Making time for Training, Growing, and Maintaining Healthy Relationships

I’ve been with my beau for 12 years. Eleven of those years have been spent in some form of training for an endurance race, ride, or outlandish competition.

For those that are not aware, training for competitive sports, especially endurance sports like triathlons, takes a lot of time and commitment. Like, literally adding on a part-time job commitment. A traditional Ironman training plan can take as much as 20 hours per week. That’s 20 hours in training alone — early mornings at the pool, after-work secondary workouts or mobility sessions, and long weekend runs/rides (double sessions known as bricks) that can take up most of the day and leave you exhausted, or feeling the heavy burden like a load of bricks. That doesn’t include time it takes to say, commute to and from the gym, squeeze in extra naps and sleep necessary for recovery, meal planning and preparation, equipment maintenance, and then of course the time and money necessary to invest in traveling to and from races.

I remember once, on a long training ride, I was telling my biking buddy about my beau who does not share my interest in being an athlete, trying new sports, or competing in races. My beau is more of the introvert-gamer-type, who prefers challenging himself in online multiplayer games than in physical activities. His perfect Saturday includes sleeping in, plenty of time on PC games and embracing the joy of doing nothing.

My buddy, whose girlfriend was also a triathlete, squinted at me with a confused look and asked, “So, how do you two actually work?”

You may have guessed by now that my beau and I are good example of “opposites attract.” I’m more of an extrovert, independent, and athletic in the sense of both physical energy and being goal-oriented. He is an introvert, artistic and thoughtful, and more individualistic. I was raised in a rural Wisconsin town, he is Brazilian by birth and grew up in Manhattan. For fun, think of Ellie and Carl from “Up” as our Pixar-counterparts.

Carl and Ellie, the most epic and heart-breaking Pixar-Disney love story ever.

I strongly believe that these differences are what brought us together when we met at UW-Madison — we were both fish out of water in our surroundings but found solace in being our weird, outcast-y selves with each other.

Though it seems like we had few overlapping interests, we shared very similar worldviews. We both deeply love good food, and are unafraid to sample and make new cuisine. We love to travel and appreciate art, culture, and history. We can have intellectual conversations on artsy movies and social justice, but also debate the merits of trashy TV shows like “Married with Children” and “Roseanne.” We have a similar sense of humor, and can both spend hours sorting through pictures of adorable puppies on the internet.

These shared interests and perspectives have helped us to create a foundation on which we can grow a strong relationship. We can count on one another as a conversation partner when we want to talk about a new book or movie, or as a buddy who is willing to try out a new restaurant. When we spend time together, we make an effort to spend time on things we both enjoy to keep building that foundation.

That infrastructure helps tie us back together as we continue to explore our own specific interests. This is hugely important as my beau and I are both fundamentally independent people. We both have strong understandings of our identities, goals, motivations, and what brings us joy and energy. We are both perfectly content to pursue our own hobbies and interests without the need of the other to participate in the same activity, or getting jealous of the other’s separate endeavors.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t support one another interests. Though neither of us may have a super-deep understanding of what the other is exceptionally good at (he wouldn’t be able to tell you my half-marathon PR, and I wouldn’t even try to describe the skill-level he’s achieved for his character in World of Warcraft), but we 100% support one another in pursuing our goals in each of these areas, simply because we know it’s what makes the other person happy. More importantly, we both respect one another’s identities and independent interests, and give each other space to continue growing as individuals.

Another aspect that I think is important is the fact that we bring balance to one another. In Buddhist theory, we humans have a left/right hemisphere (also known as yin/yang, masculine/feminine, or line/circle energy — I prefer line/circle) that rules out mind and spirit. The line energy is connected to rationality, motivation, and forward movement. In contrast circle energy is connected to emotion, compassion, and being present in the moment. In any successful relationship (even your relationship with yourself!) it’s important to strike this balance.

My beau is excellent at bringing circle energy to our relationship in that he appreciates stillness and being present, and is incredibly emotionally intelligent. This energy helps us to stay mindful of one another, connected to our emotions, and be communicative. On the other hand, I bring line energy to the table — pushing us to try new experiences and avoiding stagnation. Through this balance, we’ve both pushed one another to go beyond our comfort zones and grow in new ways.

To bring it all together, my beau and I make time to invest in ourselves so that separately we can be emotionally balanced, whole, and stable partners. Then when we are together, we have the foundation to be even more supportive and caring for another. We can be the yin to the other’s yang, providing support and filling gaps where the other needs it.

This doesn’t mean it’s always easy. We are still working (and learning!) a lot, but because we commit to one another and to making the relationship work, we put in the effort. However, we have found success in the following strategies:

  1. Communication — This. All of the time. We talk about little things from our days that we think the other might find interesting. We talk about TV shows and vacation plans. We talk about one another’s work, and offer advice if possible. We check in with one another to see if we need more time away from one another or more time in shared activities. We talk a lot, but honestly we are even now seeing a therapist to help us develop skills to work through situations when we find it hard to communicate. We’ve been together for more than a decade and have both considerably changed as individuals during that time. The communication tools we used to rely on aren’t as effective now, and we need new methods for connecting with one another.
  2. Giving each other space — Since we’re so independent, we both get itchy when we need time away to work on our individual hobbies. We’ve found that we both need pretty significant time chunks throughout the week to pursue our own interests and grow as individuals. Most of my time is dedicated to training, and although it is a serious investment, it also gives me a huge sense of empowerment, self-worth, and well-being. This investment in myself makes me feel like I can be more of myself when I am spending time with my beau.
  3. Making time for one another — However, it can be easy to fall into the habit of scheduling time with everyone but each other, and then it can feel more like we are roommates than partners. To avoid running parallel lives, we set times to go on dates, go on an exploration, have a conversation over breakfast, or just be lazy together. This is time that we specifically use to show up and be present in one another’s lives so we can keep building that foundation of shared interests and experiences.
  4. Showing appreciation and that we care — We say “I love you” and “thank You” about fifty times a day. We still thank each other for doing the breakfast dishes in the morning. Sometimes we thank each other for simply showing up and being a good partner and friend. Part of our love language is simply appreciating the other person for being who they are and what they bring to the relationship helps to avoid taking one another for granted or devaluing their contributions.

That’s as much relationship advice as I can responsibly share right now. As I mentioned, we are both still growing and developing as individuals, and our relationship is growing and maturing at the same time. The context changes as we do, but we are committed putting in the time and effort to adapt with those changes to make our relationship stronger.

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