focus on the things and thoughts that spark joy. Even one or two simple self-care routines can make a big difference in your ability to cope. 
  5. Prioritize your kids. Make sure they are well-cared for emotionally and physically by giving them a sense of stability and structure in their lives whenever possible and by maintaining a calm environment within the home. It's important to be honest and communicate with them in age-appropriate ways about what's happening, but avoid taking your frustrations and emotions out on them. 
  6. Consult the professionals. You're not expected to handle this experience alone. Get a great team around you including attorneys, accountants and even counselors for yourself, your kids, your parents or whomever else may be struggling right now.


Are you or someone you care about going through a divorce?

Divorce rates among farming families are similar to the general population. If you need help dealing with a divorce, reach out to the Farm Family Resource Initiative today or find a doctor at SIU Medicine who can offer personalized support and practical coping strategies.

Karen Leavitt Stallman 
Ag Resource Specialist

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