It’s spring! It’s the time of year when everyone wants to get in shape in time to show off in the summer, and no one is complaining if they also look at their partner and think “daayumm!” Whether you’ve gained the quarantine fifteen together during this crazy past two years, acquired some padding to help get you through the winter months, or simply want to feel healthier, stronger, and more energized, there’s no time like the present. Research shows that getting in shape together has a plethora of benefits for a relationship. Let’s explore five ways you can utilize exercise as a way to invigorate and bolster your relationship.
The Warmup: Words of Encouragement
Every workout needs a warmup, and this one is easier than most! Research shows that under the right circumstances (the person has to care about fitness) men engage in more physical activity when their wives offer supportive health-related comments (Skoyen et. al., 2013). A simple “you’re looking extra fit today” or “I’m so glad to see you healthier and more energized from your workouts lately!” can go a long way. Although the study in question did not mention any implications for women, we’d hypothesize that men offering their wives similarly supportive comments can’t hurt. You can also go the extra mile by peppering your workouts together with supportive comments. Offering each other words of encouragement can help you both to get motivated and get moving.
Working Out Together = Better-Quality Workouts
Guess what? Merely having someone else present while you do an activity (any activity!) can have a positive effect on your ability to do the thing (Zajonc, 1965). Although you might not be aware of it, your energy output is likely to increase in the presence of your partner (Bond & Titus, 1983). You’ll run faster and lift with more zeal if they’re there. You can reciprocally benefit from this effect by exercising together.
Bond, Baby, Bond
Coordinating your actions with someone else’s (otherwise known as mimicry) helps to facilitate bonding. Ever played a corporate team building game that involves tossing a ball back and forth, or done that summer camp team building activity in which everyone lines up on a giant pair of wooden skis and tries to walk together? Leaders prize these silly activities for their ability to help people bond. Exercising together provides an ideal context for coordinating your movement. You might walk or run together and sync the speed and length of your strides with one another, or you could toss weighted balls back and forth (Stel & Vonk, 2010). The reason this works is because nonverbal matching or mimicry (or in lay terms, “copying each other”) promotes emotional attunement (DiDonato, 2014).
The physiological arousal that comes from exercise is a major driver of romantic attraction (Lewandowski, & Aron, 2004). A 2000 study by scientists Aron et. al. confirmed this with their findings that couples report higher levels of relationship satisfaction and feeling more in love with their partners after participating in an exciting physical activity or challenge (Aron et. al, 2000). You can hit two birds with one stone by strengthening your body and your relationship at the same time. How’s that for efficiency?
Picture this: You come home after another somewhat stressful day at work and you’re feeling a little tense. Before dinner, you hit the gym for a quick workout–and leave feeling much more free and less tense than before. That’s because exercise is one of the ways we humans channel our energy. When energy has nowhere to go, it builds up. In relationships, the stresses of daily life often build up and create tension which partners let out on one another if they don’t have another outlet. Exercising, whether separately or together, is a healthy way to improve your relationship by reducing the tension you bring into it, and doing it together confers the benefits mentioned above while ensuring that you’re both reducing the tension you bring into interactions. There’s a vast array of research which shows that exercise reduces stress and elevates mood (Harvard Health, 2020), which will inevitably have a knock-on effect on how you show up in your relationship.
Get Your Relationship In Even Better Shape
Do you know what can function as a workout for your relationship? A prenup. Just as hitting the gym helps you build your biceps and and sculpt your abs, writing a prenup flexes the communication muscles, acts as a workout for your negotiation and problem-solving skills, and solidifies your shared vision of the expectations, roles, goals and plans for your marriage. As a bonus, it can also act as a boot camp for financial literacy. How?
Communication: Discussing your prenup opens up communication about a range of very important topics you may not have discussed so meticulously before. It does so by requiring financial disclosure: In other words, you have to be completely transparent about all of your assets, and this prompts you to discuss the nuances and finer points of your financial circumstances and expectations as well as what will happen if you decide to split later on. Communicating skillfully about such important as well as delicate topics flexes the communication muscles big time.
Negotiation and Problem-Solving Skills: Getting married means merging your lives. You’re not only sharing living space and committing to one another romantically for the long haul, you’re also merging your assets. A prenup allows you to decide which assets will be shared and which will stay separate. That means you’re going to have to learn to take care of shared assets together. You might sometimes have different ideas about how you should spend and allocate money and manage assets. When you draft your prenup, you will discuss how you will manage your wealth together as partners. Unless you’re literally the same person, you’re not going to agree on everything. Deciding on how to manage your finances demands that you exercise your negotiation and problem-solving skills in order to reach an agreement in which you’re both eager participants.
Future Vision: You might think you share the same vision, but have you worked out all the details? You might say “we want to buy a house in a good neighborhood together”, for example, but unbeknownst to you, those words don’t necessarily mean the same thing to your partner. Perhaps to you, the words “good neighborhood” denote good schools for future children, tree-lined streets, and a community garden…but maybe for your partner, these words confer a vision of luxury, spacious rooms and big lawns full or ornate decorations, and upper-class neighbors with whom to socialize–all of which is to be built on the back of hard work, long hours, and risky investments that might make you wince.
The same words can mean different things to different people, and this is just one simple example. Writing a prenup prompts you to think carefully about your shared dreams for the future, especially financial ones. Talking about the details involved in reaching these dreams will help you to clarify your expectations and align your goals.
Financial Literacy: If you’re not someone who normally puts much energy into thinking about finances beyond just making sure you have enough money in the bank each month, the process of drafting a prenup forces you to talk about money in great detail, which is sure to level up your knowledge. Writing a prenup involves a deep dive into topics like debt, assets, inheritance, and financial plans, which can go a long way towards bolstering financial literacy.
At this point, you may be thinking “ok cool, so writing a prenup might be beneficial for relationships…but is it really necessary?” Here’s what to consider if you’re not actually sure whether you need a prenup. Hint: We’re pretty sure you should probably get a prenup. If exercising together is like scoring a field goal for your relationship, drafting a prenup with thoughtfulness and care is a touchdown.
Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. E. (2000). Couples’ shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 273-284.
Bond, C. F., & Titus, L. J. (1983). Social facilitation: a meta-analysis of 241 studies. Psychological Bulletin, 94(2), 265-292.
DiDonato, T. E. 2014. 5 Reasons Why Couples Who Sweat Together Stay Together. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/meet-catch-and-keep/201401/5-reasons-why-couples-who-sweat-together-stay-together
Harvard Health. 2020. Exercising to Relax. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax
Lewandowski, G. W., & Aron, A. P. (2004). Distinguishing arousal from novelty and challenge in initial romantic attraction between strangers. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 32, 361-372.
Skoyen, J. A., Blank, E., Corkery, S. A., & Butler, E. A. (2013). The interplay of partner influence and individual values predicts daily fluctuations in eating and physical activity. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30, 1000-1019.
Stel, M., & Vonk, R. (2010). Mimicry in social interaction: benefits for mimickers, mimickees, and their interaction. British Journal of Psychology, 101(2), 311-323.
Zajonc, R. B. (1965). Social facilitation. Science, 149, 269-274.
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