When a new bride or groom or life partner moves into the family farm, it can also mean moving into the “home place” with their parents-in-law or into a new house adjacent to the family home. Immediately, there is a shift in the family dynamic with all members having to make adjustments as the new couple settle into life together.

Naturally, there is the honeymoon period, but as the weeks and months go by, cracks can appear in their relationship, creating an atmosphere of stress and disharmony. It does not mean that they have stopped loving each other – far from it – but the reality of their new living situation can hit and there may be difficulties around how they try and adjust to the changes.

Should they reside with their in-laws, they may have to deal with a lack of privacy, making spontaneous intimacy impossible. Sharing facilities such as the kitchen or sitting room may also create tension or resentment on both sides.

Living in a separate home on the farm may mean more privacy, but not necessarily more autonomy as the new couple may not have the freedom to run the farm in the way they want to. It may not yet be signed over, creating uncertainty and a sense of helplessness, especially if their ideas for change are not being considered. There may be a tendency to suppress their thoughts and feelings to avoid conflict in case the parents change their mind about signing the farm over.

Farming is a wonderful way of life and can be very rewarding for all concerned, but if a person is new to this experience, it can take a while to adjust.

Sometimes the person “marrying in” may have had to relocate from a different town or county, creating a sense of isolation and loneliness as catching up with friends and other family members may no longer be as easy as before. If they have had to give up their job, having no independent income can also lead to money worries.

Farming is a wonderful way of life and can be very rewarding for all concerned, but if a person is new to this experience, it can take a while to adjust. Gone are the nine to five hours. Farming is really 24/7, especially in the calving season or when sheep are lambing.

How can one cope in these types of situations? Is it possible to effect positive change in a way that benefits all parties concerned? The answer is yes. But everybody needs to be willing to try.

Let go of judgement

The first step is learning to let go of judging each other, and instead attempting to understand where everybody is in their own individual minds, trying to look with compassion rather than resentment. Each person has had to make adjustments and needs to be acknowledged. It is easy to forget about the parents and how they have worked hard down through the years to rear their family and develop the farm to create what is probably a wonderful legacy for their adult child and his/her spouse or life partner. This has been their life and relinquishing control of it can be terrifying. The thoughts of facing an uncertain future can seem daunting to say the least.

Reaching retirement can also be both a plus and a minus. It is a unique experience for each person. Employees are usually treated to at least one workshop where they receive guidance on how to adjust to this new stage of their life. People who are self-employed cannot avail of this luxury unless they employ the services of a suitably qualified person. Many are not even aware of the various supports that are available to them. It is up to them to plan out a future as retirees and live and learn as they go along. Change is inevitable; personal growth is a choice.

It can truly help both parties should the younger couple have new ideas for their farm to try and include the parents in their plans as much as they can. Wisdom comes with old age and life’s experiences. As the saying goes, it is not what you say sometimes, but how you say it. People like to be “needed” to a certain degree and this can make all the difference to the older couple and truly enhance the relationship between all four. Listening to hear rather than listening to respond makes for what is known as effective communication.

If the farm has not yet been signed over, it is important to discuss this and to make a succession plan that works for all parties involved

Effective communication

Effective communication is necessary for all relationships to survive and remain healthy. This means giving each other uninterrupted time to simply talk about each individual’s concerns, and also any ideas they have that can help improve matters. It is not about being right or wrong. It is simply being afforded an opportunity to make their feelings known.

It can help to set a timer on the phone, allowing everybody the same amount of time to speak. For those listening, remember listen to hear, not to reply. You will get your turn to speak as well. Once everybody has had their chance to talk, agree a time – within 24 hours if possible – to come back to it, and take the next step towards reaching a compromise.

If the farm has not yet been signed over, it is important to discuss this and to make a succession plan that works for all parties involved, perhaps engaging the services of a professional advisor. There are many stories of men and women spending all of their lives working the farm, caring for elderly parents, only for the parents to will it to another sibling. Equally, it is important that the older generation is looked after. It is about respect as well as commitment on both sides.

A person with healthy boundaries can say ‘no’ to others when they want to, but they are also comfortable opening themselves up to intimacy and close relationships

Creating healthy personal boundaries is a must. What are personal boundaries? According to Therapistaid, “Personal boundaries are the limits and rules we set ourselves within relationships. A person with healthy boundaries can say ‘no’ to others when they want to, but they are also comfortable opening themselves up to intimacy and close relationships.”

Ideally, these need to be set prior to moving in together or getting married, ensuring a smoother transition to a shared life on the farm from the start, like when it comes to respecting personal space, beliefs, or decisions. Having said that, it is never too late to initiate positive changes. Know that for every problem we experience, there is a solution to be had.

Engaging in proper self-care will also help us stay healthy and strong and better able to face whatever challenges come our way. Maintain a healthy work-life balance. No excuses. You will always have a choice.

Eat healthily. Take regular exercise. While farming takes place out in nature, take time also to truly relax in nature. Have interests outside of your working life. For people who may be new to the area, perhaps joining a walking group, or the local gym, or a book club, or some other activity of your choice to help you settle in. Make sure you take time out as a couple and enjoy quality time together.

For the parents-in-law, I also encourage you to practice good self-care and focus on enjoying life and seeing the positives. It is natural to worry about the younger generation taking over; but remember you too were the younger generation and had to learn as you went along. The mistakes we make along the way can be our greatest teachers.

offering advice

Be willing to offer advice, but hold back on dishing out too much unless you are asked. This way, the younger couple will not feel controlled, and may be more willing and comfortable to include you in the decisions that need to be made from time to time. Remember too, that if and when the grandchildren come along, to create healthy boundaries for yourselves. If you are not willing to be full-time baby sitters, say so at the very outset. The sooner everybody knows where they stand, the less awkwardness there is going forward.

If matters continue to be difficult for all parties, then I would strongly advise you to reach out and engage in the services of a family therapist. Here each person is afforded a safe and confidential space to discuss their individual concerns and the therapist will help them to look at possible solutions to the various issues that arise in a way that is acceptable to everyone.

Individual therapy can also help people look more objectively at what is happening and help them find ways of coping in a way that best serves their greater good.

We humans have been likened to an onion by the late Fritz Pearls. Each time we work on an issue and resolve it, another one will pop up for some healing. There can be layers and layers to work through. Changes in our normal routine can be triggers and see us reacting negatively to the situation. It is always good to talk. CL

Claire Lyons Forde is an accredited counsellor in practice in Co Kerry and offers therapy in person as well as online and over the phone. For further information, contact 087-939-9818.

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