I recently reconnected with a friend from college. Actually, this friend is a woman I was madly in love with for several years, a lesson I had to learn about what it meant to be in love with the idea of someone rather than the person. For two years I held out hope that she would move to California and we would be together. I was 19, a deranged romantic, incapable of enjoying the freewheeling sex and abandon that comes with being a precocious teenager. I had worked for a psychiatrist for a summer transcribing couples therapy sessions – imagine Neo in the Matrix learning not martial arts, but marital arts. I could not shut off the need for an emotional connection to be intimate with someone, so when I did find someone I desired who was a mix of renegade, wicked wit, and beauty I was crippled like Superman in the Kryptonite aisle of the Villain Superstore.
Eventually I did come to understand my role in deluding myself about the possibility of an intimate relationship with this person. I would go on to make several more mistakes, all stemming from that same emotional need, but that stubbornness would eventually pay off in my deeply satisfying marriage. But thanks to Facebook, no relationship is ever really over and recently I reconnected with my First. She lives in the Midwest, is back in school finishing her degree, works at a crazy-sounding bar, and is happily engaged. We caught up on pleasantries over instant message, and it wasn’t long until we talked about the dynamics of our past relationship, now almost 15 years ago. Now we chat online, mostly in our old dynamics of goofy word games and smart -ass commentary. When she asked me for help in getting started running, it was a peculiar coincidence with the rest of my life.
I have decided, after some not-so-gentle pushing from Brian, to go after my USAT level 1 certification. This will likely coincide with my Ironman race, just to make me a little more batshit crazy in the fall. But it’s time that I learn from the source and make sure that the information I’m putting out into the world has a grounding in tested methods. Much of what I know I have learned from books, magazines, and anecdotal information, but I am still lacking many skills that will give me the information and confidence to coach people.
Because of the emotional kung fu skills I’ve developed over the years I am confident that I can read people’s emotional needs and meet them where they are. In fact, the big lesson I learned from couples therapy as it applies to any relationship is that any two people can be in a relationship together – sometimes it may require one doing a lot more work than the other. In a couples relationship one person can carry water for the other for a time until that person decides it’s not worth it anymore or their partner commits to the relationship and carries their own. In a properly functioning relationship, both partners work in concert to nurture and grow together – every day is a conscious choice to commit to the other person and grow together. In a coaching relationship, the coach’s responsibility is to nurture and grow their athlete and empower them with the tools they need to meet their personal goals. The new athlete may doubt their ability to perform work, so it is the coach’s job to create a workout plan that builds confidence until that objective is reached. Once the client believes they can do a certain workload, the coach no longer has to carry that weight, the client now shoulders it and the couple can move to the next goal. Like any enclosed system, the second law of thermodynamics governs relationships: entropy increases, a system seeks equilibrium.
When I was asked to help my friend start running, I was hesitant at first because I’m not a great runner. There is a difference between understanding how a thing should function and the quest to master it oneself. I read about master swimmers still seeking that perfect stroke, even when their 100 meter time is a blistering sub-minute. I may only be capable of running 7 minute miles for brief periods, but I have come a long way from the 11’s I started with.
I presented my friend with the idea of running three minutes and walking two – the very beginning method of running. I sent her information about form and body position, just enough to get her started. After her first run she came back and told me how much it sucked but she was rearing to go again and I had to pull her back from going out and doing it every day. My fear was that she would want to do it all the time and get disappointed if she didn’t see improvements immediately. Worse, she might get injured. She made it through her first week and I was eagerly awaiting week two.
When she sent the cellphone photo of the road rash on her brow, my heart lurched. Via instant messenger from the hospital, she told me that a piece of her broken collarbone sliced her subclavical artery and she required emergency vascular surgery to put in a stent. For a week she had been thinking about the crazy running apparel she could purchase, now she actually had a piece of Gore-Tex inside her. The drugs were working their magic and she was able to talk and laugh and her fiancé was with her to hold her hand and help her out. We talked, some about the injury (she fell, likely on broken concrete), but mostly cracking jokes. This was the first phone call we’d had in years. Years. She lives thousands of miles away, she may or may not try running again – right now she has every right to hate it. And thankfully, she does not think I was trying to kill her by encouraging her to run.
I will put my wife on a plane this Saturday for her annual two week graduate school residency. In the years past she has asked me not to let my clients book all my time with work so I turn into a migraine stress mess. I vowed I would not. Instead, coincidentally, my coach scheduled me for my milestone 300 mile bike week. Monday is a 100 mile ride, Wednesday is 60, Thursday is 40, Saturday is 112. There are also swims and runs mingled in there. In my relationship with my coach I have surrendered my schedule and research to his guidance. He has earned my trust over the past year because my fitness has improved on a quantifiable scale. I communicate with my coach how I am feeling, what I am doing, and if things are working. That is my role in the relationship.
In couples therapy, there is no universal metric people can use to measure success. There is only the daily question, “am I happy?” If day after day goes by and that answer is consistently negative, the first person to study is yourself. Are you putting enough into the relationship or are you expecting the other one to do all the work? Conversely, if you feel like you’re doing all the work, have you expressed this to your partner? In a relationship – intimate or coached, both people have entered the relationship with the understanding that they are interested in a common goal. If that goal changes and it’s not communicated, whose fault is that? The business of coin doesn’t actually impact this dynamic – being paid for diminishing returns makes things sour for both the client and the coach. The payment is simply an exchange of money for time, all of the emotional work is shouldered by both parties.
Fifteen years ago I carried on a relationship all by myself, but I didn’t know it. It wasn’t until I called my friend at home and found out she was dating someone that I realized that I had been living in a fantasy, and I had only myself to blame. And truly, I wasn’t happy. I hadn’t been happy because I didn’t have enough self-worth to know what being loved back in the same way felt like. There is a huge difference between being loved by someone and that person being in love with you. When you feel it for real, you’ll know it because that love will make your heart explode in your chest and it feels like something incredibly precious that you want to protect. Your own love is a gift that you give to someone who has earned it. Love comes from trust. Trust is earned day by day through communication, honesty, and consistent action.
The hope is that the only broken heart you suffer should be by accident, and can be remedied through advanced medical procedures.