When Rick Avery took up running five years ago, the Port Hope, Ont., massage therapist experienced some great benefits. He had more energy to play with his kids and a trimmer physique, and was more passionate with ‘his wife, Rhonda-Marie. But while Rick, now 36, trained for his first 5K during the week and on weekends, his wife had to take care of their three kids alone. ‘Seeing the person you love trying to be better, but having that activity take so much time, was hard,’ says Rhonda-Marie, 35, also a massage therapist.
‘Exercise widows’ like her are caught in a bind. Golf, hockey, cycling, running and other active pursuits are great for physical and mental health. But while he feels great, you may resent his time away, and may even be suspicious of his motivations’doesn’t he want to be with you?
‘Divorce by triathlon’ is what Pete Simon has dubbed the phenomenon in his blog. The Arizona triathlon coach and school psychologist says a joke among triathletes is ‘if you’re still married, you’re not training hard enough.’ Joking aside, the true effect of training on the divorce rate is unknown. But for amateur athletes to be fully committed, says Douglas Smith, a psychologist based in Whitby, Ont., who specializes in sports therapy as well as marriage therapy, they need a self-centred attitude.
How to restore balance
To cope, try to understand he’s caught up in his sport, and is not trying to hurt you. (Of course, the same goes for ‘exercise widowers’ whose wives spend a lot of time on their fitness pursuits.) ‘Often these people don’t realize how much they’re gone,’ says Simon.
Of course, if you already have a troubled relationship, he could be trying to escape. In that case, you need to have serious talks about the underlying problems, and perhaps seek couples therapy. But most likely, ‘that person is just trying to be healthy and regain some of their identity,’ says Smith.
So how should you deal with it? Not in ‘You can’t do that!’ attack mode. ‘That will just start a discussion that’s not going to end well,’ says Smith. Instead, tell him in a loving way that you miss him, you need him around more and you worry he lacks balance in his life. Avoid accusing and fighting, but start talking. Also, discuss getting him a coach, who can help him to train more efficiently. Simon says most amateur athletes overdo it.
But the best thing an ‘exercise widow’ can do is follow his lead, says Smith. If you don’t have kids at home, why not join him? Research shows that if you work out together, you are more apt to stick to it and you’ll also have a better sex life. If you do have young kids who need a parent at home, you can still get involved by taking the family to watch and cheer him on. Better still, make time in your calendar to fit in your own sport or workout.
That’s what Rhonda-Marie did. Along with talking to her husband’who had progressed to doing an Ironman (a 3.8-kilometre swim, 180-kilometre bike ride and 42-kilometre run)’about how she felt, she took up running, too. She now rises before dawn three days a week to fit in a run before the kids wake up and Rick goes to work. She and her husband also ride a ‘stationary bike in the evenings in front of the TV, and take turns training for big races. ‘I like the fact that when I’m out there running, nobody calls me Mom,’ says Rhonda-Marie. ‘There’s a sense of identity that helps me understand why my husband loves pursuing his sport.’