Divorce by Triathlon: Athletes in Marriage Counseling Balance Exercise and Marital Intimacy

How has exercise affected YOUR intimacy?  Are you or partner training at 4 or 5 a.m., six days a week at the expense of your intimate relationship, with too many races on weekends?  Find more balance through this article, which will give you growth choices around your identity, who you take your self to be, time commitment choices, and relationship options.

I see individuals and couples in Boulder and Denver, two of the “fittest” cities in America, and I’ve been struck the last few years how endurance athletics has impacted marital intimacy.   Then I read a Wall Street Journal article on exercise widows or widowers, inspiring this post on balance, identity and well being in intimate relationship. (The Wall Street Journal A Workout Ate My Marriage KEVIN HELLIKER, February 1, 2011.)

Isn’t exercise good for the body?  Why can’t they adapt to what makes me feel good?

There’s so much to appreciate about exercise.  A sense of accomplishment, fitness, a healthy body, fewer injuries, a healthy appetite, better sleep, the dopamine “runner’s high”, companionship with training partners, expertise in an athletic arena, a model for your family, and stress reduction benefits have all been thoroughly touted.  Years of tennis, skiing, mountain climbing, basketball, weight training, and cycling of all sorts has brought many joys to my life.  Yet how much has your intimate partner had to adapt to a fitness lifestyle at the expense of quality intimacy?

I can’t function without my workouts!

I am sure we all know people who have to exercise to feel good, and it is important to explore this safely when talking about intimacy.  When one’s identity becomes so tied with going farther, the longer, harder, and more intense events requires longer training times, which can cause a partner to ask: “What’s the point?”  Become aware how your identity could be propped up and filtered by increased athletic goals and less by humanistic qualities.  Physical therapists I know of comment often how the compulsive athletes “have to train” even when injured, and want the physical therapist to perform miracles.   Notice if resentment at home is on the increase, with regards to time spent with your partner, child care, or chores.  Find out how much time together is optimal for your children and for your intimate relationship.  Increase your awareness of humanistic qualities, such as your own innate value, service to others, and generosity, for a different, yet still fulfilling, quality of life, without giving up exercise. This will broaden your identity, which gives you choice in how to calm, soothe, or regulate your self, in addition to feeling good through exercise, instead of believing you are totally dependent on exercise to calm and feel good about your self.


Grow your identity, and authentic “pie of life” with a balance of work, exercise, sexual intimacy, children/family, recreation, and more.  Through marital therapy, individuals and couples can be more authentic, real, and relational as they explore their values.   Find the balance in your life that works for you in your relationship.   Might your partner want to go to the gym with you and hire a trainer while you do your own routine? Consider training and racing together, favored by many athletic couples.  Invite your family to travel to races with you and have a family vacation after the event.  Commit to dinner with your family a few nights a week.  Watch for cues from your family that they don’t know you as well as they’d like.

Extreme fitness versus the overall health of your life, and your relationship

As extreme endurance athletes age, most I know of comment that their “pie of life” involved too much time away from those they loved.   Consider adding meaningful moments to your life and to your intimate relationship, while you have all this energy!  A few of my favorites the last few years have included a book group, meditation class, family vacations, movie nights, more camping, personal growth retreats, hiking, and involvement with a step-granddaughter.   Those four and six hour training rides and races were excellent for extreme fitness.  Now the marital health, quality of life, and time with those who are loved, all seem more meaningful and valuable, even if the fitness isn’t as extreme.


Jim Bowen MA LPC has been assisting individuals and couples since 1992, with offices in Boulder and Denver. Contact Jim with email or call him at 303-534-8717. Why not call for a free consultation?