Even though I only have a few years of marriage under my belt, I offered some marriage advice last week to my sister and her fiancé, Riley, who were engaged over Easter. Since the couple will be living on Riley’s family cattle operation once they are married, I thought it was pertinent to warn her about the pros and cons of working alongside your partner on the ranch. I was pleasantly surprised when several readers chimed in with their advice, so without further ado, here is a roundup of the top 13 pieces of advice offered by readers for successful ranch marriages.
1. Appreciate each other.
Farmideas writes, “You hit the nail on the head. It's staying together and sharing that precious asset called a farm. I'm especially interested in farm workshop projects, and when I hear a farmer's wife say with pride ‘My Bobby's done that, thought it up himself and fixed it in the workshop,’ I know there's a bond which will never get broken. She admires his ingenuity and skill in the same way that he can't get enough of her apple pie!”
2. Share similar goals and dreams.
Dakota ranch wife adds, “My best advice is to remember at this time of the year that Mother’s Day is usually the day the cows go out to pasture. Don't expect any more or less than to be working the chute, getting crapped on by cows and yelled at by your loving husband. Don't get me wrong, we love the cattle and many evenings are enjoyed out checking for a calving cow; this is what brought us together and keeps our marriage going strong. We share the same desire and goals, which is our cattle operation. It won't work any other way because of all the time, commitment, and money needed to be successful.”
3. Enjoy working together.
Margaret from Iowa says, “After 46+ years as a cattleman's partner, I can say you are exactly correct. Nothing can get a guy going faster than the words, "cows out." But, for all the long hours, market ups and down, cold weather and calving, and fences to continually check and fix, I can honestly say we did it together. We are well past traditional retirement age and have no intention of quitting. Where else can you be with the love of your life and share your days 24/7? It's a "wonderful life!”
4. Don’t sweat the small stuff but stay strong on the stuff that counts.
Anonymous advises, “A little saying I read before marrying some 32 years ago goes like this: ‘It's not the way you look at each other, but the way you look together in the same direction.’ Don't get bent out of shape with little things, but be solid as a rock about the big stuff -- God, family and community."
5. When in doubt, bend your knees in prayer.
One anonymous reader writes, “I would suggest adding prayer along with work and play.”
Another adds, “God needs to be the center because with Him, the years ahead will be much more fulfilling.”
Neal says, “My wife and I of almost 55 years started below the water line. Prayer is necessary, but prayer is more important for the person saying the prayer than the person you're praying for. You can't beat ranch life and you will not be exempt from trials. Marriage is the same. Try to swallow your pride and move on. Every dark night has a sunrise.”
Val agrees and adds, “In the end, the most important thing is to keep God as the third member of your marriage. With just two, you can become unraveled and fall apart. But add God as the third member of your marriage, and you become a strong cord that can withstand all things.”
6. It’s okay to do your own thing, too.
Elizabeth explains, “It’s okay to want some alone time. We have been calving heifers since February, and we are on schedule to be done by the end of April. There has been a lot of running around and lack of sleep. We are both cranky. He goes off to ride and I go for a walk. Don’t feel bad or guilty that you find yourself needing time alone. It gives you time to calm down and prevent a fight."
Karina offers this advice, “Communication is so key. In our marriage, goal setting is also imperative. We have ranch goals, as well as personal, financial, and spiritual goals. If you don't know where you are going, how are you going to get there? When we have well-defined goals, it gives perspective to all those sacrifices that we have had to make, and suddenly it makes it worth it. We also believe that in order to make tomorrow better, we have to give it all we have today. Don't sweat the small stuff. Pick your battles wisely. So what if he didn't make it into town to get me a birthday present, when my family is all sitting around the supper table safe, warm and healthy, what more could you really be blessed with?"
8. Two heads are better than one.
Laurie Johnson adds, “There is a lot of truth in working together, especially when it's just the two of you! I think the old saying of, ‘Two heads are better than one,’ is very true when it comes to ranching couples. Working together and having the same vision will allow you to do anything you want!"
9. Remember that marriage is a partnership.
Jeana shares her story, “My husband and I will be married in May for 22 years. Marriage is a partnership, and you have to figure out what each other’s strong points are and capitalize on them. I can back up the trailer better than my husband, but I get more practice. He, on the other hand, is always thinking and planning ahead, which is good because I am kind of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal. One last piece of advice is, 'What is said or yelled down at the cattle pens stays at the cattle pens.' Don't take it with you to the house; they most likely didn't mean it anyway."
10. Respect each other.
Joan shares, “We have been married 56 years - just remember to always respect each other. I still can't wait for Martin to come home every night and tell me what he has done all day. At 78, he is still going strong on the ranch and farm. He will never retire!”
11. Always kiss each other good night.
John says, "Never go to bed mad. The making up is the best part. Tomorrow will be better. My wife died a year ago Sunday after nearly 44 years of marriage. She spent 27 years in a wheelchair suffering from MS. She was still at the corrals, when it came time to work the animals.”
12. Work hard but play, too.
Kenny says, “Never forget your business may be your living but not your life. After 31 years and counting, we take a break every January, come hell or high water. Your life is what you are making a living for; don't forget to enjoy it.”
13. Don’t take things for granted.
Jeanie Braun shares her story. “I worked side by side with my rancher husband; we ran 500 cows, had 37 horses, and I ran barrels for 28 years. I opened at least 1,000 gates while my husband drove. I cut hay, raked and square-baled, and my husband did the round baling. I learned how to doctor sick cows, deliver calves, and I wish I had it all to do over again. I am 65 years old, 5ft., 6 in. tall, and I weigh 115 lbs. After spending three months in hospital rooms while my husband was fighting cancer, we lost the battle. Today, I have my memories. Due to the severe drought, and running cattle on leases, the cows and horses are a memory. I have taken to buying lottery tickets, as I believe I will be back in the cattle business. Ranching gets into your blood. It has been 11 years since I lost my partner, and five years since I sold the cows. We built that herd by saving heifers. Opening gates for your husband is a blessing; never take anything for granted. I wish I was still opening gates. I still pine for the past.”
I so appreciate the advice from both seasoned veterans and newlyweds. It certainly makes for interesting conversation. I hope you’ll keep it going. What other advice do you have for a happy marriage? What are some of the common mistakes you see ranch couples make? What is the secret to keeping it all together? And, most importantly, what do you like most about working alongside your partner on the ranch? Share your stories in the comments section below.