If there’s one thing that fills me with dread, it’s the thought of sitting down to have a DMC (deep meaningful chat) with a partner.
I’ve tried to have them in the past and always ended up choking back the tears (when I wasn’t even sad), having a full-blown row (having not started off feeling angry) or fully chickening out.
But in recent months, that’s changed – I have really deep, insightful conversations with my current boyfriend on the regular. In fact, we have them weekly. Why? Because we run together.
For many years, I’ve spent Sunday mornings running. No matter where I’m living, whether I’m training or something or not, Sunday is run day – a chance to get out in some greenery for an hour or two.
The only difference these days is that I’m not alone. Instead of waking up early and loitering in bed deciding which podcasts and radio shows I’m going to tune into, I wake up to make a tray of coffee and overnight oats for me and my boyfriend to share, before we head out on the road – together.
We’ve been running on Sundays pretty much since the beginning of our relationship. We’ve run in the scorching sun (during the heatwave) and in pissing rain (every week since), and we have every intention of carrying on our canters into the winter.
While running with someone else can be a pleasant break from solo jogs – particularly when the weather’s not playing ball – our runs are more like chicken soup for the soul.
Jo Hemmings is a celebrity psychologist and dating coach who believes that trotting and chatting can be seriously healthy for abled couples.
‘Research has shown that when couples run together, they report feeling more fulfilled in their relationships and more in love with their partner,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.
‘It’s the physiological arousal that drives this, with sweaty palms, shortness of breath and a racing pulse mimicking the thrill of attraction – perhaps sharing a running goal, or simply supporting and motivating each other through the out-of-breath moments, simultaneously showing both empathy and competitive spirit.’
It seems odd to feel more in love or more attracted to someone when they’re drenched in sweat and wearing an LA Lakers jersey that’s seen better days but there we are. I find that running really does make you feel more enamoured with one’s paramour.
We’ve discussed everything on these weekly rambles, from our dating histories and families, to how ridiculously fit everyone is in Victoria Park and why lamps are a non-negotiable part of interior design. The conversations that happen are like a hoovering up of everything that’s happened over the previous week, dissected and enjoyed slowly over a ten-mile stretch. And while most of the time these conversations are lighthearted (we are generally quite happy, content types), they can also be pretty deep.
As Jo points out, ‘there’s something rather formal – and often slightly unnerving – about the phrase “we need to talk”, even if it’s not something of any concern’.
Who hasn’t freaked out at the prospect of having a serious discussion with their partner? But the ‘informality of chatting together, while focusing on exercising, can make any important chats seem much less intimidating’.
Of course, running or exercising together isn’t just about mulling over deep subjects. There’s the whole thing of sharing goals, lifestyles – doing something that benefits you both and together keeps you mentally and physically fit. I track all of my runs on Strava and my Sunday run with Lorin is undoubtedly the most impressive canter of the week – often winning me umpteen PBs or silver medals on the app. He pushes me to run stronger, faster and longer without me even realising it. Once we finish, we bathe and eat beans on toast – the best meal of the week. This bonhomie is what Jo calls ‘tag spirit’.
‘Looking out for each other, showing support and encouragement, and slowing down or speeding up as you sense your partner is wanting or needing boosts both your energy output and nonverbal mirroring,’ she explains. ‘That helps people feel more in tune with each other, adding to the bonding effect.’
Clearly, running can have a powerful impact on our relationships. Plenty of couples run together or come together through running, like personal trainer Hannah Lewin and her partner Tom, who started running together back in early spring.
Tom tells us: ‘I’ll be honest and say it was a pretty horrifying thought – running with a partner who is a PT and runs all the time, but we gave it a shot and it was surprisingly good fun. It forced us to think more about where we wanted to run, as opposed to just taking the easy option of doing laps round the local park.
‘Having fewer options to socialise and do things together this year (because of Covid) meant we had to be a bit more creative, and embracing the fact we both run made sense as a way to spend time together and be a bit more constructive than simply working our way through hours of boxsets.
‘It’s certainly helped us see more of the area in which we live and has helped provide me with a bit more insight into the amazing work Hannah does with her clients – she offers me plenty of tips and it pushes me to go that little bit further each time.’
Scott Dutton and his partner, who he met through the Bath Half, had a run as their first date and ran from the finish line to their wedding last March. They still make time to do regular runs as a couple.
And Steph Finch and her husband run together once or twice a week.
‘We have a 10-month-old, so we find it’s a great way to spend time together and keep an eye on her (he pushes her in the pram),’ says Steph. ‘We don’t listen to music and instead go at a slower pace (my pace!) so we can talk to each other. Sometimes we talk about the future, our goals, what we want from life – and other times we just talk about friends/gossip/funny podcasts!
‘We both love exercising and being able to do it together is a super convenient way to tick the exercise box and quality time box. It’s really fun to do on holidays together as a date-activity that explores the local area as well. It’s super wholesome but very rewarding.’
Moving together gives you a ready-made opportunity for a regular check-in with your partner. If you’re the sort of couple who regularly goes down the pub or out for dinner together to catch up, all power to you. But many of us – particularly in this era of Covid – lead separate social lives or aren’t able to go on traditional dates. A Sunday morning (or whenever you exercise) is far more realistic.
‘Regular check-in maintains the bond between you; it increases communication which therefore increases connection,’ explains Madeleine Mason Roantree, a psychologist at the Vida Consultancy.
She says that since 1975, the amount of time couples spend together without kids has decreased from 35 hours a week to just 26. Making time to check in ‘allows for couples to discuss their needs, what’s going on in their head, experiences, feelings, which are important aspects that combat relationship loneliness’.
Obviously if you do have kids, it’s going to be a lot harder to find that time but if you’re both working from home, you could always go for a lunchtime jog together or simply catch up once the children have gone to bed. Stick on a yin yoga YouTube instead of slouching in front of Netflix and then have a check-in session once you’re finished and feeling all stretchy and mellow.
‘Checking in can be through touch, words, acts of service, giving gifts and/or spending time with each other,’ Madeline explains – referring to the five love languages.
If your partner responds better to quality time and words, for example, be sure to turn off your phone and be ready to chat and give them some affirmation. If their love language is acts of service, you might decide to run a post-run or yoga bath for them. Find out what you both like and be open about it so they can talk in your love language as much as you can theirs.
But what if you can’t run or your partner simply refuses to lace up with you?
The effects are going to be similar whatever you do – as long as you enjoy the activity and enjoy doing it with your SO. It doesn’t have to be ridiculously cardiovascular but I’d opt for something outdoors where you’ve got access to some green or blue space (which is proven to boost mood and reduce anxiety) and something that gets your heart rate up a little. A weekly walk or cycle is great, or a regular cold dip could be good if you live near the sea or a safe body of water.
As Jo points out, exercising together ‘reduces stress, improves self-esteem and research shows that 66% of couples say that exercising together has improved their relationship’.
And let’s face it, a jog is far cheaper than a date night dinner.
As Hannah’s boyfriend Tom says: ‘It’s certainly not for everyone and running is still a great way to zone out on your own…but I’d definitely recommend giving it a try together as you may just find it helps you get more from it overall.’
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