Farm advice: The challenges of farming on couples

By: Bridgette Jackson, relationship coach


Farming, business, and marriage work well together until they don’t. Here’s a question — how does your personal life affect your farm business?

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There’s a huge benefit to being married and working together where both domestic and farm discussions can intertwine, because as we all know, farming or working on a farm isn’t a 40-hour week in five days, with weekends free. 

While it might feel like a negative topic, in any business, many factors depend on the health and success of the owner’s relationship. In any farm business, relationship stress and interpersonal conflict are not unusual given working and living together, with long hours and varied pressures. As spouses, joint investors, and parents who work seven days a week (or six days if you’re a farm worker) combined with working full-time together or with one of you working elsewhere, and the farm as a second job, all adds up to one thing — times of high stress for farming couples.  

Farming does have the trade-off in that working for yourself is both motivating and satisfying. However, the obligations of running a farm business often make it difficult to spend quality time together as a couple. When you do spend time together, are you spending it as a couple, as business partners, or with your ‘everyday accountant’ or mentor? It’s for this reason that as a couple you need open, clear communication with distinct lines to separate the working and personal relationship dynamic.  

The health of your relationship is low cost but is a high-value priority. Working together with an ever-changing dynamic that comes from being on call 24/7, while raising a family requires a strong and solid relationship foundation and connection. Without it, you will spend hours working together but it won’t translate to a valuable or meaningful working relationship. What then often happens is a couple will withdraw to focus on their own farm jobs and life, before realising 10 days have gone by and you haven’t spent time any time together as a couple. 

When you stop connecting as a couple, it can have negative consequences for you across several areas of your life — intimacy, communication, time together, and emotional distance, which inevitably leads to resentment and conflict. A further consequence could be one party or both parties seeking out or exploring other opportunities, whether that is emotional and/or physical infidelity to fill the void created by the lack of connection.

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How you can both elevate your relationship

Your relationship should be a top priority; without a strong connection to each other, your attitude and mindset will influence your behaviour. A marriage or de-facto relationship in a farm business works when you prioritise it. 

These are some points to consider, on how to elevate your relationship:

  • Your partner is your intimate partner. This is not all about sex. The key to a lasting relationship is working towards building a stronger, more intimate bond.  Your partner is the one who knows you personally and who you have a deep connection with.  You both need to continually invest in that connection to be able to emotionally and physically support each other.
  • Spend time together. Put it in the phone, mark it on the calendar to spend one evening together. It can be as simple as a 30-minute walk on the farm, an evening drink on the deck, or going for a ride together with no distractions. This includes no phones, no children (if they’re old enough), and no farm talk. 
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. This is the foundation of any healthy relationship. In order to have an open, honest relationship with your partner, you must be able to communicate. When you have this, you will both be more attuned to each other and better equipped to be able to support each other. When communication starts to break down in a partnership, it can lead to misunderstandings, unresolved conflicts, trust issues, and/or a decrease in intimacy.
  • Check in with each other daily. Make the time each day — it can be five minutes face-to-face or a phone call or text. 
  • Promote appreciation of each other. Sometimes we only see what was not done; we forget that we need to look for what was done. Thank them for that, it can be something as small as breakfast out for you, coffee made waiting on the table, or coming out to open gates for you. 
  • Celebrate together. Anniversaries, birthdays, the arrival of a new piece of farming equipment, getting a field planted, or a high milk fat yield — look to celebrate these together.  
  • Spend time on your own interests, separately. When anyone is able to invest themselves in an interest or hobby for themselves, they will be able to give more to their partner and family. 
  • Make the ordinary feel special. You can make the day-to-day jobs and routine feel special by doing them together or having a plan to go on to something together after. This could be both of you going out together to get a job done on the farm, followed by something you don’t usually do together, back at home or off the farm.  
  • Make time to talk business. When an issue comes up, schedule a time that works for both of you to talk about it. But please don’t do these near mealtimes, over dinner, during family time, or when you’re spending time together as a couple. Keep it separate.

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Set a high standard of respect for each other

It’s also important to know as with any relationship, you will not always agree and from time to time will need to agree to disagree. Be willing to let momentary lapses or mistakes go and look to the bigger picture of what really matters in the long run.

Relationship WOF

In farming, you routinely face day-to-day stressors, such as too little rain before there’s too much and financial challenges, such as milk yield being lower than expected. When challenges such as these arise, you revisit the balance sheet, expenses, and forecasting to keep the farm business running. What’s your plan when your relationship needs some focus?

Beyond the immediate demands of your business, as a couple, you also need to consider the impact of external influences on your relationship and personal long-term goals. Reassessing your shared vision, principles, and goals ensures you’re both still aligned and on the same path, or are external factors clouding or changing your future thinking and long-term goals?

We have 60-plus questions we recommend couples ask each other before committing to a serious relationship to ensure they are truly aligned for a future together. The questions are not there to expose non-compatibility; rather it’s about becoming aligned as a couple, so obstacles can be worked through at the start.  As a couple revisiting your relationship goals and personal goals together is a good way to come back to a common viewpoint and aligned goals, because from time to time, external factors can change thinking.  This is called a ‘Relationship WOF’ and it can be fun. You can liken it to spending time as you do to maintain your farm machinery — it needs time spent on it to keep it running smoothly.

It’s also important to know there are no right or wrong answers. It’s about staying aligned on objectives, beliefs, and values and how you’re connected. What we do know is when you possess an in-depth understanding of each other’s goals and have alignment on the same path, your personal and business goals will thrive. When you make time to go over these, it should be without distractions, so you can give each other your time and energy.    

When you go through questions such as these, remember to laugh together and not to take yourselves too seriously. 

Relationship WOF questions include:

  • What do you do to make me happy that you do not really like?
  • How do you know you are loved and appreciated?
  • What do you think we could do to make our relationship better?
  • How are you dealing with the stress?
  • How often do you think we should be having sex [at this time of the season]?
  • What do you love most about me?
  • What is our top priority as a couple? Does it need to change?
  • What is your favourite sexual memory of us so far?
  • How are we approaching conflict resolution? 
  • What are your non-negotiable needs in our relationship?
  • Have you changed your hopes or wants for our life path together?
  • What does our retirement look like for you?
  • Are we spending enough time on our relationship?
  • If not, what can we do about it?
  • How can we keep our bodies moving and minds active that includes life elements not related to the farm?

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What to remember to strengthen your relationship

Put your relationship first — you’re a team and partners as well as each other’s intimate partner. Set a high standard of respect — there should be no insults, yelling, or putting each other down when you’re together.  This will only lead to the other person withdrawing and communication breaking down.

Try to always see each other’s perspective — you won’t always agree on everything. It will vary from how to cook toast to bigger farm-related things. When this happens, it’s important to consider the other person’s perspective and what they have to say; after all, your goals should be aligned, so they only have good intentions.

Remember the busy times are seasonal — there will be busy and quieter periods.  Prepare yourselves for the busier times and plan for more time together in the quieter months.

Show each other love and respect in multiple ways. Small things such as loving touches, notes, and kind words as well as spending quality time together mean a lot in a relationship.

Accept the ups and downs and focus more on the ups. Take advantage of professional resources for the health of your relationship and each other. Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength and many appointments and professional support can be sourced and done online.

Points to consider in the supporting role

I don’t profess to know the intricacies of farming and running a farm business. What I do know, is that it’s hard work and at times lonely and stressful.  

Your farm partner cannot change the lifestyle so as their wife, husband, partner, or significant other, you’re an important link to keep everything together. This includes the home, family and supporting the farm business, as well as probably working on it.

I’ve seen couples separate because of the related stress that comes from running and owning their own business. There’s always the fear of losing everything and letting everyone down, especially if the farm is an intergenerational one, and for this reason, to a point, the farm will always be the first priority.

  • Give yourself some gratitude.
  • Be kind to your significant other.
  • Have realistic expectations.
  • Don’t let problems fester.
  • Set aside some time to discuss the farm business together.
  • Focus on what you can control, what’s doable and move or push out what is not.
  • Be flexible in your roles and attitudes.
  • Spend time pursuing your own interests.
  • Keep him/her talking — silence will not resolve the challenges and bad days.
  • Be the voice of reason.
  • Communicate realistic expectations — when talking use ‘I’ more than ‘you’.
  • Get yourself and your children involved on the farm.
  • Consider taking up your own project or hobby outside of the day-to-day running of the farm.

Remember to take joy from the simple things in life and to look for the positives in any negative that you face; there’s always at least one. If things don’t always go to plan — and they won’t — remember ‘that this too, shall pass’ and each day can be a fresh start.

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Bridgette Jackson

Bridgette Jackson is a CDC-certified divorce/separation coach with a post-graduate dispute resolution qualification. She’s also a trained divorce mediator (AIMNZ), relationship coach (Institute for Life Coach Training), and enrolled barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand.

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