A friend of mine (thanks, Tim) forwarded me an interesting article the other day. It looks at the toll that intense exercise can have on a marriage. Anyone who knows me knows that this is a topic that hits close to home. As both a married marathon runner and a couples therapist, I’m well acquainted with both sides of this situation.
The article doesn’t do much in the way of making conclusions or suggestions, but it does serve to highlight the ways that exercise can impact a committed relationship. It primarily tells the story of an Ironman triathlete and his wife as they negotiate his lengthy workout routines, which take up to two hours on weekdays and five to six hours on Saturday and Sunday. He says, “It’s selfish,” while she notes that “…many wives in my position would have left.” In fact, he works out enough that his wife staged an “intervention” and enlisted other family members to help ask him to cut back. To be fair, the article does profile two other couples – one where both partners exercise together, and another where the husband is quite supportive of his wife’s frequent marathoning. So intense exercise doesn’t always have to come between couples. But the truth is that it sometimes does.
I look at these situations through the Emotionally Focused framework, which is the approach that I use in seeing couples in my private practice. The approach looks closely at ways that couples either pursue or withdraw from one another in a continual “dance” of emotional closeness. In my experience, exercise can be a withdrawal mechanism, something that keeps one partner from fully connecting with the other. Taken to extremes, it falls in the same category as excessive drinking and affairs – an activity that inhibits couples from fully connecting with one another.
What do y’all think? I welcome any comments on the post or stories of exercise’s role in relationships.