Life on the land can be great, but it can also put a lot of pressure on romantic relationships. Now, rural health experts from the University of South Australia have launched a new online resource to help farmers build and maintain a healthy relationship with their partner.

After 34 years of marriage, farmer John Gladigau is fairly well versed in the language of love — but it’s taken some practice.

For those three-plus decades, the grain grower and his wife Bronny lived on ‘Bunyarra’, 34km outside the South Australian border town of Loxton.

“You will go a week without seeing other people, apart from each other,” John said.

Being the only adult company to one another for days on end while running a business and juggling family has had its stresses, especially in times of drought.

But there have also been plenty of good times: raising two now adult children, firm friendships and regular travel including overseas holidays.

“You tend to rely on each other more than the rest of society does,” John said.

“We probably argued more than we should have … There were times when we grew apart a bit before we came back together.”

John and Bronny Gladigau while on holidays in Venice, Italy.

While the couple share a strong bond, it’s required considerable effort.

“Our relationship … is as strong now as the day we were married but, boy, you have to work at it,” John said.

Enter rural health experts from the University of South Australia, who have developed an online resource aimed at helping farmers grow and maintain wholesome personal connections.

The new ‘Building Healthy Relationships’ module is based on what research shows will help couples stay in successful relationships.

Offered through ifarmwell — a free online toolkit that helps farming communities cope effectively with life’s challenges — the 30 to 60-minute module will help farmers to check in on their relationship, explore how to improve the quality of their relationship, and learn how to repair it when things get tough.

Over the past year, John has worked with ifarmwell to provide valuable insights from his lived experience to ensure the new relationship content is engaging and relevant to farmers’ lives.

“As with all the material produced by ifarmwell, the new relationship module works through aspects in a down-to-earth manner with thought provoking examples and a realistic approach,” John said.

“It gave me a lot to think about and reflect upon in my own life and relationships.”

He said there are activities that will help farmers to check in on the quality of their romantic relationship; practical strategies to connect and build closeness with their partner; and tips for managing stress during disagreements or conflicts that will inevitability arise.

“In our early married life, I really wish I had … tools and strategies of how to make it stronger. It would have made life easier,” John said.

“Farmers depend on their partner for support.

“Having a strong relationship with their partner will help farmers not only take care of their own wellbeing and their partner’s but also the wellbeing of their farm.”

UniSA’s Dr Chloe Fletcher helped develop the ifarmwell resource, which she hopes will also assist farmers’ mental health.

“Farmers do face unique challenges related to their work and lifestyle,” she said.

“When you live on a farm and in a small community, romantic relationships can feel intense, in a way that might not happen for people living in the city.

“Farmers tend to be more physically and socially isolated than people in the city.

“They often spend more time with their partner — not only living and socialising, but often also working together — and share more resources, interests and friends.

“Farmers also work notoriously long hours, often alone, with long workdays leaving little energy to connect meaningfully with their partner; this can put pressure on a relationship and lead to frustration and resentment.

“Sometimes stress within a romantic relationship can even lead to mental health challenges, which is why it is so important for farmers to invest time in the wellbeing of their relationship.”

ifarmwell features advice on how to manage stress and navigate conflict, and is based on a decade of research with input from hundreds of farmers and supporters from the health and agriculture sectors.

“I think the best tip in there is what you can do when you are triggered to manage stress and bring yourself back to a state of calm,” Chloe said.

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