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Farm Stress Fact Sheets: Stress Management for Farm/Ranch Couples (FS285 (Revised))

Working together under pressure, changing roles, and holding down more than one job can add up to one thing-high stress levels for farm/ranch couples. But by being sensitivities, communication, and relaxing together, a husband and wife can ease pressures and cope with stresses.

Sean Brotherson, Family Science Specialist, NDSU Extension Service


One of the unique aspects of farming/ranching is that husbands and wives often work closely together. Consequently, farm/ranch operations and family life are tightly inter-woven. Farm/ranch decisions are more likely to affect the entire family than are job decisions of workers in other occupations. For example, a decision to buy a new tractor is likely to affect plans for purchasing a new refrigerator.

During planting season or the harvest, when one stressful event piles up on top of another and tensions run high, working closely together can lead to high levels of stress for the entire family.

Another source of tension for some farm/ranch couples is related to changing roles. Many years ago our society more clearly defined the differences between activities of husbands and wives. But today, with increasing farm/ranch costs, more and more farm/ranch wives hold two or more jobs (farm/ranch partner, mother-homemaker and off-farm/ranch employee).

Some men who are accustomed to more traditional roles for spouses may have difficulty accepting women working off the farm/ranch or making important decisions.

So, stress between a farm/ranch couple is not unusual considering the close working relationship and varied pressures. To relieve the strain, there are several things you can do.

  • Plan ahead. Set measurable goals together for your lifetime, five years from now, and a year from now. Decide how long the two of you want to stay in farming/ranching; then focus on enjoying what you have decided to do.
  • Communicate realistic expectations clearly. Use “I statements” more often than “you statements.” “You’re always wanting to buy something else!” will probably not get your spouse to change. Try using an I statement instead: “I get worried and angry when I hear you wanting to buy a new . . . What I’d like is for the two of us to sit down and decide together which major purchases we can afford.” Then, especially on serious matters, listen well so that you can repeat back to your partner’s satisfaction what she or he says and feels. Focus on listening without being upset or defensive.
  • Be flexible in your roles and attitudes. Letting others do things you usually do and adjusting your expectations when necessary can reduce pressures.
  • Negotiate. When problems arise, schedule time for the two of you to brainstorm and discuss ideas. Weigh the costs and benefits of each solution. Arrive at a plan that enables both of you to get something you want.
  • Check in daily. Take a moment to inquire how your spouse is feeling. Look for and give attention to early indications of stress, such as a furrowed brow or a tense voice.
  • Promote connection and appreciation. “One thing I really appreciate about you today is . . . ”
  • Schedule an evening a week to play together. To keep your marriage growing, take a break from the work and the children. If it helps, make it a rule to talk about only yourselves as a couple and not about the farm operation.
  • Ask for, or volunteer, a rubdown. Through a gentle neckrub, backrub, footrub, head scratch or massage, you can ease sore muscles and give your spouse the gift of a restful night’s sleep.
  • Get in touch. Hold hands; hug each other; show your affection. Physical contact can be one of the best stress relievers of all.
  • Take a relaxing warm bath or a shower to relax and sleep well. Getting healthy and sufficient sleep helps reduce stress.
  • Laugh at yourselves. Remember, always being serious is crazy.
  • Celebrate your anniversary, birthday, the arrival of a new foal or calf, getting the field planted before the rain, and other milestones.
  • Take time to relax and dream together.

Your life as a farm/ranch couple will never be totally free from stress. But through daily practice you can recognize the early warning signs of stress and make it a habit to do what works best for you to ease pressures. You may find that your work is more enjoyable and your marriage more enriching and supportive.

Reprinted from University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Leaflet 284

Robert J. Fetsch, Professor and Extension Specialist, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523

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