This article was originally posted on October 17, 2017, and has been updated.
Does it ever feel like your spouse pays more attention to crop production than they do to you?
These cracks really start to show when farm couples don’t build strong partnerships.
I’d like to challenge you to get your marriage/partnership into better shape through a practice known as “marriage fitness”.
What is marriage fitness?
Mort Fertel explains what this term means in his book Marriage Fitness: 4 Steps to Building and Maintaining Phenomenal Love.
(I know farmers love checklists, so you will really like Fertel’s approach.)
In this post, I’ll share some of his key questions and tips for building marriage fitness, as it pertains to farm couples. (Buy his book here!)
[Tweet “Tips for building a strong #marriage, even when the #farm takes up most of your time.”]
Put love first.
What importance do you give to your marriage?
Counselor Marsha Harris’s question for couples is: “Are you really there for me?”
If you have a strong “yes”, then your marriage is likely a priority.
I understand that crops, cattle, hockey, off-farm jobs, and fixing flat tires are part of the stresses you manage daily. But your marriage should always come first.
How would you answer these questions: True or false?
- I speak to my spouse about non-logistical matters at least twice per day.
- I initiate positive, loving contact with my spouse at least twice per day. (Touch charge.)
- I spend more time interacting with my spouse than I do watching TV.
- I have at least one personal and meaningful discussion with my spouse each week for a minimum of 25 minutes (called a SUPER talk).
- I usually interrupt whatever I am doing if my spouse wants my attention.
These are some loaded questions, and Fertel has 13 more to determine if your marriage is out of shape, average, or if you are a marriage fitness champion.
What would it look like to put love first in your marriage?
My city friends practice “date night,” which involves going out as a couple alone together once a week.
For farm couples, your date nights have been taking fuel to the field, meals, or driving the combine while the other trucks load grain carts.
This is exactly the issue!
Making time for your growth as a couple gets put on the back burner until after seeding, after haying, after harvest, after calving, etc.
Many folks don’t even take a holiday off the farm together and seem to wear that as a badge of honour.
You might not feel comfortable reading these words, but Fertel states: “The soul can only have one mate.”
So consider this, do you love your cows more than your spouse?
Remember: “The soul can only have one mate.”
What would it look like to curtail your TV time, and spend more time face-to-face in deep conversation?
If you are spending 10 to 20 percent of your time in front of Netflix or TSN, who is suffering?
Regular farm family business meetings make farm families 21 percent more profitable, according to Dr. David Kohl.
When was the last time you spent 45 minutes planning how to have more fun and better communication with your partner or spouse?
Fertel thinks you can do this weekly, and find ways to have a least one romantic retreat per year!
Give presence: show up for your mate.
How well do you know your spouse?
Can you give them what they want without them having to ask?
You may have already found clues from Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages: acts of service, quality time, meaningful touch, gifts, and verbal affirmation.
When I do things for my hubby, he is most grateful.
When he hugs me in the morning before heading outside, I feel the gift of presence.
Here’s a quiz to help you determine how well you know your spouse:
- What’s most stressful for your spouse?
- What’s the one thing your spouse has always wanted?
- What’s the most relaxing thing for your spouse?
- What’s your spouse’s favorite way of making love?
- What type of vacation is preferred: beach, touring, or outdoor adventure?
Knowing what your spouse needs to feel cherished takes time and lots of good questions.
Gifts may not be that special, but your interest in intimate conversation will build up the emotional bank account of your marriage.
Decide to not talk about the farm after 10 pm. Use bedroom time for intimacy, and park conflicts away until morning if you can.
Ideally, don’t let the sun go down on your anger, make a quick repair before supper ends.
A few years ago, when I celebrated a milestone birthday, the best gift was folks choosing to visit me at our farm and make the long trek across Canada to show up.
Showing up in your marriage is a daily event, not something that can be continually put off.
Fertel feels that “giving creates love.” What new things can you learn about your spouse this week that will make giving them what they need easier?
“Giving creates love.”
In a marriage or a relationship, there are many ways to bless your spouse with time and attention—with talking, parenting, managing the household, special occasions, and other ways.
One woman created an Excel spreadsheet for all the activities the family engaged in for household management.
She assigned her name and her husband wrote his name to the tasks, to get clear on how each spouse was contributing to the family’s management.
Remember: You can change what you can measure.
I think love is a choice, and when we truly love our mate, we want to give to them.
I would also use the word “serve”, in the spirit of servant leadership.
This language irks some readers because the idea of serving another is considered “servitude,” which is not the same thing in my mind.
When you speak about your marriage, do you use “me” or “we” language?
As farm couples, how are we serving each other to create a deep sense of “I’ve got your back, I am here for you?”
This requires getting involved with what is truly important to your mate, and navigating how to make them feel deeply loved and appreciated.
What interests and activities are drawing you together, and what is distracting from making you stronger? In what ways can you work together to build a strong relationship?
These are just some of the important questions farm couples should be asking themselves. Answering them will ultimately result in better marriage fitness with your partner.
If I created a marriage retreat for farm couples, would you come?
If you enjoyed this article and you’d like to dive deeper, don’t miss these posts:
My 9 Top Tips for Loving a Farmer
How to Prevent Divorce on Farms
Managing Your Marriage in the Muck
Great post on marriage. Thank you for your reminders – we all can use them from time to time.
See you at CAFA in Saskatoon on Nov 2nd.
What a wonderful blog for farmers to reflect on following the close of another harvest.
depends where and when
Thank you for this timely piece, just what I needed to hear as we continue to grind through a very long harvest season.
Hi Elaine, it has been a while. I still like to read your blog but there is only so much time. As you probably know we sold our farm four years ago, due to Marianne’s health. It was hard to let go of something we build for the last 21 years but we moved on and really enjoy our new found way of life. After working for the new owner for almost three years it was time for me to move on .For the last 16 months i have been driving a Milktruck for a local company. This way i can stay somewhat connected to the dairy Industrie. I still work on our old farm from time to time like hooftrimming equipment repairs and special projects. There are robots milking the cows now. We build a new house just a few miles south of our old place. I have been renovating our daugther’s hous in the city for the last year( in my spare time) Our girls really enjoy spending time with us and we made some trips to europe together with them. We even managed to spend Christmas 2013 with my parents in Switzerland right after we left the farm and spent some precious time with my dad bevor he passed away 2 months later. I always will be a Farmer but there is life after the farm and we are making the best of it . Marianne started to do some resbite work a few hours a week and is doing better with a lot less stress. I hope you had a good harvest at your farm. I think we hardly had a better year then this one around here. Having time to enjoy it makes it even better . Keep up your great work take care
Thanks Hans for sharing your story and letting folks know there is life after farming.
Send me more writing ideas. Sincerely, Elaine
From someone coming out a relationship that ended mostly due to lack of being present in a relationship over a long period of time, I have to agree with portions of this. You can’t go back and recreate time. in some relationships you can be most alone sitting next to someone. At the end of the day, some people are incompatible from the get go and no amount of fitness can change that. So the “how to,” could not apply. Thought provoking thou.