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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Goatleys say 'stay connected' to create work-life balance and a harmonious home


Lisa Goatley has made a living helping couples and families piece their lives back together.

Mike and Lisa Goatley are not on the Nike payroll, but they might as well be. After all, they carry a similar message.

Lisa, a licensed therapist with The Cascade Group specializing in couples and family therapy, has three decades of experience helping couples pick up the pieces from broken marriages. Her husband, Mike, is a licensed turfgrass professor at Virginia Tech who admittedly works too many hours and travels too much. Together, they speak about creating work-life balance to turfgrass professionals across the country who might be guilty of putting job before family.

"This is a talk of hers that I sit it on because I have made all these mistakes," said Mike Goatley, Ph.D. during the recent Ohio Turfgrass Foundation Conference. "And I continue to make mistakes, but I try to be better."

When it comes down to making relationships work, their first message is to remember that no one is going to put the work in for you. 

"You have to put the work into it. You just have to do it," he said. "It's just like when you have to do something at the golf course. You have to make it happen. You have to decide where it is going to fit into your schedule."

According to Psychology Today, there are 10 habits that can help couples improve their marriage:

> Go to bed at the same time,
> Cultivate common interests,
> Walk hand in hand or side by side,
> Make trust and forgiveness your default mode,
> Focus on what your partner does right, not what they do wrong,
> Hug when you see each other after work,
> Say "I love you" and "have a good day" every morning,
> Say "good night" every night, regardless of how you feel,
> Check on each other during the day to see how your partner is doing,
> Be proud to be seen with your partner.

Like yesteryear's version of Virginia Tech's Goatley, there are many in the turf business who work too many hours and focus too little of their time at home. Divorce and wounded relationships are common and we've all heard one too many stories about superintendents who missed out on their children growing up because they were at the golf course six or seven days a week throughout the summer.

"If your wife is unhappy and wants to see a marriage counselor, listen," Lisa said. "Women do their work on the front end of a relationship. By the time the female says 'I want a separation,' she's done. She wants a divorce. At that point the man says 'wait, I didn't know it was that serious.'

"You have to nurture a relationship like a plant. If it is neglected too long, it starts to die. It can grow back from the root, but that is a long, slow process. Often the root is dead, and the plant is not coming back."

Studies show, Lisa said, that couples are most happy before they have children and after the children have left the home. By the time children reach age 5, stress starts to creep in. And the effects of those teen years on marriages - don't even mention them. 

Kids are leaving home and couples are so disconnected. They were staying together only for the kids. Now, they don't know each other, and they might not like each other any more, either.

The peak years for divorce are after seven years of marriage, but new data suggest a spike in the divorce rate at the 20-25-year mark.

"Kids are leaving home and couples are so disconnected. They were staying together only for the kids," Lisa said. "Now, they don't know each other, and they might not like each other any more, either."

There are some guidelines the Goatleys have identified that have helped keep their own marriage on track through the years.

One of the most important goals is to be present - even when away from home.

Taking part in everyday life at home can be difficult for a turf professor on the go, or a superintendent who goes through the annual rigors of 100 days of hell, but it can be done, the Goatleys insist. 

It can be as simple as establishing rituals such as sitting at the table together at meal time.

It does not matter, Lisa said, whether it is a bag of burgers or a pizza for parents on the go, as long as parents and kids are together at meal time. Research shows, she says, that eating together leads to lower rates of substance abuse and truancy, higher rates of academic achievement and stronger levels of emotional adjustment.

For those who travel often, like Mike, calling home or even texting a photo of a restaurant meal still helps create a connection.

"He knew we were eating at that time," Lisa said. "And that was his way of checking in. We still do that."

Other tips for work-life balance and bringing harmony to relationships include remembering all important dates, always making a conscious effort "to do the right thing", never keeping score about who does what and bringing your best you when you are at home.

"So many times, somebody else gets our best, either when we are at work or somewhere else," Lisa said. "Then when we come home, our family gets what is left, and that's backwards. Always bring your best to your relationship."