18 March 2011

Couples seek counselling because one has become obsessed with exercise

Having just watched the impressive film of the desert challenge for Comic Relief and as thousands train for the London Marathon in April with the hopes of acheiving personal triumph, improved cardiovascular health and of couse as a way to donate to charity it is interesting to read that:

Extreme exercise can jeopardise relationships

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, increasing numbers of couples in America are seeking counselling because one partner has become obsessed with exercise, leaving the other as a workout widow or widower. British experts say that the trend is just as evident here. With record numbers of mid-life converts, aged 30-45, being drawn to extreme endurance events, such as marathons and triathlons, long-term relationships are being intruded upon more than ever before by exercise and the training partnerships it entails.

“Oh yes, I’ve come across the marathon effect,” Christine Northam, a counsellor for Relate, says. “What is an amazing personal goal to one individual has the potential to wreak havoc in a relationship.”

It’s not difficult to see why; training for a marathon consumes your life. Stuart Holliday, an exercise psychologist and running coach, says: “The average [runner] needs to cover 30-55 miles a week for four months to prepare adequately for a marathon, so it’s not surprising he or she sees less of any partner.”

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

You take over the kitchen with your immune boosting supplements and isotonic drink powders. You talk about running all the time with endless monologues about mileage and muscle pain, shin splints and speed sessions, oblivious to the rolling eyes of your partner.

You become engrossed in running magazines and training schedules and speak in alien, athletic terminology. And you are permanently knackered, too tired to socialise past 9 o’clock and too exhausted for sex much of the time.

For the workout widower, the regime is equally draining, albeit for different reasons. Left at home, he can wake to an empty pillow beside him, his partner having left for an early morning session before work. The demands of the training schedule can accentuate niggles about who does the housework, takes the kids to Brownies or goes shopping. 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.

“Often the non-exercising partner feels neglected simply because his or her partner is devoting so much time and energy to this chosen activity,” Northam says. “But if the exercising partner is also the kind of person who becomes incredibly focused and goal-orientated, blocking out everything else in the process, then it is a real cause for concern.”

It’s not just a lack of time together that can begin to cause cracks in a relationship. Intense feelings of insecurity, even jealousy, can arise when one partner not only gets a more toned body, but a boosted social life and heightened self-confidence.

Jane, a runner from Berkshire, was a vehement anti-exerciser until, at the age of 49, a friend dragged her out for a jog around the local park. She has now joined a running club, takes part in 10km races and half-marathons, and says that the sport has provided an entirely new circle of friends.

“Two years ago I was pre-menopausal, putting on weight and looked puffy and pear shaped,” she says. “I’ve lost two stone and I am the weight I was when I was 20. My husband loves it, but he’s also very wary about the new me. I’ve thrown myself into an activity that he can’t relate to and while my confidence has grown I can just sense that he 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. You can lessen the blow, Holliday says, by discussing your goal before you start training for it.

“Schedule in time for your partner when you plan your training,” he says. “Make sure he or she is as involved as they want to be and that they feel needed.”

It could be, of course, that participating in a marathon or triathlon is a consequence, rather than the cause of a troubled relationship. “I trained for my first marathon with my then girlfriend of two years and we broke up before the race,” Holliday says. “It provided some sort of clarity.”


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