The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Compromising for marital harmony

Underwater worldMy list of lists really isn't meant to expedite getting things done.  Instead, its primary purpose is marital harmony and promotion of relaxation.  Here's what my world looked like before my obsessive lists:

Saturday morning, I woke up steaming mad.  All week, I'd tried to steer Mark toward the truly important farm projects, but he'd smiled vaguely and wandered off to do chores that struck his fancy better.  I now figured that if I wanted the lawn to get mowed, I had to do it myself, so I headed outside and ended up swearing at the machine when I couldn't even get it to start.  Mark was lounging around inside, listening to the radio, while the farm was falling down around our ears....

Of course, our world looked very different from Mark's point of view:

I woke up late and was thrilled to realize that I'd left the rat race behind.  Anna and I are making up our own hours and building a farm together --- it feels great to be creating our own infrastructure rather than making someone else rich.  The only problem is that Anna can't seem to relax.  I can hear her out there mowing even though it's Saturday morning, which makes me feel guilty for resting.  But I didn't leave the rat race to work seven days a week....

Lucy in the creekThe major flaw in our early relationship was that I am obsessively type A while Mark is relentlessly type B.  I now know that this combination makes for a very well-rounded team, but then it just meant that we fought a lot.

Part of the solution was my list of lists, but the other part was to clarify our expectations and compromise right up front.  I'd gotten used to working seven days a week and had forgotten what holidays were, while Mark knew that the real value of life comes from taking the time to embrace the world's beauty.  After months of discussion, we settled on a weekly routine where we work from 9 to 4 Monday through Friday (with an hour lunch break), take the weekends off, discuss which holidays to honor and which to skip, and also take (increasingly frequent) random days and afternoons off.

Taking time off was difficult for me at first.  Rather than enjoying the time to read, write, and wander in the woods, I spent many weekends chomping at the bit and feeling guilty that I wasn't getting anything done.  I hope that very few of you are as problematically type A as I was, but just in case the idea of doing nothing constructive all weekend fills you with dread, here is the solution I settled on --- Friday afternoon, I write down the week's Cattail fluffaccomplishments and draft next week's list of chores, then release everything on the list from my head until Monday morning.  I'll even admit that Mark is right --- we do get more done by giving ourselves weekends and vacations to recharge and think outside the box, and I've loved having free time to embark on my own course of independent study about permaculture and homesteading topics.

In the modern world, most couples spend no more than a handful of hours per week working and playing together.  I've noticed that many couples who move back to the land as a unit are shocked by how difficult it is to work with their mate, and a large percentage of them aren't willing to put in the time to compromise and turn into a team.  Even couples who have been together a decade longer than we have look like newlyweds when I see them hashing out their differences on the farm. 

Although working together can be tough at first, the payoff is huge.  Lately, I've noticed that Mark and I are the happiest couple I know.  If anyone asked me whether it's worthwhile to go back to the land as a couple, I would say an unconditonal "yes!"  If you don't kill each other in the first few years, you will definitely live happily ever after.

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This post is part of our Coping With Paradise lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Great post today & you are right on! Our journey has been like yours but we are now many more years down the road. It was worth every early fight & jillions of list to be where we are now as a couple. At peace and with a house full of big dogs! Keep up the good work!
Comment by DogpackMOMMA Fri Oct 29 13:01:33 2010

I would say an unconditonal "yes!" If you don't kill each other in the first few years, ...

I feel like "If you don't kill each other in the first few years" is a conditional. :^)

In any case, congrats on not only finding harmony, but figuring out how you found it. :^)

Comment by irilyth [] Fri Oct 29 13:26:38 2010
I like this point. I know how much compromise it takes to run a household so I can only imagine how much it must take to run a farm!! My husband and I frequently run and workout together. Even if we start the run feeling tense at each other, it is a great time to talk adn work things out while also blowing off steam and improving our health. I am definitely the more type A person in my marriage - and I'm also a list maker so I totally agree on the helpfulness of lists!! One thing that I frequently do is make a list of things that need to be done around the house and leave it on the kitchen counter. We can each pick the chores that we prefer and, before you know it, everything is crossed off!
Comment by Jess Fri Oct 29 13:36:34 2010

DogpakMOMMA --- I'm so glad to hear from someone like us many years down the road! I can't imagine being any less happy in a decade or two, and I'm glad to hear that you're in exactly that boat.

Josh --- Details, details. :-) Thanks for the congrats!

Jess --- I think that working together on any large project is the real test of a relationship. Rather than saying "the couple that plays together, stays together", I'd tweak it to "the couple that works together, stays together." I'm glad to see another couple who took the time to really turn into a team.

Comment by anna Fri Oct 29 14:57:45 2010

You just described our situation with uncanny accuracy. It's all about perception. But what if, during those times that you have agreed are work-days, Type A still feels like the other person doesn't want to work? Like you have to constantly motivate them - even if you've already agreed that those are the work days? And what if the type B person doesn't want to be so rigid and scheduled, and feels like the type A person is missing the point by creating "work days" and "off days" instead of "going with the flow" and working when you feel inspired, lounging when you don't...

I guess there is no easy answer. We just have to compromise as a committed couple, a marriage, a partnership, a bond of love - and try to find that balance that can only be struck between two people of opposite mentalities when it comes to these things. I guess I should be glad the see-saw (or did you grow up calling them teeter-totters?) isn't flipped up on one end only.

It is good to know that we're not the only ones though. And it is good to know that there is hope in the long-run. We've been together longer, but not in "this way". Stay happy and keep on truckin' !


Comment by Everett Fri Oct 29 15:48:43 2010

I suspect that every type A/type B pair has to compromise in their own way. It's possible that your type B person still feels like you're too far on the type A side of the teeter-totter as a couple --- maybe try taking yet more time off to see if increased balance doesn't help?

If I can manage to rein in my type A nature, I generally try to compromise by giving to a point a bit beyond where I think the middle is. Mark seems to do the same, so we end up in the actual middle in the long run.

I've also noticed that type B people tend to agree with type A people when we set work hours and lists, but deep down inside, they may want something a bit more lax. For example, my memory is fuzzy, but I think that Mark first tricked me into just taking Saturdays off every week. We still hadn't really reached balance, though --- he felt we were working too much and I was still obsessing about not getting enough done --- so the lists didn't entirely work. I think you'll both be able to feel it when you reach the right balance, and you as the type A person might need to go more toward the type B side than your type B person asks you to.

I'm glad you didn't mind me talking about you in my series! I was on the fence about whether it was kosher, but I wrote the whole thing with you in mind. :-)

Comment by anna Fri Oct 29 16:53:03 2010

Taking things easy gives me a peace of mind that you cannot buy for love or money.

Reading all this I'm kind of glad I'm not an A type. :-)

Comment by Roland_Smith Fri Oct 29 18:48:50 2010
You should thank your lucky stars. :-)
Comment by anna Fri Oct 29 19:24:07 2010

Roland you are right to be thankful. As much as I am also thankful that my "motivation" has gotten me to the point where I am now (and I'm happy to be at this point), I really wish I could just "chill out" more.

But hey, I'm not even at the half-way point if I live to be the average age of an American male, so I still have a lot of time to be the person I want to be.

Thanks for the series Anna. We're starting our lists and had a nice long conversation tonight. I think Friday and Saturday will be our project days, Sunday and Monday will be our off days, and I have to work the "real" job on T/W/Th.

I'm looking forward to some fly fishing this Monday though!


Comment by Everett Fri Oct 29 23:25:28 2010
I think that being type A is a blessing and a curse. If you can learn to channel your obsessiveness in the right directions, a type A person can do anything --- it's very powerful to always have your dreams come true. On the other hand, as Everett said, being able to "chill out" is very, very nice, and I'm glad I'm slowly learning how. :-)
Comment by anna Sat Oct 30 15:09:16 2010

While I'm happy with my disposition I'm not thankful for it. There is nobody to thank for. Personality is a result of genetics and environmental influences.

As for blessings & curses; personalities are complex. I dislike A/B and other personality labels; they're too symplistic IMO. There is no black/white and A/B. It's more of a gray area. Contemporary psychology uses the big five personality traits model, where for each trait people lean to one or another end of the scale. If you read about these traits you'll probably recognize where you stand pretty easily. For most people the determination of their traits is not a surprise. But I think that these traits are not constant over our lifetime. We live and learn. I for myself know that I'm not the same person I was ten, twenty years ago. So you shouldn't accept these traits as unchangeable.

It is however much wiser IMO to make use of your strengths than to keep trying to fix your weaknesses like some improvement programs suggest. The former is much more rewarding.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sat Oct 30 22:46:12 2010

You're not thankful to your early environmental influences (like your parents, siblings, etc?) I would say that by believing in nature and nature (which I believe in), you have to be thankful to those early influences.

It's funny how all type B people say that they don't like the distinction between type A and B. :-) I think that what they don't realize is that, for them, it may not feel like a dominant part of their personality, but for type A people, that does feel very much like a dominant part of who I am.

I haven't played with the Big 5 personality test, but I have done self-tests for Myers-Briggs, and parts of it also really felt true to me. (Although other parts, where I'm nearer the middle of the spectrum, I shrugged and ignored.) Taking a look at your link to the Big Five wikipedia page, it looks like Conscientiousness is their version of Type A/B.

I completely agree that people shouldn't try to change who they are. However, I also think that the more you understand about yourself, the more you can channel who you are to make you happier and to achieve your goals better.

Comment by anna Sun Oct 31 09:12:32 2010

When I mentioned environmental influences I was thinking more of the chemical kind, which can have significant effects on brain chemistry which in turn influence presonality traits.

It's not that I dislike the distinction between A and B types. My point was that those tests are over- simplified and generalized pictures. Like a 2D drawing of a 4D hypercube.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun Oct 31 13:28:08 2010

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