I got married in 2011 in a small town in the middle of Missouri. Since I had just moved to the US from Sweden, some of my family and friends weren’t able to make the journey over. So when my sister called me one week after the ceremony I happily assumed it was to congratulate me. To my surprise and sadness that was not her only message. She also told me she was divorcing after 15 years of marriage.
I felt as though I had just enrolled in the army only to be deserted by my general. I stood on the shores of an unknown territory knowing that I eventually would have to dodge bullets, but I had no idea how. Coming from a fragmented family, my sister was the only person still married in my entire extended family. How was I supposed to succeed in a lifelong marriage when no one in my family could?
As a marathon runner and an endurance athlete I know how to succeed at running long distances. I know that if you lack strategies for getting through the tough parts, you will likely fail to finish. Well, a lifelong marriage is a kind of endurance event, so why not try to do some benchmarking here, I thought. Let me share with you five ways marathons have helped to strengthen my marriage:
1. Visualize obstacles
Engage in mind preparation. You have to imagine how it will feel when you find yourself struggling. Just as important as it is to prepare on how to deal with dark thoughts setting in after 15 miles of running, what is your strategy if you find yourself attracted to someone else than your spouse after 15 years of marriage? Do you allow yourself to see where the attraction goes? Or do you stop it in its tracks—avoiding bad decisions that lead to infidelity, like seemingly harmless phone calls, emails, coffee dates etc. When you find yourself in questionable circumstances, you want to have visualized the scenario so that it feels like déjà vu and you know exactly what to do to avoid hurting your marriage.
2. Seek help from experts
When you’re preparing to run a marathon, a lot of people are going to try to give you all sorts of advice. The same thing is true for when you’re embarking on a new relationship and marriage. So ask yourself, would you take running advice from a sedentary person or a long-distance Olympic champion? I have decided to listen and talk to people who have succeeded in accomplishing what it is we want and not to embrace advice from people with a history of bad relationships.
When running, a human can only store glycogen in the body for about nineteen miles; after that, the body starts using fat as energy. This transition is what is known as “hitting the wall,” and it can be painful. If you don’t anticipate it, you’re in for a very unpleasant surprise that most likely will make you forfeit. But if you do know this, you’ll be able to recognize that you’re going through a transition, the pain will be temporary, and you can push through without injury.
Likewise, it’s important to know the physiology and chemistry behind our gendered bodies and how that relates to major life events that affect relationships. Biology and evolutionary psychology are facets of science that can illuminate the human condition and help us get more out of our partnerships.
Take pregnancy, childbirth and nursing for example— If I hadn’t learnt how these events would affect my wife and if I had not taken the time to understand her new needs, the arrival of our first child may have caused a crisis in our relationship.
As often as I can, I try to use small crises and struggles as mental exercises that help me manage larger crises and embrace the wisdom and insights I gain through practice. If you struggle with impatience and fail to be kind when you’re waiting for your wife to get ready before going out together, imagine how that’s going to play out when you also have three kids. I try to find teaching moments and learning opportunities through little dilemmas and vicarious scenarios. After a small argument, my wife and I take time to evaluate the facts, our motivations, and our relationship’s challenges so we can tweak our behaviors accordingly. It’s always healing and it prepares us for even more challenging situations.
5. Have cheerleaders
Last and most importantly – an endurance event is not something to try to pull off alone. Energy and support from your community is necessary in order to succeed. We try to surround ourselves with people who encourage us, who are honest with us, and who can help us push through tough times. For example, we read sites like IBelieveInLove. We rely on people who will encourage us and strengthen us when we need it in times when we don’t think we can do it by ourselves.