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Farm marriages have more stress than most. Dealing with it depends on you

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I was born a farmer’s daughter and became a farmer’s wife. But that’s not what I say. I am a farmer and rancher. Yes, I’m a farmer’s wife and farmer’s daughter, but I am also a farmer in my own right.

Yet that doesn’t mean that I have the same priority as my farmer husband.

Listen, I’m in all the farmer wives groups. I see all the posts. There are so many women feeling neglected, mad at their spouse. These wives may feel like they are single parenting their children, never seeing their partner. I’ve seen these women’s feelings affirmed by their peers in these groups, and I’ve seen some encouraged to leave their partners, to see their worth.

I will not tell you my marriage is sunshine and roses. It’s not. Each year for the past three years, our marriage has gotten harder. Each season, it’s harder for me to extend grace and patience. Every dirty look or angry word gets harder to brush off. When asked, my husband, Matt, says he will not leave this farm. You may view that as the dirt is more important.

But, like my grandma said, “I made my bed, now I must sleep in it.” And I made my bed with my eyes wide open, though quite clouded with young love. There were lots of people telling me how stubborn he was, how much he worked, how difficult marriage to him would be. And I made the choice to say the vows in front of our family and friends in my grandma’s hayfield.

I’m not telling you anything I haven’t told him.

You see all those anniversary posts about how hard marriage has been, but they wouldn’t change a thing if they were given the choice to do it again. In all fairness, given the chance for a re-do, I wouldn’t marry the farmer. I wouldn’t. I would find somebody who didn’t know the difference between a cow and a bull. I’d find one who didn’t know how to set a combine for all the different crops, let alone operate one.

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It’s the 21st century, and divorce is commonplace — more so than a happy marriage. Nobody would blink twice if we got divorced, and I did have my second chance. And I can’t predict the future, it may still happen. I’ll be honest and tell you one day I packed my bags and got in the car and left. I drove away. And I bawled the whole time. We don’t have kids, only the four-legged variety in the form of a dog, cats and cows. I drove away and left, looking for my “worth,” looking for my happiness.

My husband is not a talker. He’s not a word person. I am. I want to hear all the things. I want the words of affirmation. He struggles with giving me that. He called me and said he’s sorry he wasn’t making me happy. There was a long conversation that followed that will remain private.

But in that moment of him saying he wasn’t making me happy, it clicked. He’s not responsible for my happiness. I am. Sure our spouses are meant to love, protect, encourage, and all the rest of those things, but they are not responsible for our happiness. You are responsible for your own happiness. I am responsible for my own happiness.

I came back to him and to us.

Every day since I left, I wake up and reaffirm to myself that I want to be married to Matt. I want to do the work to make our marriage work. I tell him exactly what I need each day. I do the things that bring me joy. I don’t feel guilty when I don’t work all the hours beside him on the farm. I don’t worry about spending a few dollars in the house to make it our home. I mill wheat and bake homemade bread. I write during the day when my brain is at its peak efficiency. I compromise with him. But mostly I do things that make me happy. Spending Sundays with my husband makes me happy. Choosing to haul hay on Sunday so he will take off early to be with me is worth it to me.

I choose to not let anyone else’s attitude affect me negatively. I’m not responsible for anybody else’s happiness, but mine. And in this season, in this moment, I’m firmly committed to making choices that do that.

This isn’t a one-and-done thing. You have to continually commit to this. There will come a time that I get lazy about this. I’ll fall back into the routine of thinking I need to be working on the farm every hour my husband is. I’ll think he doesn’t care about me when he won’t empty the dishwasher without me nagging. More than likely, ladies, he doesn’t even see it. It’s not that he won’t — it’s that he doesn’t see it. And we get to choose how to handle it.

It bothers me that I’m expected to notice everything around the farm. I’m expected to run everything without any instruction, but he doesn’t see the dishwasher needs to be cleaned out. You get to make the choice to be resentful or simply tell him you need the dishwasher cleaned out while you take a relaxing shower. Marriage is not 50/50. It never will be. There will be seasons that one partner is putting in way more. Don’t be resentful of these seasons. (I’m telling myself this, too!)

I’m a big believer in choice when you live in a country like ours. We are free to make choices, thanks to a lot of people who sacrifice so much to serve this country. You make choices, and you are then responsible for those choices. Don’t play the victim card. Don’t play the blame card. Sometimes life happens to us and we have no choice, other than how we handle the cards dealt to us.

Every person thinks differently, we interpret things that were said differently. And those same things change depending on how much sleep we have got, what foods we ate and the situations that happened.

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Image by Mindmo, Shutterstock

What I’m finally figuring out after almost a decade of marriage (and perhaps I’m a slow learner) is that my happiness is my own. It’s not his to distribute. I get to choose. When he says hurtful things in the heat of the moment, I get to choose how I react. I get to choose to work the long hours beside him for months on end or I get to choose to say, I need a day to do the things that bother me. (We all know the things in the house get neglected during the busy times and coming home to a house that isn’t put together drives me crazy, making me bitter).

Sometimes it’s best just to say, you’re on your own today, I don’t care what the weather is doing or supposed to do. Today I’m not helping. ,

Still, the man I married to loves me, and I love him. The farm isn’t my dream, but it is his. We have discussed this. It doesn’t negate my dreams. It means that we have to work together to make each of our dreams a shared reality. You and your spouse are going to have to figure out what you’re willing to accept and sacrifice for each other and what you’re not. Maybe that means trying your second chance. And maybe that simply means telling your spouse exactly what you need from him.

Remember that most of us are good-hearted people, trying our best with what we know, to do our best for those around us. Sometimes we fall off track and sometimes we get stressed out and forget. That doesn’t make us horrible people, it makes us human.

And especially know you’re not alone — we all feel lonely at some point in this ag lifestyle.


Kelsey Pagel is a Kansas farmer. She grew up on a cow/calf and row crop operation and married into another. Kelsey and her Forever (Matt) farm and ranch with his family where they are living their dream and loving most of the moments.

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