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Wellness Check: How's Your Marriage - from Progressive Cattle Magazine

It is common in the agriculture industry for spouses to work together – creating an interesting and, at times, challenging dynamic.


Rena Striegel, president of Transition Point Business Advisors, says couples often intertwine family and business communication. Sometimes, families cannot separate family and business conversations. Frustration occurs when couples are unaware of business or family deadlines because they fail to set aside time for separate discussions. When couples do not have transparency about what is happening throughout the organization, relationships are strained. Business concerns push aside all the reasons a ranch couple fell in love.


“Families [who] work together forget to play together,” Striegel explains. “They don’t set aside time to disconnect from the business and enjoy each other. Maybe they attended the Cattleman’s Congress for their vacation. Maybe it was a vacation; maybe it wasn’t. Play can become an extension of the business.”


Folks involved in agriculture know the good times do not last as long as the bad. Striegel says even when life is good, families don’t always feel gratitude as they worry about the future.


Children also change a couple’s dynamic. As offspring mature, they often take more active roles in the business. The primary owners focus all their energy and resources on the next generation. The emphasis moves from the marriage relationship to the kids’ well-being.


“You may have to unlearn bad habits you’ve been reinforcing for many years,” Striegel advises. “Couples become cognizant of this during times of transition, when kids return, taking on management duties. Suddenly, you have free time. What are you going to do?”


That is when people discover they have been a married couple running a business. Without the business, who and what are they as a couple? For people who want to invest more in their marriages, Striegel suggests they carve out time to learn new things.


“Often, the business becomes the center of the relationship,” Striegel reports. “It takes real intentionality to separate yourself from the business as a married couple and focus on what you as a couple want to invest in outside of the marriage, such as traveling or showing cattle.


“I’ve seen couples struggle with that,” Striegel admits. “The challenge comes when two people want two very different things. One wants to stay home with grandkids, while the other is ready to travel. How do these couples compromise and give each other what they need as they look at life beyond the business? It takes open conversations, honesty and a willingness as a couple to design what the future looks like.”


When the Ford F250 marries the Honda Civic

Heidi Vermeer-Quist, doctor of psychology, director of Heartland Christian Counseling and VQ Consult and author, recommends resources for couples from marital health experts John and Julie Gottman (The Gottman Institute).


Although developing trust and commitment is important for spouses, Vermeer-Quist says boundaries are crucial. What is my responsibility? What is yours? The clarity of who does what and when is important.


“Keep each other informed to build a strong relationship,” Vermeer-Quist advises. “Don’t go it alone. It’s important for spouses to identify a trusted adviser or non-family co-worker to collaborate and solve business issues. It takes the pressure off the marriage relationship when you have business meetings that include you, your spouse and trusted non-family co-workers.”


Vermeer-Quist urges couples never to be too proud or afraid to get help. Couples often set aside marital issues because they are not business-related. But the marriage relationship needs ongoing positive attention. If they attend a church, join a couples Bible study or find an older couple they admire and have a regular date night with them. If there are ongoing issues, work with a recommended counselor who has experience in marital therapy.


“One of my pastors said that when couples marry, it’s like the front end of a Ford F250 marries the back end of a Honda Civic,” Vermeer-Quist recalls. “You’re going to break down. Naturally, different people trying to put their lives together will have problems. If your vehicle breaks down, do you figure out how to fix it yourself or do you call for help?”


Take care of yourself and be ready to apologize

Peggy Meyer, licensed independent clinical social worker, is a farmer’s wife, counsels clients and nurtures six children. Meyer also tackles the farm bookkeeping, related paperwork and developed an app, Field Pocket, to help her with the books.


Communication without emotional blowups is crucial in any marriage, as are sincere apologies. When couples work closely together, it is easy to misread body language, tone or misinterpret a conversation. Arguments start when miscommunication occurs. Meyer encourages spouses to be ready to apologize.


Meyer recommends couples develop interests to explore outside of the ranch. “Your work is all around you,” Meyer explains. “You go directly from work to the house, and you bring it with you. There’s no time apart, especially for spouses working closely together. Having separate interests comes in handy; it’s important to have other avenues to focus your attention and provide a brief break from ranch chores.”


Take care of yourself. Eat well, get enough sleep and exercise. It is also crucial to learn and apply positive thinking. “If your faith is strong, you’re taking care of yourself, communicating well, having time away to relieve stress and your foundation is solid, then when something unexpected occurs, you can probably handle it,” Meyer observes. “If you put off self-care and foundational things, the unexpected can topple the marriage.”


If a spouse blows up at a minor inconvenience, his or her needs are probably not being met. Meyer recommends The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman to guide couples how to meet their needs. Humor in a relationship is vital to reduce stress, enabling spouses to focus on the big picture and ignore minor irritants.


“There’s also a gift of being present with someone,” Meyer concludes. “Listen, communicate and understand the other person. If you sit down and are distracted by ag magazines, for example, you’re with each other but you’re not present with each other. The conversation isn’t one in which you listen to or understand each other.”


Avoid keeping secrets and work cows together

Ag economist Ron Hanson, Ph.D., also counsels ag families online (Passing on the Farm). He encourages couples to find time for each other, balancing their ranching operation and family. “They recognize and appreciate contributions each other provides to the marriage and the operation,” Hanson observes.


Hanson gives this advice to avoid personal issues in the marriage: “Always be open and truthful with each other. Transparency in any relationship is the best policy. When you have a marriage with secrets or a partner keeps intentions private, that destroys trust and respect. When there are secrets and someone is not truthful, the other person wonders, ‘What else did you do without telling me? If I didn’t find out about this, what else didn’t I discover?’ This causes suspicions and doubts within a relationship. When a couple loses respect and trust, communication quickly ceases, and arguments are right around the corner.”


Hanson reports the best way to test the strength of a ranch marriage is for the husband and wife to work cows together. If a couple works cows together, then walks back to the house smiling, they have a very strong marriage. “The key is keeping things in perspective,” Hanson observes. “The trick to a solid relationship is having disagreements without being disagreeable.”

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