An interesting article published in the Wall St. Journal yesterday entitled “A Workout Ate My Marriage” caught our attention yesterday.
Exercise, especially any structured training regimen, can have a negative impact on your relationships. Triathlons, marathons, and other endurance races can take eat up that time an athlete would otherwise spend with loved ones.
The compulsive athlete could be thought of as the workaholic. Typically speaking, longer events such as half and full Ironman races take more time to train for, so they can require an athlete to spend more time away from their family.
Some longtime partners of Ironman athletes use the term “Ironman Widow(er)” to describe themselves. Often times it is said tongue-in-cheek; the widow(er) recognizes the benefits gained from endurance training and supports their spouse. Frequently however, when an athlete’s partner doesn’t understand why anyone would want to spend 7+ hours on a bicycle, or run ump-teen miles at the crack of dawn, is when problems arise.
Aside from the time commitment, there are other noticeable changes that can make the athlete’s partner anxious, angry or frustrated. Two of the most common changes: an athlete’s physical transformation and a new circle of attractive athletic friends. “I don’t even know who you are anymore,” is not an uncommon response for an athlete to hear from an exercise widow.
Did the person begin training to accomplish a goal or escape the relationship?
Pete Simon, a fellow coach and psychologist in Tucson, uses the term “Divorce by Triathlon” to describe someone who turns to long training hours as a method for escaping a boring or unsatisfying relationship. Whatever the reason, the new athlete is seeking excitement and challenges away from their old, normal life. Often, these changes turn in to a catalyst that ends the relationship.
Don’t turn your spouse into an exercise widow
For an athlete, few accomplishments are as exhilarating or rewarding as finishing a first marathon or Ironman distance race. A lot of athletes say the accomplishment ranks up there with their wedding day or the birth of a child. But, it’s extremely important for an athlete to understand and identify why specifically they want to pursue their goal; and this goal should be discussed with their spouse.
Next, if you are the athlete, ask yourself if you really need all that training volume. Chances are, you can cut some corners, and still perform up to your potential with limited collateral damage to your spouse and children. We stress quality training over quantity; endurance training is a great way to get and stay in shape, but it can be done without a negative impact to other important areas of your life — work, family, friends, etc.
Finally, set aside some time for family — go out to eat after a long ride, go see a matinee, give your spouse his or her alone time — just get engaged with your them.
Remember as well to take the long view on your triathlon career, both to avoid burnout in yourself and your support network. Triathlon is a process that requires pacing and downtime. Rarely, do people just end up doing one Ironman as there are things they can only figure out after doing a few races.
Essentially, a lot of a successful season boils down to time management. When an athlete is honest about their time commitments and manages their time well, there is time for all of the important stuff.