Exercise Endangers Marriages, Including Mine

Sasha Brown-Worsham
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My broken ankle was one of the best things to ever happen to my marriage. It kept me from slipping out early on a Sunday morning and leaving the wake-ups, morning fits, breakfast duty, and chaos to my husband. It also kept me from heading out the door as soon as he comes home just to get my run of the day in before bedtime.

The latter scenario is exactly how I ended up in the ER, broken ankle elevated and wrapped in ice. It's also the reason that now, 2.5 weeks later, I'm only able to run on a treadmill, wearing athletic tape, for periods of no longer than a half hour. But to me, it's running. I'll take it. To my husband, it's a sign of things to come.

The fact is, exercise can come between couples. It may seem silly because, well, who doesn't want a hot spouse who works out and stays trim? But in a family, even one hour away every day adds up very quickly, especially when both spouses work.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece about endurance athletes whose marriages are falling apart because of their punishing training schedule.

Jordan Waxman leaves before dawn each morning for hours of exercise. "It's selfish," he says, but also explains that he leaves notes for his wife and children before leaving for morning workouts. He will also be competing on Mother's Day this year, which means he will be leaving his wife alone.

The comments on the article have largely taken him to task for being selfish and it's easy to see it that way. There is no doubt that training keeps him from his family a lot, and that leaves much of their home life up to his wife to tend. But as someone who has run two full marathons and two halfs and is gearing up for my third full with a time goal in mind (3:40, qualifying for the Boston Marathon), I relate.

I am always a runner. I spend at least six hours a week running even when I'm not in training mode, but training mode brings it to another level. And it isn't just the three-hour Sunday morning runs that take me away from our family. There is also the ritual. I make and eat the same thing before every long run, and let it digest. Then when I get home, I jump in an ice bath, rest, and am usually too spent to do much more in the day. And my husband hates it.

Every time I tell him I have a new event I want to try for, he groans. This isn't to say he isn't supportive. At each of my marathons, he has been beside me, bicycle in tow for parts of it. He has plied me with Swedish Fish at Mile 21 when I couldn't go another inch and supported my time goals even as he sees them wreck my body and spirit (when I missed it by 8 minutes in my first marathon). He is supportive, but there is a point at which he has had enough and we are getting there now.

"This is not a good time for you to start training again," he tells me. But I ask: If not now, then when? We will always have two kids and two jobs and busy lives. Should I wait until I'm 60 and the time goals are much decreased for my age bracket?

When I am in training, I spend about 10 hours running a week, which is an increase over usual, but I love running as much as I love anything else in my life. I would sooner give up work than I would my daily run. Besides, we all have weaknesses we bring to the marriage. Mine happens to be an addiction to running, but my husband throws dirty socks on the floor and puts wet towels on the bed!

There are worse and more destructive addictions to have -- smoking, gambling, drugs, video games. At least mine is healthy and gets the whole family out of the house, running alongside me and supporting my goals. I know it takes away from our time as a family and I feel guilty about that. Perhaps the hardest thing is the pressure it puts on my husband. He has to find ways to entertain the kids during my races, and it has put a huge crimp in his own workout schedule. There isn't really room for two intense training schedules.

So, is it selfish? Probably. A little. But in my defense, I have made a lot of concessions. I promised only one marathon a year as opposed to the two I would like to do. I also bagged the ultramarathon idea I had formulating in my head. Now that is a "someday" goal as opposed to a 2013 one.

There are worse habits to have than one that tones the muscles, quiets the mind, and gives me an enormous amount of happiness. In general, it makes me a better mom and wife. And I think, in the end, my husband gets that and so he begrudgingly accepts it as part of the package. Just like I have learned to accept his socks on our bedroom floor.

Do you and your spouse ever fight about exercise?

 

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