Who’s With You at the Finish Line? The importance and struggle of spousal support with athletes.

“We go to bed talking about your splits, we wake up talking about your splits, I can’t take running anymore!”

This is an actual quote from my now, number one fan and supportive husband, Luke. At that time, those words seemed harsh, and extremely painful. I LOVE running. He married a runner and a triathlete, he knew what he was getting into. How could he be so mean about something that meant so much to me? Many of us type A athletes hate to back down from a challenge. To me, his words felt stifling and judgmental. I was only taking care of my body and trying to be a better athlete. As a mom, I missed a few years of training to pop out babies and nurse them. I felt I deserved to work out more, so I did. I had completely lost myself in motherhood and being a wife so when I got the chance to work out again, I took it to a whole new level. As much as I could, all the time. I even taught 11 classes a week at a local gym so I could exercise AND run AND make money. My life was seemingly perfect. I finally had my fun life back, but at what expense?

Marriage is hard. I have been married almost 16 years (give or take a couple, yes, we were separated) many people that know us now cannot believe there was a time we didn’t get along. Luke and I love each other very much. Truth is we were babies when we got married and even though we thought we knew everything, we did not. We grew up together. In fact, I knew Luke in high school. We didn’t date back then but I did go to my first party at his house. (Sorry Grammy and Grampy). We were always friends so when we ended up at the same college it wasn’t that odd that we started dating. Luke, from the beginning, was my biggest supporter. He drove me to triathlons when I first started them and often we would turn around and drive away because I was too panicked to open water swim. He would say “honey it’s ok, let’s go get breakfast and try again when you are bit less scared”. He wasn’t particularly into running but he would go to the gym with me and always encourage me to get out and do my workouts. I loved the support. So, what changed?

We got married my senior year of college. Three months later we were pregnant with our first baby Sam. I became so focused on being a mom and being pregnant I didn’t exercise much. Luke and I decided since we started young we might as well keep going, so we had our second baby when Sam was 19 months old. Now I had two babies. I exercised daily and even ran, but I didn’t “train”. Everything I did was for fun and recreation. I didn’t miss training because I was so busy. Fast forward two years. My kids are now 5 and 4. They didn’t need mommy as much. It was the 7th year of my marriage. (The dreaded 7 years was true for us) Luke and I played tag team. I went to work, he went to work, we’d give each other a high-five on the way out the door. I had my running friends and business and he had his work friends. We had VERY few couple friends in between. We were growing in opposite directions. The more I exercised the less Luke did, mostly because he resented my doing it and talking about it all the time. It made him not like running. That in turn made me angry. He didn’t care about being physically active. To me it meant he didn’t care about staying healthy for our family. Our once active fun family life had turned into Maria’s life, Luke’s life, and kid time for each parent separately. We started vacationing separately because it was easier with work schedules and he’d take the kids then I would take the kids. Married life wasn’t what I thought it would be. I wanted a divorce. I wanted to be able to run with my friends whenever I wanted without guilt. My friends “understood” my need to exercise when my husband did not. The more Luke tried to get me to have more balance the more I fought him. Nobody tells Maria what to do. (Literally one of my big downfalls as a human). This eventually caused us to separate. So why am I telling you this? This sounds horrible, right? No way out. Nope, not true.

I’m telling you this so people can learn from our story. No marriage is perfect. They may look perfect on Facebook, but there is not a single person who has been married a long time that won’t tell you it’s both the hardest, and the most rewarding relationship out there. Often, I feel that if people were more open about the problems they have in their marriages then maybe people would reach out for help more often and with fear of judgement. Luke and I went for counseling. At first I thought it was dumb and I wanted no part of it. We learned how to communicate with each other our needs. I learned that I was literally running away from my marriage because I didn’t know how to communicate what I needed. Luke learned to accept me as I was and to appreciate my athleticism and to join me on some runs occasionally. Occasionally turned into once a week which turned into twice a week and we were talking again and spending time together uninterrupted by children or the outside world. The counselor helped me realize that even though I saw Luke as not supportive, had he not been with the kids while I was training, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.  I was abusing my ability to do what I wanted, and had become extremely selfish as a protective mechanism. The heart of marriage is communication. If you can’t communicate you have nothing. You must communicate your own needs while keeping the needs of your spouse in mind. It’s constant renegotiation. As athletes, we spend hours doing what we love. We need to be reminded that often we leave our spouses out. Many spouses don’t even understand why we do it. It’s our job to help them feel less threatened by it. I have seen it destroy marriages. It does not have to be the case. I truly believe that even if your spouse is not into your sport, you can make them a part of it in some way but making them feel special and needed. Life is about balance. We are constantly finding the right one. If your marriage is important enough to you, you will find this right balance. That being said, not every marriage makes it. I feel truly grateful that Luke and I went through those painful years as we are now better for it. If you can’t make it work, you can’t make it work; but I will tell you this: if you prefer to be away training all day there is something missing in your marriage. I LOVE to train more than anyone now and I still do, but I also LOVE to be home with my number one fans. I would skip a run to hang with them any time if they needed me to. This did not use to be the case. Luke and I still negotiate and renegotiate and we have become a team in decision-making, as it should be. We still work hard every day and we are not perfect, but marriage is worth working hard for. The other side can be so much more rewarding. Just remember the finish line is not worth it if you don’t have anyone to celebrate the victory with at the end.

On Track

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