Family Marriage Relationships

Three Tips for Finding Balance Between Family and Fitness

November 13, 2015
Joe and Mary Catherine enjoying Yoga in the Park at Old Fourth Ward Park in Atlanta

Three Tips for Finding Balance Between Family and Fitness

Are you trying to lose weight, but your family isn’t supportive? Perhaps you’re trying to train for a triathlon and your spouse is upset that you’re spending so much time on training. Maybe you both want to train for something and are trying to figure out how to fit that in. We’ve struggled with some of those very issues over the course of our marriage. We don’t profess to be experts, but we have found the three C’s of Communicate, Compromise, and Commit can help loved ones find balance in family relations.

This is the third article in our series about how to find balance between family and fitness. In the first article Joe shared the story about training for his first Ironman triathlon race back in 1999 when our family was young. The second article followed up with the story of why he stopped competing in triathlons several years later. Those two articles serve as background perspective for what we’ll explore in this and subsequent articles – how to find balance. While we’ll focus on the topic of finding balance between family and fitness, one could easily substitute “fitness” for any other time-demanding pursuit.

Our family - Alex, Mary Catherine, Stephen, Joe, and Tori (Spring 2015)

Our family – Alex, Mary Catherine, Stephen, Joe, and Tori (Spring 2015)

We’re going to make a number of assumptions about you, our reader. Let’s start with a safe assumption – that you’re part of a family as someone’s husband, wife, life partner, son, daughter, father, mother, aunt, uncle, cousin, etc. Even though we’ll be writing this article from the perspective of a husband and wife with three children, you can easily extend the topic to cover family relations in general. Next, we’ll assume that you or someone you know is struggling with finding balance but then again, aren’t we all? Finally, we’re going to assume that you and/or your loved ones are interested in fitness or diet / weight-control (or some other time-demanding pursuit). We won’t spend time in this article defining fitness, other than to equate it to general health and well-being.

Needs

A wise therapist and marriage counselor once told us that as humans, we are simply a “bag of needs”. Seeking fulfillment of those needs is a goal for most people. In fact, if you’ve ever taken a Psychology course then you’re probably quite familiar with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging, Esteem, Self-Actualization. Understanding your needs and those of your loved ones is an important first step.

Mary Catherine and Joe enjoy some time together on the coast

Mary Catherine and Joe enjoy some time together on the coast

Let’s start with you – our reader. The ancient Greek aphorism “Know Thyself” rings as true today as is did in ancient times. Who are you and what do you need? What are you doing to meet your own needs? Focusing back on our topic of family and fitness, what do you need from your family and fitness pursuits? Both of us (Joe & Mary Catherine) have spent a lot of time pondering those questions. Our answers have changed as we have aged and I’m sure they’ve probably changed over time for you as well. Whatever your needs are, it’s important for you to be cognizant of them. If you don’t know what you need, how do you expect someone else to know?

Typical of other middle-aged couples, some of our family needs are: love, acceptance, protection, comfort, security, affirmation, physical affection, respect, and companionship. Our fitness needs include: well-being, mobility, endurance, strength, flexibility, stress reduction, rest, weight control, leisure/fun, performance, fulfillment, and competition.

Speaking from experience, there’s a very fine line in pursuing fitness activities for health reasons vs. performance & competition reasons. Make no mistake, we both get fulfillment by setting lofty fitness goals and competing to attain them. We’ll explore fulfillment, goals, and competition in greater detail in a future article. For now, let’s just acknowledge that we all have needs. So how do we get buy-in and family support for our needs?

Tip #1 – Communicate

The foundation of all strong relationships is the ability to effectively communicate. Humans are not born with the capacity for telepathy! If you need something, you should communicate your need. In like manner, you should be attentive, open-minded, and listen so that you can hear the needs of your loved ones. Perhaps do that in reverse order as Stephen Covey suggested in his “7 Habits” book – “Seek first to understand, then be understood”.

Mary Catherine and Joe - date night

Mary Catherine and Joe – date night

Examples of “needs-based” communication for the active fitness-oriented family:

  • I’d really like to race in the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Trot
  • Can you skip the race this year so we can go to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving?
  • I really want to qualify for the Boston Marathon
  • It’s important that we attend all of our daughter’s soccer games each Saturday
  • I need more sleep
  • You train so much, you’re always too tired for me and I need you
  • I need my private time and training is “me time”
  • You’re like a hermit and your family needs you
  • I really wish our family ate healthier
  • Can we get dessert for once?
  • There’s a really cool race at Disney World this year and I want to go
  • Does every vacation have to include a race?
  • I want to lose weight and need your support

Do any of the above sound familiar? If you don’t communicate your needs and listen to the needs of your family it’ll be impossible to seek balance. Communication is harder than it seems. It’s really hard for some people to articulate their needs. Other people find it difficult to listen without being defensive. There’s always room for improvement in communications. Making matters more difficult is the fact that not all communication is verbal.  Look for non-verbal cues from your partner.  Make sure your verbal and non-verbal communications are consistent.  Again, we’re not born telepathic no matter how well you think you know your mate. Once you have at least a foundation of effective communication, then the real fun begins – compromise.

Tip #2 – Compromise

Are you married (or committed) to someone a lot like you? Perhaps your life partner is your total opposite. In either case, you’re both bound to share many needs (like each other) and have many more needs that are unique to each person. Perhaps you have similar needs, but want them fulfilled in different manners. It’s inevitable that there’s need conflict during the journey of life. What should you do? Compromise.

Mary Catherine and Joe enjoying a post-run moment along the Chattahoochee River.

Mary Catherine and Joe enjoying a post-run moment along the Chattahoochee River.

Let’s get this out on the table straight-away – life is not “fair” and most marriages/partnerships are not 50-50. If you’re looking for pure equity in life, you’re likely to be very disappointed. Sometimes you’ll do most of the giving and sometimes you’ll do more taking – human beings are complex creatures! It’s been our experience that it’s better to seek overall contentment between partners than to keep literal score of give & take. Emotions can create a distortion field that either magnifies or minimizes the give and take, making comparisons meaningless.

Someone once said that a marriage can’t be 50/50. It has to be 60/60, because if you are just meeting half-way, there is going to be conflict, like two rams butting heads. When it’s 60/60 there is overlapping, crossover of the mind, and a connection.

One book we’ve really enjoyed and highly recommend is Dr. Gary Chapman’s classic “The Five Love Languages”. The book outlines five different ways we tend to seek love and express it: gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. When you express love using your partner’s preferred love language, it tends to amplify it’s effect. The opposite is true, so when you don’t – it minimizes it’s impact.

We don’t mind telling you that Mary Catherine’s preferred love language is acts of service. Joe’s love language is words of affirmation. If Joe wanted to compete in a race on a Saturday morning, but offered to cut the grass later that day – then Mary Catherine would feel like that was a good deal and the compromise would be well received. If Mary Catherine wanted Joe to skip a long run to go prom dress shopping for our daughter, he’d probably be disappointed. Suppose Mary Catherine told Joe how proud their daughter was of him and how important it was to get his input it’d minimize his disappointment.

Compromise can take many forms other than a literal splitting of the family calendar – although sometimes that’s what’s needed. Effective compromise makes all stakeholders winners. Sometimes the planning horizon for compromise is short (you can train on Saturday, but we need you on Sunday) or sometimes it’s longer (you can train for Ironman this year, but we really don’t want you to do it again next year). Compromise using your partner’s preferred love language.

Tip #3 – Commit

Joe and Mary Catherine getting ready to run the Peachtree Road Race together.

Joe and Mary Catherine getting ready to run the Peachtree Road Race together.

The most important ingredient for finding balance is commitment to yourself and each other. If you’re married, then you probably took a vow to “…forsake all others.” The “others” has traditionally been viewed as other people, but we feel that it’s just as applicable to anything (not just anyone) that might become an object of desire. If you’re committed, then you’ll find a way to make it work. If you’re not committed, then work on that first.

It’s helpful if you continue to affirm your partner’s / family’s importance in your life, but don’t forget actions speak louder than words. If you think things aren’t balanced, then they probably aren’t – your instincts will serve you well. Remember balance doesn’t mean 50-50 parity, but it does mean mutual needs fulfillment.

Summary

We’ve found the three C’s of Communicate, Compromise, and Commit can help loved ones find balance in family relations. Just knowing the “three C’s” doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. In our subsequent articles we’ll explore the topic of balance even deeper by examining the situation from two different perspectives – that of a health-oriented person with an unsupportive spouse and then from the perspective of the “fitness widow” who has legitimate concerns that their spouse spends too much time on pursuits other than them.

Disclaimer

We (Joe & Mary Catherine) are not licensed marriage counselors or trained therapists. Our advice and suggestions are based on 21+ years of marriage along with our own ups & downs of balancing family and fitness. We believe strongly in the positive benefits of therapy, so if your marriage/relationship needs professional assistance get it!

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