Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Can Exercise Ruin Your Marriage?

I recently found this WSJ article about exercise widows. I read it with interest since my wife has put up with my exercise habits for many years now.

The article discusses several families where at least one partner is an exercise fanatic. I soon discovered that my daily exercise sessions are nothing compared to those of the athlete hobbyists mentioned by the writer.

One man spends so much of his spare time focused on his triathlon training that he neglects his wife and kids, the oldest of which is 11. The wife works out too, but nothing like her husband. She views his exercise obsession as a selfish fetish. She warns that he is letting precious family opportunities slip away as his children age.

The husband makes no apologies, suggesting that his wife should have realized what she was getting when she married him; although, he started his intensive exercise regimen when their third child was a year old. He says it is more of the same challenge hungry nature that caused him to get two law degrees, an MBA, and his position as a private banking executive.

A couple of marathoners featured are both in their 50s. They met at an older age at a marathon and both have run hundreds of races. No problems are mentioned, but neither are children. Couples without children to deal with have much more time and energy to devote to personal pursuits.

A third couple in their 60s seem to get along just fine, although, she’s a long-time health conscious marathon runner and he’s quite the opposite. He admires his wife and supports her training and races.

It seems that spousal resentment of a partner’s involvement in endurance sports is quite common. One “psychologist, triathlon coach and blogger” calls it “Divorce by Triathlon.” Still, it makes me wonder whether the exercise obsession is a cause or a symptom of marital discord. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

Exercise is hardly the only obsession that can cause or point up marital problems. There are any number of activities that are often engaged in by one spouse to the exclusion of his or her partner. Think of the stereotypical golfer or the fanatical football spectator.

It can be something other than leisure too. Many have been guilty of failing in their family duties by spending too much time at work or even engaged in charitable causes. Maybe we’re just focusing on exercise fanatics because exercise has risen dramatically in popularity over the past couple of decades. More people are doing it so that it is more noticeable as a marital issue than in the past.

I am grateful that my wife has put up with my obsessions over the years. Sometimes she’s had to rein me in a bit. There is a lot of that kind of thing in most successful marriages. Such marriages not problem free. But they do address and arrive at acceptable resolutions to the most serious issues.

Going back to the family where the husband appears to be neglecting his family, I wonder if he wouldn’t be engaged in some other time consuming pursuit if he wasn’t doing triathlons. It does seem (from the brief description in the article) that he is giving up some of the most important life relationships, or at least the opportunity for building such.

I am reminded of a lady that told of her father-in-law. The man and his wife had made it their major focus to raise independent children. They sought for the best opportunities and pushed their children to take opportunities far from home as early as possible.

The man retired early and the couple moved abroad, where they lived an idyllic lifestyle. Contact with the children and grandchildren was accomplished at a distance and through rare brief encounters. After the man’s wife died, he came to realize that what he craved most was a close relationship with his family.

The man tried reaching out to his descendants, only to discover that he had no effective relationship with them. He had been so successful in training his children to be independent that he and they didn’t really know each other. He found it impossible to build connections at that point that should have been fostered decades earlier.

I can’t help but wonder if the triathlete featured in the WSJ article might not someday find himself in a similar boat; living a lonely life having swapped fulfilling family relationships for weekends of challenging races.


Frank Staheli said...

I can see how it could easily become a problem when one spouse exercises and the other does not. It's interesting to me how seemingly many people go to the gym without their spouses.

Exercise is actually one of the things that enhances my spouse's and my marriage, because we do it together.

Kate said...

Great post!