Iron-Strong Relationships in the Midst of Change


There’s nothing like a funny race sign to keep you entertained during a race.  Post chuckle, this one got me thinking.  It’s true, making a lifestyle change - like adding 15-20 hours a week to train for long distance triathlon – definitely rocks the relationship boat.  In our 8 years of marriage, my husband Will and I have weathered becoming parents, dog ownership, 2 job changes, selling, renting and buying a house all in 1 summer, diet changes and 8 race seasons including the completion of 3 Ironman races (2 for him, 1 for me) and the American Triple T Extreme. We’re currently back in Ironman training season as Will is on track to complete Ironman Chattanooga this fall.   Each of these life altering events created new challenges for our marriage, but what I love most about them is how our love has grown through each one.  We’ve both been the habit changer and supporter or both at once and we’ve learned a lot about ourselves, each other, and love – how to love better, that is – as we navigated the waters of change.  I’m so thankful for these challenges that bring us closer together and make us a stronger team.  All mushy stuff aside, relationships matter.  Research shows that a strong social network is a key success when we’re setting out to change a habit.  Humans not only need each other to survive, we need each other to grow and change.  Make habit changes easier on yourself by gathering a support crew, or, if you’re supporting a loved one’s habit change, by being truly supportive!

Here are a few tips for both parties as you navigate your next major lifestyle change:

For the Habit Changer -

  1. Communicate well. Discuss your goals and action plan with your support crew. Be sure to include why you’d like to change, how it may affect your family and what you need to be successful.  Discuss and agree upon the best time for action and hold each other accountable to your commitments.
  2. Accept that your partner or family may not want to change their habits as well. Just because you are, doesn’t mean they want to or will.  No one successfully makes a life change until they have made the decision to do so.  Refrain from creating conflict by nagging or bullying your spouse or kids into joining you on your self-improvement project.  Yes, it is awesome when you are doing something new together, but you both need to want to do it.
  3. Keep your conversations interesting. Your life change is exciting – to you.  Your spouse will be excited for you, but if it consumes every conversation, they’ll likely get bored.  How was their day?  What’s going on in their circle?  As important as that goal is to you, your partner has something just as important going on in their life.  Be sure to keep the conversation going 2 ways.
  4. Keep up your end of the bargain. Changing a habit takes time and energy.  Unless you and your spouse have worked out some kind of short term agreement for one of you to pick up the slack, get creative and keep up your end of the bargain.  No one likes to do more, unexpected work.  In our house, I’m our head chef.  When I have a heavy training load, I spend my day off of training shopping, food prepping, and cooking so that we’re still eating nutritious meals during the workweek when I’ve burned up my energy and time swimming, biking, running, and working.
  5. Speak your spouse’s love language fluently and frequently. If you don’t know anything about love languages, check out Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages ASAP!  According to Chapman, we all have a primary love language – words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch.  You’re spending a lot of time and energy changing something about yourself.  Don’t get lost in this change and miss out on loving your spouse and family well!  When we feel loved, we’re happier and more willing to divvy out love and kindness ourselves.  Speaking the love language(s) of your family members is effective in expressing love in minimal amounts of time.  Will likes to spend hours cleaning the house to make me happy and loved, but I’m a quality time girl.  This act of service is sweet and much appreciated, but it doesn’t make me feel nearly as loved as when we spend 10 minutes after dinner cleaning the kitchen together.  Supporter’s note:  This one is not just for the Habit Changer!  Supporters should also learn to speak the love language of the habit changer to provide the most loving support.

For the Supporter

  1. Be supportive. Seems obvious, but seriously, make sure your words and actions are supportive of your spouse’s goals.  Bringing cupcakes home to celebrate a small weight loss victory is not supportive of your spouse’s weight loss goal.  Instead, try verbalizing that you’ve noticed the weight loss or their efforts.
  2. Be a cheerleader. Taking support 1 step further, provide unquestionable faith in your spouse’s ability to achieve their goal and say it.  I know, if you are like me and this does not come naturally, for the benefit of your relationship, learn how to sincerely cheer. Here are a few examples:  “Great job!”  “I know you can!”  “I have no doubt you can!” “You’ve got this!”  “You’re working so hard!”  “Look at how awesome you did!”  “I can tell you’re working really hard!”
  3. Compassionately express your needs. Does it seem like all your partner talks about are workouts or food these days and you’d like to talk about something else?  Do you need more quality time together?  Use I statements to express your desires.  It’s very likely that your partner does not know that they could be helping you or loving you better unless you kindly tell them what you need: “I’m missing spending time with you lately.  Let’s schedule some quality time so we can catch up.”
  4. Pick up the slack. Ask your spouse if there’s something you could do to help.  I love this question.  As “miss independence,” I’m likely not going to ask for help, but being asked “What can I do to help?” opens up the conversation and provides an opportunity for me to receive help and their gesture of love.  When my husband asks me this question, I know he cares about helping me reach my goals.
  5. Be a team player. Marriage is a team effort.  Yes, each of you will have individual interests and goals. However, to make the family unit work, you must work together to reach those goals.  If your spouse is training for a race, BE at the finish line or volunteer for extra parental detail so they can train.  If your partner is working on getting more sleep, help them get to bed earlier with encouraging words and actions.  When your spouse is healthier, you both win!

Here’s what keeps other SAS marriages going when 1 spouse is making a lifestyle change or training for a big event:

“Communicating clearly about the upcoming week's schedule so we could all set our expectations – and then respecting each other’s time helped out tremendously when my husband was training for an Ironman and then when I trained for a half Ironman.” ~ Bri Gaal, Finance Operations Specialist, married 13 years and mother of 5 year old son

“We both understand that it is important for each of us to train, and try to make time and be understanding. Often times we get together with other friends and couples which makes training much more fun (and safe). We have made some really good friends over the years.”  ~Lou Soleo, Technical Support, married 22 years and father to 17 year old daughter and 15 year old son

“The jog strollers!  They allowed me to get in some good training and spend time with my kids while also providing a little bit of solo time for Keisha (my wife).  I have logged over 1800 miles with our single and double strollers, and my kids and I have lots of good memories of those runs.” ~ Matthew Burdick, IT Project Manager, married 16 years, father of 6 year old son and 7 year old daughter

"It definitely helps when your significant other is willing to join in on some of your training - bike rides and open water swims are always better when you do them together! For those rides we can't do together, I make sure to let my wife know ahead of time so she can plan a mall trip with friends or some other outing. Just because I'm suffering doesn't mean she has to, too!" ~ Chris Allen, Database Administrator, married 4 years

“The same thing that keeps us together normally, recognizing when a goal, training or lifestyle change is necessary or important to the partner and supporting that choice for the mutual benefit of the relationship.   That a lot of words to say that my wife recognizes when a goal or change is important to me.  Achieving a goal or making a change is part of me continually striving to improve myself.  And as I achieve goals or make changes, it helps me become a better person, father and husband.  So, why wouldn’t she want to support a better version of me? (Except for all those loads of really awful laundry!)” ~Kevin DeBruhl, Sr. Applications Developer, married 26 years and father of 22 year old son

“My husband trains early morning and at lunch during the week.  Since my daughter and I don’t train, he’s considerate of going out early morning on weekends or when I’m taking yoga in the morning so he’s back by late morning so we can have family fun.  All I can say is that he’s considerate in making sure there is a balance of training and time with family.” ~Celeste Cooper-Peel, RFC Wellness Supervisor, Married 22 years and mother of 17 year old daughter

“Best you. Best me. Best us. To us, wanting success for each other is just as important as wanting it for ourselves. To that end, when one of us has eyes set on a goal, it’s a no-brainer that the other will step up to do everything in their power to help make it happen. I mean, how attractive is it to see someone you love achieve their dreams?” ~Carrie Hughston, Manager, Advanced Analytics Testing, Married 10 years and mother of sons, ages 3 and 7 and daughter, age 5

At some point along the way, we fill both roles in relationships – the habit changer and the supporter.  Both are important roles and awesome opportunities to strengthen your relationship.  A healthier partner makes for a happier partner!  What works for your family?  Share your tips below.



About Author

Amanda Pack

Sr. Recreation and Fitness Program Coordinator

Amanda received her B.A. in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At SAS, she has shares her passion of wellness with SAS employees as a Senior Recreation and Fitness Program Coordinator. When she’s not teaching others how to squat, chaturanga, and run or coaching expecting moms and Ironmen-to-be, you’ll find her exploring the outdoors with her husband, two sons, and schnoodle, cooking, propagating succulents, and training for endurance events. She’s a 2x IRONMAN finisher and multi-marathoner who loves to be on the trails or on her yoga mat! Amanda is registered through Yoga Alliance as an Experienced 200 hour Yoga Teacher (E-RYT200), certified in personal training and group exercise instruction through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), an IRONMAN Certified Coach and has training in prenatal yoga, Cosmic Kid's Yoga, and as a postpartum doula.


  1. Love this post Amanda! I hadn't really thought about how big of a deal it was to our relationship when my fiance was training for his first marathon last year. But yeah it was a change in our daily lives for 6+ months as far as time spent away on runs and the sheer exhaustion after long runs. My tips for being supportive? For a few of his 18 mile runs, I would ride my bike along side him. I could give him water and food as needed from my backpack and brought my jam box so we could listen to podcasts as we went. It was a great experience to bond over and helped me to feel like I could be supportive of him (and get a pretty good workout as well). I could also help by having things set up for when he returned from long runs - a towel laid out with his mat for stretching, a drink and yogurt or sandwich, whatever fuel to get immediately after. Or make a big breakfast after long runs. I think little things like that go can go a long way.

    • Amanda Pack

      Great ideas Katie! I've been the girl on the bike too. 😉 Way to support your sweetie and agree completely, no matter who's training, it's a great bonding experience for both of you!

  2. Great article! Practical tips that I know I can always use a reminder to implement. Communication is so key. Thanks for the great reminder, Amanda!

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