Relationships being put under strain by addictions to exercise

Men and women are being left on the sidelines as their partners indulge in marathons, triathlons and other forms of exercise.

TRAINING for a marathon or any big race will undoubtedly take its toll on your body in one way or another. But less obvious to outsiders is the impact their workout diligence has almost certainly had on relationships and family life.

A report in the Wall Street Journal revealed that US-based therapists are seeing more couples come in for counselling due to one partner being left on the sidelines as the other indulges an obsession with exercise. And experts say the trend is just as evident this side of the Atlantic.

With record numbers aged 30-45 taking up the challenge of events like marathons and triathlons, workouts are intruding ever more frequently on long-term relationships.

It’s not difficult to see why. Training for an event like a marathon or a triathlon can consume your life. Paddy McGrath, a former Irish international runner turned coach says: “You need to be running at least 40-50 miles a week for four months to prepare for a marathon and training gets progressively more time consuming, so it’s not surprising runners see less of their partners.”

During the months of preparation, every minute of spare time and every ounce of excess energy are gobbled up either through training or thinking about it and preparing for the event.

“You try not to, but you talk about running all the time with endless monologues about mileage and muscle pain, shin splints and speed sessions to the rolling eyes of your partner,” says McGrath.

“You become engrossed in running magazines and training schedules and speak in alien, athletic terminology. And you are permanently too tired to socialise past 9 o’clock in the evening.”

For non-competing partners, the regime is equally draining, albeit for different reasons. Left at home, they can wake to an empty pillow beside them, their partner having left for an early morning session before work. The demands of a training schedule can accentuate niggles about who does the housework, or minds the kids. Its effects can creep into every aspect of daily life with family meals being cooked to accommodate a daily run and conversation dwindling to a halt every evening as intense exercise takes its toll.

“You have to be careful not to leave your partner feeling neglected as you devote more time and attention to your chosen activity,” says sport and exercise psychologist Dearbhla McCullough. “There is no doubt that training for something like a marathon has the potential for positive impact, but if someone blocks out others and becomes to single-minded in their approach it can actually have a damaging effect on relationships and friendships.”

It’s not just a lack of time together due to exercise that can begin to cause cracks in a relationship. Feelings of insecurity and jealousy can arise when one partner not only gets a more toned body, but a boosted social life and heightened self-confidence. If not addressed, these issues can destabilise the strongest bond, says McCullough.

Liz, a runner from Tullamore, was a vehement anti-exerciser until she was 49 and a friend dragged her out for a jog around the local park. A convert, she now runs regular 10km races and completed the Belfast Marathon. She says the sport has provided an entirely new circle of friends. “I’ve lost two stone and am the weight I was when I was 20,” she says. “My husband thinks I look great but is also very wary and feels he is losing me slightly.”

There are no statistics for the effect of extreme training on separation or divorce, although the correlation is almost certainly getting stronger as more people devote more time to working out.

Pete Simon, an Arizona-based psychologist and triathlon coach, has dubbed the phenomenon ‘divorce by triathlon’, musing on his blog: “I often wonder how many lonely wives, husbands and children of triathletes are out there wondering when the insanity is going to end.”

You can lessen the blow, says McCullough, by discussing the goal before you undertake training for it. “Schedule in time for your partner when you plan your training,” she says. “Make sure they are as involved as they want to be and that they feel needed.”

For many, normality will resume once the big event is over. But, then, those of us who have run marathons before are all too aware of the gaping hole that exists once the event has passed. If that’s the case, there’s always the next marathon.

You can work it out

* Make sure you do at least one workout a week, together. Make it a walk or cycle — something that allows you to chat as you exercise.

* Make your partner feel involved — ask them to help with raising sponsorship money or a support team.

* Try not to make your new sport the sole topic of conversation every evening. Make a conscious effort to talk about your partner’s day and how they are feeling.

* Pledge to do something special together, when the event is over. Make time for each other.


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