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Mike Rosmann, Published October 10 2013

Rosmann: Helping farmers’ understanding of themselves can be a challenge

Recently, a 43-year-old farmer, “Dan,” told me he was furious because his wife purchased a Breathalyzer to detect if he had been drinking. He was so angry he could hardly talk. He denied consuming alcohol.

His wife complained to me earlier that her husband was “out of touch” two out of every three evenings for the past year when she came home from her job around 8 p.m. and Dan usually smelled of alcohol. She often found him asleep on the floor of their bedroom or most any place in the house.

When “Darla” tried to awaken Dan, he often could barely manage to say “Hi,” and slunk back into stupor. Darla said Dan occasionally stumbled down the stairs in their home and said things that didn’t make sense, like “I decided to sell the farm today.” She purchased a Breathalyzer to objectively determine if Dan’s claims of not drinking were accurate.

Typically, their two children, ages 4 and 6, were running around the house when Darla arrived home, or they were trying to make sandwiches and heat soup for supper. Dan usually picked up the kids around 6 p.m. from day care after completing farm work, except during the busy seasons. Lately, he seldom ate supper with his family because he was sleeping when Darla arrived home.

The couple fought about the Breathalyzer for several weeks and nothing has changed between them as they draw closer to a showdown.

There is also “Jeff,” a professional carpenter and farmer who is involved in an extramarital affair with his best male friend’s wife, “Ann.” Jeff’s wife, “Beth,” suspects something but wants to believe his claims that he and Ann are just friends. Beth insisted Jeff consult me.

Jeff says Beth often makes up excuses for her lack of interest in physical intimacy with him. He said he loves Beth but he can’t stop his affair with Ann because they meet each other’s needs. “It’s as much Ann’s fault as mine,” Jeff says.

Jeff said he and Ann will probably continue their affair until they get caught. Then he doesn’t know what will happen. They also have two teenage children.

These situations are real, but I changed names and identifying characteristics to protect confidentiality. What is wrong?

Both farm men have several features in common. They are in denial that they are the cause of their problems and are lying to themselves and others. They will both likely “get caught” at some point in the near future.

Both could jeopardize their farming careers, something neither wants. Ironically, Dan is drinking partly because of farming pressures, and Darla is trying to augment their finances by working off the farm.

Dan is increasing his chances of a farming mishap if he consumes alcohol while engaged in farm work or is hung over the next morning. Dan is also putting himself at risk for improper supervision of his young children and the loss of his spouse and any child custody if he and Darla separate.

Jeff works as a carpenter to help pay for the farm both he and Beth are purchasing from Jeff’s aging parents. But if he and his wife end up divorcing and have to split their property, Jeff will lose half the farm and will not have enough land to justify keeping his farm equipment, as well as incurring his parents’ disappointment.

Both men are setting themselves up to lose what they most want: loving relationships with spouses, their families’ respect, and – unlike persons in other professions – the land they strive to farm. Both men care deeply about their farms and farming heritage. They are not managing their behavior smartly.

What can be done to fix their problems? Let’s begin by noting that when we don’t have the right answers ourselves, we need to bring more input into consideration and heed the advice of other trusted persons while our judgment is uncertain.

Dan and Jeff consulted me, both upon their wives’ requests. Well, that didn’t work. Both farmers needed to choose whom they want for outside advice.

If the men don’t want to consult me, they should approach other objective and credible persons, such as pastors, professionals in or outside their communities whom they consider wise, and not family or friends. They also need to conduct soul-searching, with meditation and prayer.

Dan and Jeff should open themselves to the possibility of changing their behaviors, which in both of their situations, are under their control. They need help making choices that are honest and fair for all who are affected and learning healthy behavior management styles.

Regular readers of this column know I often say our biggest problem is managing ourselves effectively.

Mike Rosmann is a Harlan, Iowa, psychologist and farmer. To contact Rosmann go online to www.agbehavioralhealth.com.