"Life is an ocean and love is a boat. In troubled waters that keeps us afloat.”

These are lyrics from The Voyage, a beautiful song made popular by Christy Moore and sung at many wedding ceremonies over the years.

Love is wonderful, but it is only one aspect of a relationship. It also needs to be unconditional, otherwise problems can and do arise. If there are conditions attached to love, then it will not keep the couple afloat in troubled waters for too long. Respect is equally important, as is the ability to effectively communicate with each other and be comfortable talking about your feelings and emotions.

But what happens when couples become disappointed with their marriage? Each person has their own dreams and expectations of how life will be.

They put their heart and soul into their vows and look forward to a happy future together but life doesn’t always work that way.

It is natural and important to have hopes and dreams about how life will be together as a couple and later on perhaps as parents too. The reality is, however, that nothing is guaranteed.

Facing challenges

Although the practice is thankfully changing now, traditionally the family farm has been handed down to a son. That said, it can still be the case that when couples are blessed with only daughters and no male “heir”, it can be stressful, with the couple feeling judged or under pressure to keep the family name going.

At the start of the marriage, the couple may have been very comfortable financially. Many farmers have part-time jobs and most women keep working after marriage now. A change in circumstances may see the farmer having to give up his/her work to focus on keeping the farm or if they were farming full-time, they may now have to take on a part-time job to keep going. The other partner may find themselves working extra hours on the farm, as well as keeping their own job and caring for the home and their children. The extra pressure they may find themselves in can lead to burnout and an inability to focus on the relationship. The elderly parents who bequeathed the farm may become ill and incapable of looking after themselves, thus putting the couple under pressure because duty of care will fall on them as they inherited the property.

Such challenges can lead to disappointment. Disappointment can be likened to a sadness that comes over us when life doesn’t go as we had hoped and planned.

Review expectations

Look at expectations. Be honest and share your expectations of each other in the relationship. Are some of your expectations gender-related? For instance, male farmers may be reluctant to ask their wife for help out on the farm because they fear she would find it too difficult. Women may feel reluctant to ask their husband to help with the domestic chores or even childcare because of self-limiting beliefs about this being “women’s work”. You will never know until you ask.

Are you the parents of wonderful, girls? Are you feeling under pressure to produce a son? Who are you trying to please? There is absolutely no law that states only men can run a farm. Let go of the need to please others. Rather than feeling anxious about having no boy, give gratitude for the amazing daughters that have been gifted to you. Enjoy them.

Are you finding it difficult to conceive? This, too, brings its own pressures and disappointments. The yearning for a baby and the pressure of others’ perceived expectations can really weigh a person down. It can help to speak to a professional.

Boundaries with in-laws

Many people are caring for elderly parents or in-laws. When this happens, boundaries need to be established. If your parents live with you, other siblings can forget that this is not their home and that they do not have a right to simply pop in and out to visit their parents without running it by you first. The flip side of the coin may be that siblings want to help, but do not wish to be seen as intruding in the couple’s private lives and are unsure how to offer support without giving the wrong impression.

Elderly parents can also forget that they do not have a right to tell their adult child how to live their lives. Occasionally, a person marrying into the family farm has to deal with a spouse who allows their parents to constantly dictate the pace, and refutes any ideas she may have about making the farm more viable and perhaps easier to manage. This can be soul-destroying and have a detrimental effect on the relationship.

Time to talk

If you are experiencing feelings of disappointment in your marriage, remember that communication is the first step in getting the relationship back on track again.

A good way to start is to sit down together and have a cup of tea and a chat. Remind each other of when you both met and what attracted you to each other. Give each other that uninterrupted time to simply speak from the heart about your worries and disappointments, without the need to cast blame on the other person. You are simply talking about your feelings. If intimacy has been non-existent, try the simple act of holding hands or giving each other a hug.

Next, I would encourage you to write out a list of things you are grateful for despite the current situation. Compare them. Being grateful restores a little positivity back to the relationship. It can also help one feel less bitter and resentful. Right now, what small changes can help you start navigating your boat over troubled waters once more? If finances are a worry, make an appointment to speak with your financial adviser. MABS are also very helpful and supportive in this field. Remember, you are never alone and nothing stays the same. This too shall pass.

Is burnout an issue? Are you both feeling emotionally drained as well as physically exhausted trying to juggle everything? How do you spend your day? What adjustments can you make to bring more balance into your lives? Have you ever considered asking for outside assistance from family or engaging with farm relief services just to get a break?

There are four aspects to our psyche: mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. When we neglect any of these, it has a ripple effect. Remember to put self-care high on your agenda.

Quality time

How long is it since you have enjoyed some quality time together? What happened that it stopped? What can you do to reverse this trend? For every problem, there is a solution. Sometimes it can take a while to work it out, but if you persist, it will happen for you.

St Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, so why not plan something romantic together? It may be as simple as getting a takeaway for dinner and sitting back and relaxing in front of the TV for the evening. Light a scented candle. Small changes can achieve wonderful results over time.

Not talking about things, predicting what your partner is thinking or how they might react to something you wish to say, does not help the situation. At the start, it may be uncomfortable to sit across the table and try talking. Going for a walk together around the farm and talking with ease may help you to start focusing on what changes you both would like to make to help improve your lives. Make a habit of it. Be mindful also as you walk. Allow nature to soothe and ground you.

Disappointments happen in all areas of life, including marriage. We can go down the road of victimhood or we can take ownership of it and look at ways of getting back on track again. If the situation has become really difficult, then couples counselling may be worth considering.

Psychotherapist Claire Lyons Forde is based in Co Kerry and offers therapy in person, as well as online and over the phone. For further information, call 087-939-9818.

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