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Exercise: Finding a Balance

I was listening to “Hear & Now” on NPR the other day as I was driving to work. On came a story about excessive exercise and the effects it can have on relationships, especially when only one half in the relationship exercises.  They interviewed Kevin Helliker who had recently written an article for the Wall Street Journal called “A Workout Ate My Marriage.” He looked at how excessive exercise can really hurt a relationship and how more couples are seeking therapy to help with this issue. Several years ago Inside Triathlon magazine conducted a survey posing the question “What would you choose if you had to:  your marriage or triathlon?” Many athletes chose triathlon. It makes me sad to hear this. How can two things that you are (supposedly) passionate about become such a huge area of conflict?

Time: Training for endurance sport is not exactly a 10 minute a day deal. Time becomes an issue when workouts repeatedly takes precedence over other responsibilities (kids, work, chores, etc). The house still needs to get cleaned; food bought, meals made, bills paid, and with all the working out it is quite amazing how quick dirty laundry can pile up. This just adds stress and more areas of conflict in a relationship. I think it is interesting that if you ask the athlete and non-exercising partner to estimate the number of hours spent on exercise, the non-exercises tends to estimate a higher number.

Money: With most endurance sports there is equipment and it is easy to become an equipment junkie.  Every year there are new innovations that you just 'must have'. It’s an investment in your fitness you might argue…it is, but seriously how much were those new carbon bike wheels? So now money becomes another area of stress and conflict.

Addiction: No doubt about it, endurance sports can be addicting. You reach a point where your body and mind need to workout. You need that release, that freedom, and time away. Exercise keeps me grounded, makes me a better wife and mom. I sleep better. I feel better.

Working on finding that healthy balance: My husband, John, and I work pretty hard at finding a balance. It isn’t easy, especially when you throw a kid, or two, into the mix. Our daughter, Indie, is now 13. And since we have been blessed with her presence, we have both continued to train and race to some degree. However, now we both don’t try to train for the same events. That would just be too hard and frustrating for us. We are both perfectionists when it comes to preparing for an event. John races on the road in the spring and early summer, and I race mountain bikes late summer and Cyclo-cross in the fall. This is working for us, for now. It is still work to make it work. It takes planning, thinking ahead, communicating (lots of communicating) and prioritizing, and compromising.

Being two active parents can be perceived as being inconsiderate or neglectful of parental duties. Yes, we do invest time into our activities. I see this as an important thing for Indie to see. We are her role models. She sees us set goals, to plan out the workouts, make time to stretch and strength, fuel our bodies in a healthy way, and to enjoy and trust the process. But we are still her mom and dad first and we find plenty of time for family activities away from our exercise interests. And now we get to support her in her athletic endeavors. This is exciting for me: to see her figure out the process it takes.

Some of the things we work on, or have found help us include, well, the obvious really:

1. Communication, setting goals and priorities…together:

Communication with yourself. Have a heart-to-heart with yourself as to why you train and race. What is the motivation? For me it is mentally healthy for me to have a physical goal.  I need that. Once it is clear in your head on why you want to pursue an athletic goal, it’s then important to share this with your significant other so they have an understanding of where you are coming from.

Make sure you find the time to sit down and plan together. Get a calendar and plan for the long workouts, races, family trips, house projects, etc. For me it is so important that we understand each other’s expectations, hopes and desires. By setting goals together you can make sure they are realistic and within the context of your life.  Ones you can both support.

We live in a fast paced World where we try so hard to fit it all in. John reminds me (more times than I care to admit) if you want to do it well: then just pick two things, and scale back on the others.  In other words; prioritize.

2. Time to yourself:

What has been working for us is for each of us to have a chunk of time each week that is our own. It’s mine to do with what I choose. Granted it is usually a workout, but it’s an evening that I don’t have to pick up Indie from school and make dinner. Having this regular and constant time is something I look forward to. There are no questions asked. No stress. It just happens.

3. Getting involved in each other’s goals:

Often, it is the little things that are so instrumental and monumental.  John and I find that if we can help each other a little in the pursuit of each other’s goal, it makes the other person feel more invested, more helpful and a part of that process. Like I said, it is often pretty small things. When John is in the middle of racing, I’ll make sure he has supplies at hand (sports drink, spare equipment, etc.), I’ll make arrangements for travel and/or accommodations.  When I’m racing, John will make sure my bike is clean and ready to go (no small feat when you’re dealing with a weekly muddy cross bike). Get the kids involved too. Indie loves to help fill up water bottles, or to pump up tires, or even do yoga with me.

4. Share the value of fitness by exercising together or at least at the same time. 

Get a baby sitter. John and I use to tag team it. He would exercise in the morning, and then I would in the afternoon. No time, or at least very little time, together as a family. Now we get a babysitter or arrange a play date so we can exercise at the same time. It might not be together, but at least we are both getting the workout in and will then have the afternoon together for some quality family time. 

How about getting the whole family outside and exercising at the same time? We like to mountain bike. We’re friends with another family who have kids and also like to mountain bike. The dads get up early and car pool to the trail head to go ride, the moms and kids carpool mid-morning to the trail head. The moms hand the kids off to the Dads. The moms ride, and the dads and kids hike. The kids have a good time. The adults get to workout and hang out together. Everyone is happy.

5. Good Time Management:

Be creative in finding the time to fit the workouts into your schedule. Some may find they can fit a workout in early morning or take a slightly longer lunch break to free the evening up.  And sometimes you might find that if early mornings is the only time slot available to workout, it can really test your desire. Especially when it is so cold and wet outside.  There has been more than one occasion when I’ve decided to forego the workout (with no guilt) and hang out with the family instead. When we go on family trips, we take our bikes. One of us may get dropped off with their bike a couple of hours prior to the final destination, and the other dropped off on the way home. This takes some planning, but is a very effective use of time.

In Conclusion: Excessive exercise can be detrimental to your relationship; if you let it.  It takes work to find a balance that keeps everyone happy. And that balance will probably change over time. Sometimes it seems like ours changes monthly….making sure we keep that communication open.

I try to make sure I don’t compare our family to other families when it comes to finding this balance. It is easy to look over the fence and see that the grass looks greener. We  (the parents) all have different needs, priorities, energy levels, desires, etc. And so do our kids. The right balance for you may work for your family, but not necessarily for others. It’s pretty individualized.

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