Relationships: Athletes in relationships
Dear Jeff and Lori,
My husband and I used to play together outdoors year-round. It was a big part of what initially brought us together. We moved to Aspen a few years ago, and he became much more athletically competitive. I’m really proud of him and love cheering him on, but his need to keep getting stronger and faster has also resulted in me feeling left behind. Hiking, biking and now skiing has become a battle just to keep up. He keeps pushing me because he doesn’t want to slow down and wait for me. I’ve told him it’s not fun for me to always have to go that hard, but he’s always training for something and not willing to miss the workout. I’m worried if we stay on this path that we’ll keep drifting apart.
— Left Behind in the Bowl
Dear Left Behind,
Lori and Jeff: It’s not uncommon for one partner’s dreams to create a pain point for the other. Goals and ambitions inherently mean growth and change. This movement can be particularly painful when sacrifices are required by both, but only one really feels the joy of the resulting success.
Lori: We went through something similar, and finding the right balance is a perpetual work in progress. I had no interest in putting in the amount of effort Jeff needed to in training for the Leadville 100 or Power of Four, but I still wanted to bike and ski with him. The pressure to keep up or be left behind is a recipe for resentment, but so is holding your partner back from achieving what they’re willing to work hard for. You need to switch your mindset. You see him as setting the pace and having control: “If I ski with him I have to keep up or be left behind.” He’s the reference point. I had to define for myself what experience I wanted to have each time we went out, and so will you. We agreed when he had easier training days we would play together. Days when he needed more intense efforts, I had to decide whether to join him but be OK with letting him go —physically, mentally and emotionally or to take that time to connect to my own interests such as running and yoga. Most importantly I had to recognize that the bitterness that had been growing toward him and these activities was really coming from my own fears of not being enough. The real uphill climb is in challenging our insecurities.
Jeff: I can relate to your husband’s experience and can say that my transition into a more competitive and focused athlete created some powerful internal dilemmas. On the one hand, I place great value on being able to spend my play days with Lori — skiing, biking and hiking. On the other, I know the importance of creating challenges for myself and doing what is necessary for me to meet those challenges. Making the choices to train at my own pace or to compete in events all had the potential to trigger a sense of guilt and shame about the impact it might have.
It was important for me to first understand the multiple layers to my competitive interests and then help Lori understand them as well. One is the basic element of pushing my body to work hard and get strong and fit as a way to be healthy and relieve stress and anxiety. Another is to create goals for myself so that I don’t get complacent. Yet another (and potentially less healthy if not kept in balance) is creating a source for identity, self-worth and meaning.
I would suggest he be careful not to burn the relationship in search of fame and glory or use it as an escape from unresolved issues within himself or in the marriage. Find out what drives your husband to push himself and there might be more patience and better understanding for both of you.
Lori and Jeff: Support him to continue doing what makes him feel good but remember, neither of you is earning a living as an athlete so you must find a balance and be willing to compromise.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.
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