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Focusing on relationship health while homesteading

 
Posts: 32
Location: Central Indiana, zone 6a, clay loam
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Hello Permies! I’m trying to build a home with my partner, and want it to reflect our shared values. I hesitate to get too personal on an internet forum, but can’t help but think a lot of us must struggle with similar issues when it comes to relationships and personal growth in the context of homesteading. I wanted to share some of my experiences here in the hope that y'all might have some helpful perspectives, or at least that we might all feel a little less alone, as some of the struggles we experience might not be the same as those holding together a marriage while living a standard 9 to 5 type of life.

To start with, I began my journey toward self sufficiency by moving into a yurt by myself, and starting to learn to forage to supplement my otherwise nutrient poor diet obtained from budget groceries. I appreciated the freedom this provided me, allowing me to go long stretches of time without working a normal job. In the best case scenarios I was able to learn by experimenting with new ways of life, but the truth is I was dying of loneliness. Alcoholism took hold in my psyche. Ultimately, my freedom was not actually being utilized to learn how to automate greenhouses with arduino boards, or build semi portable rocket mass heaters to move about with my yurt and tiny house.

I developed a less than healthy relationship with work. Work was always something to “get over with”, at first so I could hang out with plants, but eventually so I could check out and start drinking. When I was drinking I could ignore the fact I was crippled by my inability to find a romantic partner. Eventually I got in the habit of thinking in my drunkest states that I was finally free from the burden of sexual shame and was no longer crippled by my fear of embodying the toxic masculine. I believed I needed to get myself out into public to take advantage of this state. Needless to say I eventually got two DUIs, after which I was put on court enforced sobriety. After two months sober I found myself able to profess my adoration for my current partner.

After a long, difficult journey living in backyards in my tiny house we finally found our home. Three city lots, beautifully overgrown and forgotten, with a small concrete structure, invisible from the street. We set to work, first acquiring the property through unconventional means, as the previous occupant had no heirs in the country. And then after months of legal gymnastics and learning to communicate with estranged siblings in France, we began the physical work, repairing a leaky roof and tearing out the water damaged interior, along with waist high stacks of the previous owners possessions.

I started out feeling like I could turn this into a beautiful memory, as I knew this was what my partner needed. Having more construction experience than my partner, I tried to turn demolition into a fun opportunity for emotional catharsis. But ultimately the grand scale of the project started to take its toll on our relationship. I started operating from my deadline based brain, trained by long chains of people in construction management positions. This culture has passed from one man to another and can probably have its origins traced to physical abuse by someone’s father.

When my partner would get tired, I was unwilling to stop, even though she had communicated to me that it was crucial to her that we take this project on together, not with me as some beast of burden, building up resentments as her father did in the process of “providing” for her family. In some cases she injured herself while working past her physical limits, while I refused to acknowledge that I was working past my emotional ones. Needless to say, by the time we moved into the house (not by choice but due to the department of sad being called on the tiny house), we were not as in love as we were when we first agreed to take on this project together. Furthermore the house was not even finished.

The tragic irony of this whole story is that in the process of trying to race to the finish line, one of waking up into a dream world of plants that provide for our every need, I actually made the whole process take much longer. More than two years after moving in, the house is still not finished, even though the two of us have been living off inheritance money while trying to make building this place our full time job. I see how the memories of the awful places I have operated from are built into the structure of our home. I see how that continues to hurt my partner all the time, so I know I must focus on healing our relationship and working at a pace that allows things to happen in a way that feels good so we can build good memories.

But I also see how far behind we are. We are constantly stressed by the jumble of areas in our home that still feel like construction zones. We have 12 week old chickens who have a secure run but no coop, so we have to bring them inside to a dog crate each night. I constantly struggle with being pulled back into my old ways of trying to finish things no matter how they feel, which leads to problems in the relationship, which leads to realizing we can’t possibly build a structure we plan on seeing for the rest of our lives until things feel better, which leads to being further behind, and the vicious cycle continues.

This finally brings me to a point that I think a lot of homesteaders must relate to. Both my partner and I have run into situations where we don’t know what we are actually committed to. Are we committed to each other, or to our shared vision for this land? Can we really separate the two at this point? I feel like my partner would have left me a dozen or more times by now were it not for the fact that she would have to give up her connection to this land as well. Sometimes when I tell her I love her, I have to ask myself a very difficult question. Do I love her, or do I love an imaginary version of her, one who lives in a world with no stress after I’ve finished all the tasks at hand, while paying no attention to her needs in the meantime? I want to be a person who loves her through all of our experiences, and shows that by healing all of the damage done by refusing to love past that imaginary version of her. I feel I am getting much better at this, but really need to work on all the triggers that pull me back into old habits.

I hope this hasn’t been too long of a rant, and that maybe someone else has something else to add to this topic as well. I also wonder if anyone who considers posting on the permaculture singles forum, or otherwise plans to start a relationship focused on these sorts of values, could learn anything from this story. It is such an important part of doing permaculture that we figure out how to stay with the land we are working, and part of that is knowing that we can be happy and attain our full potential there. My partner and I know that we cannot do this without feeling like our relationship is solid. None of our accomplishments with the land are nearly as exciting if we wind up feeling like mere roommates, needing to look for love elsewhere. I know many people out there must feel the same way.
 
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Something that REALLY stood out for me in your post was the statement about how far behind you are. My question is, behind what? I'm guessing you've created a timeline, possibly just in your mind, of where you should be when, what projects accomplished by what date, and every minute you compare reality against that list. You then find yourself and your partner lacking.

I grew up with an abusive taskmaster for a father and I internalized that voice. For a long time, trying to please that voice was my primary objective. You know what I realized though? That voice was an asshole. That voice wasn't happy no matter what I did. I tortured myself for years for that voice and I was a failure no matter what.

One of my best friends also pointed out to me many years ago, that everything I did was something that wouldn't have gotten done without me there, something someone else didn't have to do. So I started reinforcing that message to myself, reminding myself that I couldn't please that voice, that I was making a difference. Learning those lessons has blessed me over and over.

Having property now, I realize how much work there is to do. I'm "so far behind" a lot of people here. My place is just barely getting started and everything takes three times longer than it should. I could beat myself up about that but I remind myself of how much I've done since I got here. I take a lot of pictures so I can go back and look at the before and that's very rewarding. I also know that this is a lifelong journey. I'm never going to be done.

Some thoughts for you:
I imagine your place looks night and day different than it did when you very first arrived. Maybe remembering that would help. You've done SO much! Remind yourself that you're on a lifelong journey, and that house will never actually be done. And you're not just building a home, you're building a partnership with the person you choose to spend your life with.

Maybe you could also both consider working off site in paid jobs again (part time?) to give yourself a break from the project and each other, space to allow you to miss and value each other again.
 
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