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Marriage fitness: build a stronger team

Elaine Froese for Progressive Dairyman Published on 29 December 2017

Some farmers had a phenomenal 2017 crop season, thanks to heaps of snow that resulted in residual moisture during the hot, dry summer.

Unfortunately, it seems that spouses may pay more attention to crop production than they do to their marriage partnerships, and the cracks can really show.

I challenge you to spend time this New Year intentionally getting your marriage into better shape.

Mort Fertel wrote Marriage Fitness: 4 Steps to Building and Maintaining Phenomenal Love. I know farmers love checklists, so you will really like Fertel’s approach. I’ll share some of his key questions. To see more, I recommend you buy his book.

1. Put love first

What importance do you give to your marriage? Counselor Marsha Harris’s question to couples is this: “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. How would you answer these true-or-false questions?

a. I speak to my spouse about non-logistical matters at least twice per day.

b. I initiate positive loving contact with my spouse at least twice per day.

c. I usually spend more time interacting with my spouse than I do watching TV.

d. I have at least one personal and meaningful discussion with my spouse each week for a minimum of 25 minutes.

e. 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.

I am curious what it would look like to put love first in your marriage? My city friends practice “date night,” going out as a couple once a week.

Farmer date nights are more like taking fuel to the field, eating meals or milking cows together. This is the issue. Making time for your growth as a couple usually gets put on the back burner until after milking, haying, pregnancy checking, calving, etc.

Many farmers 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.” Do you love your cows more than your spouse?

What would it look like to curtail your TV time and spend more time face-to-face in deeper conversation? If you are spending 10 to 20 percent of your time in front of Netflix or TSN, who is suffering?

Farm family business meetings held on a regular basis make farm families 21 percent more profitable, Dr. David Kohl says. When was the last time you spent 45 minutes to plan how to have more fun and better communication in your marriage? Fertel thinks you can do this weekly and find ways to have at least one romantic retreat a year.

2. Give presence

Show up for your mate. How well do you know your spouse to give them what they want? You may have already found clues from Gary Chapman’s five love languages: acts of service, quality time, meaningful touch, gifts and verbal affirmation.

When I do things for my hubby, he is grateful. When he hugs me in the morning before heading outside, I feel the gift of presence. So here’s a quiz:

a. What’s most stressful for your spouse?

b. What’s the one thing your spouse has always wanted?

c. What’s the most relaxing thing for your spouse?

d. What’s your spouse’s favourite way of making love?

e. 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 p.m. 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 quick repair in your relationship before supper ends.

Last year for my milestone birthday, the best gift was people choosing to visit me at our farm and making 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.

What new things can you learn about your spouse this week that will help make giving them what they need easier? Fertel says, “Giving creates love.”

In a marriage, there are many times you can bless your spouse with time and attention through talking, parenting, farming, managing the household and having special occasions together.

One woman created an Excel spreadsheet for all the activities the family engaged in for household management; she assigned her name and her hubby wrote his name to get a clear picture of how each spouse was contributing to the family’s management. 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” them in a spirit of servant leadership. This language may irk some readers because the idea of serving one another is considered to be “servitude,” which is not the same thing in my mind. How are we serving each other in our farm marriages to create a deep sense of “I’ve got your back – I am here for you”?

When you speak about your marriage relationship do you use “me” or “we” language? This requires knowing what is truly important to your mate and navigating a way to help each other feel deeply loved and appreciated. What interests and activities in your home are drawing you together, and what is distracting from making you a stronger team?

If I created a marriage retreat for farm couples, would you come?  end mark

Elaine Froese, CSP, CAFA, empowers families to have courageous conversations to strengthen their team and secure legacy. Visit Elaine Froese to buy her new book and sign up for the online course “Get Farm Transition Unstuck.”

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