(And still stay married.)
You see a new wetsuit as an absolutely essential purchase. Your spouse? Not so much. Money is one of the top causes of conflict in romantic relationships, factoring in to as many as half of all divorce filings. Though fights about finances aren’t unique to triathlon expenses, the hobby sure doesn’t help much.
“Triathlon can easily become expensive, even at the amateur level. Partners of triathletes may see equipment, registration fees, and other tri-related expenses as selfish indulgences,” says Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Dr. Ben Caldwell. “This can lead to conflict.”
Money is stressful enough – rent, utilities, grocery bills, and childcare expenses can be unrelenting. When you add to that all that money represents, including power and value, it’s easy to see why so many couples clash over cash. But Caldwell says the surface issue – say, how much triathlon gear costs – isn’t always the real problem. Instead, it’s how we communicate about costs. Many of us simply suck at talking about money.
But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to divorce over race fees. Multiple studies show that when couples get better at talking about money, their marital satisfaction goes up, even when the financial issue persists. Try these tips for improving your relationship (and maybe getting that new wetsuit after all):
Get on the Same Team About Triathlon Expenses
Triathlon is an individual sport, but that doesn’t mean it’s a solitary pursuit. “Remember that you and your spouse are both literally and figuratively on the same team,” says Caldwell. “Hopefully the goals you’re pursuing – both around triathlon and around money – are truly shared goals. If they aren’t, getting that foundation is a good place to start.”
Get a Clear Picture
Whether it’s personalities, spending habits, or just growing up in different households, the differences between you and your partner could be the reason behind your fights about money. Two different people are going to have different experiences with money, different assumptions about how money should be spent, and different temperaments. Caldwell advises seeking out the “why” behind your partner’s view, which can lead to a deeper understanding. For example, your partner may not be upset about the amount that was spent, but that it was done impulsively and without comparison shopping for the best deal. Or perhaps your partner holds the view that credit cards are strictly for emergencies, and that entry fee should have been anticipated and saved for, not charged with interest.
Explain, Don’t Defend
Remember that your partner may fully understand and support your love for triathlon and still not understand why things cost as much as they do. “A non-triathlete may struggle to understand the difference between a $500 bike and a $3,000 bike, says Caldwell. “For that matter, a lot of triathletes ourselves can’t explain those differences that well, beyond ‘I want it.’”
Remember that explaining an expense isn’t the same as having to justify or defend it, and a partner asking for an explanation isn’t a partner being unsupportive or attacking. They may genuinely just want to understand so that they can be supportive.
Try to Find Mutually-Satisfying Solutions
Whether it’s setting aside a firm amount for triathlon expenses each year or letting your spouse choose the location for your next destination race, it’s wise to find compromises wherever possible.
“If triathlon is truly experienced as a team effort, then both partners should want to accommodate each other and the reality of their circumstances,” says Caldwell. “Buying last year’s bike model instead of this year’s is helpful to your relationship if you decided together that the difference is worthwhile.”
Don’t Keep Secrets
Unless you’ve both agreed to a “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy when it comes to money, be upfront about the triathlon expenses you’re considering. Discovering a surprise sum on the credit card bill (or big deduction from your bank account) is counterproductive to the open-communication strategy, and likely to fan the flames of resentment.
“One of the mistakes triathletes make around money is avoiding discussions and just buying what they think is necessary, then asking forgiveness,” says Caldwell. “Discussing a large expense like an entry fee or a new bike with your partner in advance isn’t asking for their permission, it’s being a team player.”
Play (and Pay) Fairly
If your circumstances allow, Caldwell recommends setting aside an amount of money and time for the non-triathlete partner’s interests as what is being used for the triathlete partner. But remember that equity can take other forms, too:
“Whether we’re talking about money or any other relationship topic, a truly 50-50 relationship is a worthwhile goal for some couples, but not all,” says Caldwell. “Whether it’s the triathlete sacrificing a race weekend to cover child care while their non-triathlete partner goes to a conference, or the non-triathlete partner sacrificing a newer car so that their triathlete can get a newer bike, arrangements don’t necessarily have to be equal for both partners to be happy with them.”
Know What Works For You
Every couple is different, so the spending terms set in one relationship may not work for another. However, one thing is true for every couple: the more you flex your communication muscles, the stronger you (and your relationship) will become. Check in often to ensure you and your partner are happy with the way things are going – and if not, how you can get back on track.
“What matters is that both partners understand and agree to whatever their arrangements are,” says Caldwell. “If that’s the case, then a sacrifice doesn’t breed resentment – it feels like a contribution to your mutual success and happiness.”