Why farming couples face unique stressors (and what to do about it)

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Farming and ranching couples face unique challenges—and depending on how these challenges are handled, they can strengthen or strain their relationships. 

Let's take a look at some common challenges faced by farming couples and how these challenges can be overcome or avoided. 

Stressful situations faced by farming couples

First things first: family.

Farming is often a generational, family-run business. This means that farming couples frequently work with and live close to other family members.

Of course, working with and living near loved ones has plenty of important benefits. But the blending of business and family can also lead to moments of heightened stress and interpersonal conflict.

It's common, for instance, for there to be clashes between in-laws and the spouse who married into a farming family. Spouses must foster loyalty and commitment to each other, but also maintain loyalty and commitment to the rest of the family, and sometimes these two areas are not perfectly aligned. 

The need for spouses to fulfill multiple roles on the farm (e.g., spouse, farmer, homemaker and parent) can also make it difficult to transition between these roles in a clearly defined way. 

Additionally, farmers often work long and irregular hours, especially during busy planting and harvest seasons. (Weekends don't exist for farmers in the same way that they exist for couples who work 9-to-5 jobs.) While it's empowering to work for one's self and rewarding to carry on the family business, the demands of operating a farm can make quality time together as a couple extremely hard to come by. 

The farming industry also routinely faces stressors like poor weather, changing tax and economic policies, and financial challenges. Because farming and family duties are so interwoven, issues in one area can directly affect the other area, too, more so than they might for couples with other professions. For instance, deciding to buy a new piece of farming equipment one year might also mean deciding not to remodel the kitchen. 

Strengthening your relationship: tips for farming couples

As spouses, co-workers and potentially parents, so many things are riding on the health and success of a farming couple's relationship. Here are some things you and your farming partner can do to make sure your relationship continues to grow as well as your yearly harvests: 

  • Put your relationship first. See yourself as a team and always consult each other on important decisions. 
  • Set a high standard of respect. Commit to no name-calling, insults, yelling or other examples of disrespectful behavior. 
  • Have realistic expectations. You're going to disagree and push each other's buttons from time to time. Try not to overreact when either one of you isn't at your best. Be willing to forgive each other quickly for momentary lapses or mistakes. Zoom out and think about whether an issue really matters in the long run. 
  • Hire help, delegate tasks, brainstorm new solutions or negotiate roles if farming-related activities are causing either of you extreme stress. 
  • Find ways to laugh. Try not to take things too seriously.
  • Go on dates. Whether you've been together for three years or three decades, it's important to spend time just the two of you doing things you both enjoy.
  • Spend time pursuing your own interests, too. Practice consistent self-care. Stay on top of stress with healthy coping strategies. When you "fill your own cup," you'll have more to give to each other and your family without depleting yourself. 
  • Show gratitude daily. Tell each other what you're thankful for or what you appreciated.
  • Show your love for each other in multiple ways: kind words, loving touches, thoughtful gifts and quality time together whenever you can. 
  • Take advantage of professional resources for mental or physical health concerns. Look for providers who are familiar with common stressors faced by the farming community. 

Know a farming couple who could use some extra support?

SIU Medicine proudly offers collaborative, comprehensive and customizable care for farming families throughout Southern Illinois. Contact SIU Medicine's Farm Family Resource Initiative at 618-713-0759 to learn more. 

Karen Leavitt Stallman
Ag Resource Specialist

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