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Can Too Much Working Out Be Bad for Your Relationship?


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Just because something is good for you doesn't mean more is better. Obsessions can derail marriages.

We’re constantly being told to exercise for good health and good relationships. I think it’s true to a point, but a recent article about excessive exercising reminded me that just because something is good for you does not mean more of it is better for you. The explosion of endurance sports, such as marathons and triathlons, is placing a strain on more marriages these days.

“A Workout Ate My Marriage” by Kevin Helliker of the Wall Street Journal features the wife of an endurance athlete who awakens alone every day including holidays, with her husband gone before dawn to exercise for hours. He wished her a Happy Mother’s Day from a triathlon in another state, while she stayed home to care for their three children.

In their mid-40s, they both recognize the constant training impedes their intimacy. The husband even acknowledges it’s selfish for him to take so much time away from family, in addition to his work as a banking executive. The article calls the woman an exercise widow. (Many couples joke about the golf widow left at home when the husband spends excessive nights and weekends on the golf course.) He rises and leaves before anyone in the house. He arrives home from work after the family has had dinner, and falls asleep before the children because of his exhaustion from exercise and early hours.

A marriage counselor quoted in the article says this is a new trend — that more couples are coming into her office with an excessive focus on fitness. I admit I’ve known others who have fallen prey to the obsession. One woman I know became so obsessed with her body that her husband believed she cared more about her long morning run than caring for her children. Then, plastic surgery helped her “perfect” her body, only for her to have an affair with another man. Nothing her husband said could dissuade her from the desire for fitness above all else. The marriage ultimately fell apart.

Indeed, some individuals who have success with losing weight and becoming fit realize they are attractive to the opposite sex. This can fuel a new sense of sexiness than can be good for the marriage, or it can lead to temptation to stray.

As I write this, my dear hubby is taking a long training run at a nearby park. He competes in occasional sprint triathlons and goes through phases of increased dedication to exercise. However, he has never put the gods of fitness above the needs of family. Much of his training takes place when he is traveling for work and keeps him from mindless TV watching.

I have great friends without children who regularly run marathons together. And she cheers him on during sprint triathlons. Their long hours of training work fine for their marriage because they do it together and because they have no children competing for their attention. This situation is ideal for them.

I have another friend whose marriage thrives on her husband taking long—very long—bike rides. She says it’s good for their marriage because it clears his head and makes him a happier husband.

If I’m being honest, most people, like me, need more of a kick in the pants to exercise more, not less. However, an obsession with anything, even a good thing, can kill the sparks in your marriage. Even healthy habits or fun hobbies can take over one’s life. If you’re traveling every weekend to go to car shows, and your wife hates them, it’s the same problem. If your spouse frequently complains that you spend more time and adoration on something besides the marriage and family, there’s a problem.

Arizona psychologist, triathlon coach and blogger warns of “Divorce by Triathlon” and wonders aloud at the number of lonely husbands, wives and children of triathletes who are waiting for the “insanity to end.”

Whatever you’re obsessed with, keep your sanity. Don’t go over the deep end and leave your family behind. Keep the sparks in your marriage by reminding your spouse that no sport or hobby is more important than him or her.

Has fitness ever come between your marriage? Do you wish your spouse would be more dedicated to fitness? Does your partner spend too much time on a sport, hobby or other obsession?

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