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Irrigating Relationships

Originally written for publication in Minnesota Irrigator, Spring/Summer 2022 newsletter


Most people I talk to are under the impression that as a farm counselor the calls I get are all about the stresses of uncontrollables like markets and weather. They are surprised when I share that the number one reason farmers call me is conflict and unhappiness in relationships. Sometimes it is relationships between spouses, or with children, parents, or farming partners such as a sibling.

What do we do when the decline in our relationships leads to unbearable stress? Let’s contrast relationship problems with a field that needs irrigation.

Irrigation ensures plant growth. Without it seeds would not sprout and/or plants would wither. Without irrigation on certain soil types, yields would be poor at best. Think about that field like a relationship that is struggling. It’s no longer a relationship of bounty and happiness, but a relationship of lack and conflict.

Here are 3 key strategies to consider when making effort to repair a damaged relationship.

1. Identify your source. Much like the water that is needed to irrigate, people in a relationship need a common point of unity. What brings you together? What do you agree on? What was different when your relationship seemed better? What common beliefs and values do you share? Focus on these commonalities as a stepping stone to growth.

2. Communication is key. Think of communication as the pipeline that brings the life-giving water to the field. It needs to be in good repair to do what it is meant to do. If left unmaintained, water might be leaking out with no hope of reaching the ground that needs attention. Communication is much the same. It is critical to making relationships work, however it must be in good repair for it to be successful. What does good communication look like? First and foremost, it looks like listening to hear and understand the other person. It looks like expressing care and concern. Good communication does not include blaming, disrespect, or put downs…that would be like leaky irrigator pipes.

3. Know what your relationship needs by knowing the other person. The water can be in the well, it can make it through the lines, but if the applicators on the irrigator are shooting and spraying in all the wrong directions it may help the yield, but not as much as it could if there are some simple adjustments. Pay attention to the person you are having difficulty with. What are they going through? How do they feel cared about and loved? If you don’t know, ask! Often we try to adjust and fix our relationship issues without seeking to understand the other half of the relationship.

And remember, irrigation issues do not fix themselves, it takes intentional upkeep and maintenance on a regular basis. What can you make a practice of intentionally doing to support your relationships? Not sure? Ask them!


Monica Kramer McConkey is a Licensed Professional Counselor in MN and contracts with the MN Ag Centers of Excellence to provide counseling services to farmers and their families.