Farm men and women can have differing priorities about what is important. 

SHE: “Make sure you are home and ready to leave for the church picnic by 7:00 tonight; the kids and I want to get there in time to have supper.”

HE: “I need to finish baling the hay because it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so if I’m not home by 7:00, you can go without me.”

HER THOUGHTS: "The children and I are less important than the farm to him.”

HIS THOUGHTS: “We wouldn’t be able to afford to eat out if I don’t get the farm work done right.”

ME: The farmer must ask himself what is most important: reassuring his family they are his main concern, or affirming himself that he is doing a good job by working extra hard to complete a farm task.  Although I grew up in a house where the traditional approach of finishing work reigned, I learned when I lost several toes in a combine auger because I was pushing myself too hard that it is more important to care about relationships.  People are whom we strive to pass along the farm heritage; the land and personal satisfaction are less necessary if our spouse and successors choose to not carry on the heritage or don’t feel close. 

Shopping.  HE: “I’ll wait in the car while you run into the store to get what you want.”

SHE: “I’ll be gone just a minute.”

HIS THOUGHTS: “When she says a minute it usually means she’ll be gone a half hour or longer.  What to do with the time?”

HER TH0UGHTS: “Oh good, he says it’s okay if I shop for a while.  I will try to hurry along but if I see something I like, I might shop longer.”

ME: Some men listen to the radio, call friends, read or engage in any diversions they can think of.  For me it’s a good time to meditate in silence because I seldom enjoy shopping, so I sit on a bench in the store or in the car.  I use the time as beneficially as possible, such as to think about what I wish to do over the next few days and to get my motives and behaviors adjusted through prayer.  In the example above the woman should specify a time when she will finish her shopping and stick to it instead of saying she will take just a minute and planning to shop longer if she finds something she likes. 

The games played by married couples, whether farmers or not, define their relationship.  How they are played can improve or destroy the relationship.

In troubled relationships it is less important what the issue is than who wins.  In healthy relationships there is good natured “give and take” and discussion about what is really going on in their relationship.

Partners in a cohabitating relationship, whether married or not, almost always know the hidden meanings behind the games.  When one partner doesn’t “get it,” there are usually serious problems, such as anger, fears their relationship could end, plotting to find a way to “show up the partner,” or other negative motives.

Happy couples find ways to talk about their games and resolve worrisome concerns before they erupt into a more serious display, such as threatening to leave. 

Marilyn and I play lots of games that mainly concern who wins.  Recently she purchased two bags of salted caramel candy, one of the candies I like to eat. 

After I finished the last five pieces from the first bag and even though she ate most of it, she hid the second bag in her underwear drawer.  Much too obvious! 

I quickly found the candy bag and tossed it into my sock drawer, knowing that would be the first place she might search.  I wasn’t surprised when it was gone from my sock drawer the next day. 

I said nothing and didn’t even try to find the candy, for I knew Marilyn would sequester it in a place I could never find.  But I also know when she can’t find her cell phone or car keys I will have an opportunity to offer my services to try to find where she lost them and she might renege and give me a piece of salted caramel if I am nice about helping her.

HER THOUGHTS: “Mike always eats more than his share.  That’s why the kids used to label the leftovers they put in the refrigerator with their names on the containers, because otherwise Dad would eat them.”

MY THOUGHTS: “Leftovers are for whoever gets to them first, especially if they are foods one likes.”

SOLUTION: It’s a battle I will never win, so I might as well concede Marilyn’s victory from the outset.  Now my children are telling the story to their own kids, so I am guaranteed to not win for another generation! 

Michael Rosmann is a Harlan, Iowa clinical psychologist (and fly-fisherman) who lives on the farm he shares with his wife.  Contact him at: www.agbehavioralhealth.com.