Can Marriage Survive the Running Craze? Not Always, a New Study Finds
Shipman's study came about when she recognized herself to be the lonely, nonrunning wife of her marathon-running husband, Mark, 47, a psychiatrist. Discontented with the sidelines and in search of material for her master's thesis on marriage, family and child counseling at La Verne University, she set up a table at the San Diego Marathon under a sign, "Do Running and Marriage Mix?" There was a rush to pick up her questionnaires, and eventually Shipman recruited 432 participants, all, it should be noted, from Southern California. She divided them into three categories: (1) running husband and nonrunning wife (nicknamed Bruce and Chrystie Jenner); (2) both spouses runners (Masters and Johnson); (3) running wife and non-running husband (Annie Hall and Woody Allen). A runner, as defined by Shipman, runs at least 45 minutes three times a week (and most average four races a year).
She found that husbands who run alone are the most traditional in their attitudes. "Their wives," says Shipman, "are divided between those who drive off to the race with a picnic lunch and the children in tow, and those who refuse to do it, grumble and are seen as bitches." Couples who run together communicate the best and are the happiest. They are also the youngest, have the fewest children and share more home responsibilities. When only the wife runs, husbands claim to be supportive but, Shipman found, rarely attend a race and seem mildly resentful and jealous.
Running wives with nonrunning husbands also report the most arguments about money spent on equipment. "As the running wife runs more, she often changes her opinion of her non-running husband, and it usually isn't for the better," notes Shipman.
In all three groups, the amount of family time together suffers. Everyone's diet changes. All drink less coffee (except the running wife), take more vitamins and cut down on alcohol. The running couple eliminates it almost entirely. (The Woody Allen husband drinks the most.) Although runners sleep better and longer, the sex lives of all the couples dwindle. The quality of intimacy was said by all to improve, except for the hapless non-running husband.
Shipman found her own five-year marriage supported her study. When her husband's romance with running began four years ago, she realized that she would have to adjust to being alone. (He is up and out at 5:30 a.m., and she doesn't see him until they both come home from work at 8:30 p.m.) Mark says, "Things in running happen after 40 minutes—all the creative solutions to problems come to you. Also, it is great to talk to people while they are running; they are far less guarded." In fact, he counsels some of his patients while jogging. For her part, Chris says, while Mark is running "I take dancing classes, work, read. I have become very confident being alone."
From the study Chris is convinced there is a personality type that fits runners. "They are more introspective, self-disciplined and aggressive," she says. "This is true of women runners too, only more so. One woman told me, 'If I can do this, I can do anything.' It gave her the strength to leave her husband and a bad marriage," explains Shipman. "Running will not make or break a marriage, but it tends to trigger off what's already there. It makes problems more difficult to ignore."