It has its perks, but working out with your significant other isn’t always the best for every relationship. Photograph courtesy of iStock.
You go grocery shopping together, do laundry together, even brush your teeth at the same time. And then comes that moment in your relationship when you have the brilliant idea: “We should work out together.”
So you and your better half lace up your sneakers together, maybe don corny matching workout outfits, and hit the road for a run. Flash forward a few minutes, and you’re huffing and puffing while he’s already lapped you—twice.
Hmph. Better half, indeed.
While working out as a couple has its benefits—a commitment to staying fit, extra motivation, and a better sex life, to name a few—it’s not for everyone, says couples psychotherapist Elisabeth Joy LaMotte.
“There’s the self-esteem part, the health part, the physical part, and the bonding part to working out together. I’ve seen it work really well for couples,” she says. “But obviously, every person is different and every relationship is different.”
Talk It Out
Laurie Kendall-Ellis, American Physical Therapy Association executive director of private practice, has also witnessed firsthand what can happen to lovebirds when working out together doesn’t, well, work out. But she says they often make their first mistake before they even start exercising.
Couples usually don’t take the time to discuss each person’s fitness goals beforehand, she explains. Partners need to establish some guidelines before taking on a workout plan together. She recommends deciding how many times a week you’ll exercise together and finding a time during the day that works for both of you.
If you’re training for a marathon while your partner is content with leisurely walks, that’s something that should be established beforehand. A good idea is to at least warm up and cool down together, so you can still spend some quality time with one another.
A couple should consider throwing in the towel “when they’re not motivating each other to achieve the goals they each want to achieve,” Kendall-Ellis says. At that point, “it’s become counterproductive.”
Be Sensitive of Each Other's Bodies
Another uncomfortable, yet necessary, issue to discuss is both people’s physical build. It goes without saying that males’ and females’ bodies greatly differ, from body fat to muscle mass to lung capacity. “You need to be sensitive to that when setting goals, and come up with realistic expectations,” Kendall-Ellis says.
She’s seen couples get into arguments when one person in the relationship is dealing with weight issues that he or she is particularly sensitive about. It’s often easier for men to lose weight than women, so be wary of that if you’re both looking to shed some pounds.
“It may be a source of tension in the relationship,” Kendall-Ellis says. “In that case, I think it’s best to exercise on your own, at least until the person is in a place where [he or she] feels less self-conscious.”
Put Aside Competition and Jealousy
Working out together can be great for two people who enjoy healthy competition, while it also works well when they aren’t competitive at all. The problems arise, says LaMotte, when “one is very competitive and the other is not. That’s when I notice challenges, especially if one is pushing the other beyond his or her comfort zone.”
And if you’re the jealous type, you might want to work out together in private and avoid taking fitness classes together. “Yoga is a place where I have heard of problems the most,” LaMotte says. “A lot of couples enjoy taking yoga together, but with all of those barely clothed people in a small room, if a couple already struggles with jealousy, it can be tough.”
To prevent the competitive or jealous streak from taking over, LaMotte encourages couples to find a type of exercise or workout that both parties are interested in. “I notice people build more intimacy when they are developing a shared interest and having new experiences together,” she says.
So try an activity neither of you have done before, like a dance class or paddleboarding. “Remember that the goal is to have time together,” says LaMotte. “Carving out this time for a couple is a great way to have an intimate, healthy time, while taking care of the relationship.”