Do Runners Divorce More? (Part 3 – Things to Think About)

drphilAfter having done my own sampling of runners I know in Part 1, then reviewing some research in Part 2, I share some thoughts on whether or not I think runners divorce more, and why or why not, Dr Phil style. That’s just an analogy. I offer things to think about, not authoritative advice, arguing from a psychological stance given the more scientific, statistical “research” in Part 2 was not conclusive. Besides, it makes for better water cooler talk. But as I am a never married 36 year old veteran of 25 marathons, I can’t be offering anything “authoritative” on this matter. 🙂

From information presented in Parts 1 and 2, it was obvious nothing conclusive could be deduced from data with any degree of certainty. Besides, pinning many relationships’ outcome on one factor is almost ridiculous. Relationships are just too complex to analyze like that. However, I believe runners divorce more than the typical population. I just don’t believe that it is being a runner which is the cause of this higher rate. Rather, I believe that being a runner, like being any “serious leisure participants” as defined in Part 2, is a symptom of behaviours exhibited by serious leisure participants. Just look at those six qualities and three types of commitments serious leisure participants must show to qualify as such. That’s nothing easy to ask of anyone without stressing their relationships, and I can’t believe a set of additional stressors like that, plus some other factors outlined below specific to running, can’t influence a divorce rate to a noticeable extent.

That also means I believe any other serious leisure participant exhibiting those same qualities and commitment types would also have higher divorce rates than the average rate. So whether you run, crochet or do triathlons, if you do it enough to qualify as a serious leisure participant, I believe your kind has higher than the average divorce rate. By “enough”, with respect to running, I’ll put the line at half-marathon or marathon runners, which was how my sampling from Part 1 was skewed. I’m not sure about 10K runners, but I’m quite sure you won’t find this among 5K runners. People generally don’t need to train that much to do 5Ks to qualify as “serious” leisure participants. I hope to be able to demonstrate this more quantitatively in the next month, rather than just pure speculation that I can only offer at this point.


So how did I come to these conclusions?

You’re no longer the person your partner married
Serious leisure participants, as defined in Part 2, incorporate the leisure activity into their identity, or make it grow into something more as they improve. Even if the change were not the dominant change in someone’s personality over the years, the person has become someone slightly more different than a typical person might change over the same period in their lives. This is counter intuitive, though, because an identity associated with a healthy activity like running is generally only seen as being positive. However, it can become “too positive”, accentuating short-comings of one’s partner that they may no longer tolerate. I believe marriages, and other close relationships, last when people can change together to accommodate each other’s change with time. A serious change like that from serious leisure activities, if not matched, could well lead to the same outcome as a negative change. It’s not really about the type of change, but the gap left behind. Whether you create that gap by going ahead or falling behind, the gap is what ultimately gets you.

Time spent away from family and having to work around “schedules”
A decent level of training is not much different than the demands of a second job, although you won’t likely be paid for it and have a lot of fun at it. There are schedules, energy spent, learning, other investments, etc. No matter how “soft” those training schedules are, ultimately, if you train, you have to fit it in somewhere and that’s time not spent together. If you can’t balance the work load on top of this, it’s more conflict.

Time spent with others leading to jealousy and/or suspicion
This may not be a big factor, but I know lots of male/female running pairs who are not married, and sometimes, that can lead to tension from their spouses. Running is quite enjoyable, so it’s easy to speak of your running partner in glowing terms. The other thing is when you run, the guards just go down. You’re might be running in the woods or on the streets in the dark alone with them some time, after all. If you can’t trust them a lot, then you wouldn’t be running with them. Hence, it’s quite easy to talk about everything. Any of these things could easily lead to jealousy and/or suspicion, especially if you share your running partner’s secrets with your partner, making him/her wonder what’s going on out there. Your partner wouldn’t understand lest s/he ran.

Hot bodies at the races
Runners don’t always have the hottest bodies, but as a whole, they’re far better off than the general population. Even the round ones are a bit toned! If you look at it as a mass, you know if you mix enough hot bodies together, something’s bound to happen. If you look at it from an individual point of view that your partner is running with a fit running partner, possibly one fitter than you since you don’t run, it’s a factor that can’t be ignored. As well, fitness tends to increase sex drive, provided you don’t overdo it and ruin your marriage that way. More sex drive in among more hot bodies, and given some races are approaching two women for every man registered. Hmmm.

Not so hot bodies at home
If one partner got fit while the other one isn’t doing so well, the contrast not only becomes obvious, but so do the question of why you stick with this other person when you have so many other better options around you. This question becomes more accentuated for women if, after having kids, say, and putting on weight, she brings herself back to a high level of attractiveness and her husband is only getting worse physically. Women might not stray as much as men, nor as easily, but guys face temptation when their wives have kids and maybe not coming back to her original physique any time soon, if ever for some. Attractive physique isn’t everything in a relationship, but it is an undeniably significant factor. Women stray less, less easily, but there are many more (2:1 to men ratio) to pad the absolute numbers. Men stray more, more easily and have lots more choices. Hmmm.

If you’ve ever done a distance race that challenged you to any extent, you probably know the confidence boost you get with it. The longer the distance, the bigger the boost. Finishers often have this look about them that those not running wished they had, or could experience even if they knew the feeling themselves. But this doesn’t just last for a while after the race. It transfers well into life. Fred Lebow, who may not be great at statistical rates as in Part 2, is definitely one for anecdotes. Fred tells this great story in the New York Times in Jan 1988 of a woman runner accused by her husband of having an affair with a male running partner. ”She wasn’t,” Lebow said, ”but when she finished the New York Marathon and the husband was not at the finish to greet her, she said: ‘That’s it. If I can run New York I can live without him.’ ” They got divorced, and the woman ended up marrying the running partner. In reverse is a story about a Manhattan attorney who had to sneak out of his apartment to run because his wife could not accept his compulsion. One spring day, he packed his running gear in his briefcase and flew off to run the Boston Marathon, returning that same day to give the impression that he had simply been to work. Soon enough he had his freedom: he and his wife got divorced. These stories are not atypical, even if they were extreme. I’ve known lots of women who got so much confidence from running they’ve gone on to change their lives in drastic ways they told me they would never have had the courage to do until they started achieving goals in running. A few changed everything from jobs to husbands, some both, with a cross country move as a bonus.

Lack of confidence
This would appear in the partner not running, or keeping fit in some other way. Jealousy or suspicion, or worry from it, could stem from lack of belief you can keep your partner because he/she is fitter, quite possibly happier, and is surrounded with viable options to substitute for you should they make the choice to do so. For some, especially men but possibly women who were once athletes, this lack of confidence might be from the fact that they no longer even hold athletic “superiority” that were such a key part of their identity. It is tough for some macho men to not be seen as fit as their wives, destroying some of their manliness and manhood. It could be worse than them losing their jobs that was also a big part of their identity because they could get another job. Getting that athletic supremacy back would be a much tougher challenge since his past resume won’t be of any value, and his wife is getting better all the time. Women once athletic suffer a different way, I believe, not in that they lost any part of their womanhood, just a matter of self-image being just a shadow of what they used to be. As if aging didn’t do enough to their looks, if not child-bearing, they also have to deal with loss of one of the dominant aspects of their image. Lost of confidence in any form will make one less attractive to another unless the other was a predatory type, but that’s not relevant here.

Side bets
Despite “side bets”, like purchases and such towards the hobby, cited in Part 2 of not being a factor in serious leisure divorces, if you buy enough shoes and new running clothes frequently, pay lots race fees and take trips constantly, I guarantee you’ll hear about it unless your partner has some equivalence! “Non-factor” like stuff I don’t like stepping in!

The compound effect and other factors
So you have your identities being eaten away, your confidence, the gap between you and your spouse widening, little things like side bets to big things like shared workload creating conflict. If that weren’t enough, they’re all working together. They’d be more or less pending what other stresses you both have, like if only one had a job, or you had five kids compared to, say, one. The other stresses, I don’t doubt, contribute significantly one way or another. I’m just not sure if runners with one kids would walk away from a marriage more easily than one not willing to separate to jeopardize the lives of five kids. But it probably has something to do with it. I don’t know about you, but all this is enough to convince me an additional stress source from running, as good as running might be, could skew divorce rates among runners.

Please come back in Part 4 for some thoughts on what to do to counter some of these factors I’ve suggested as contributing to divorce among runners. That’s thoughts. Not advice. I’ll throw in some contemplation to marry a runner or  not which, as a single person and avid runner, slips into my head from time to time.

Perhaps, then, you can advise me! 😉

Flesh-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 9.7


3 thoughts on “Do Runners Divorce More? (Part 3 – Things to Think About)

  1. i am a married runner. my spouse does not run. fortunately i run while she works so it does not affect are relationship. the only time it does is on the weekend mornings and she sleeps in.

    • Thanks for your insight, Max. Glad to know you have things worked out so well. Some runners I know have things worked out well like you. Others, I can say, were not so fortunate. It’s always a battle of majority vs minority on any issues like this. You’ll find lots of cases to prove you right or wrong. Question is, which can you find more of.

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