When your partner is a top-sportsman or woman, he or she will take part in European, World and/or Olympic championships (or World Cup).
You may or may not be there to share their joy when they reach and surpass their sporting goals (or not), be that in athletics, tennis, horse riding, skating, skiing, or any other (team) sport. As the (long-term) partner of an elite athlete, you may well have made a considerable contribution to their success - even if that isn't always recognised!. And you too may well have had a taste of the attention and glamour that can come with high profile sporting achievements.
How much of a contribution you make depends on the stage of your relationship - from "we're kind of close" to "we're living together or married with children" - and your commitment.
But, top-sport doesn't necessarily go well with being in a close couple relationship as there can be some considerable downsides. If the two of you got together during their success, you might have been thrust into the limelight before you knew what awaited you. You may have been pre-warned about the pitfalls by other sports 'widows' or 'widowers'. Or perhaps you're a top-sporter or celebrity yourself, and you’re well-versed with the ups and downs of fame.
However your partnership began, it's unlikely that you were prepared for the day-to-day reality of being in a relationship with an elite sportswoman or man. Or that you were aware of the impact their sport could have on your own emotions and feelings.
In this article, I aim to reassure you that your situation and feelings are not unusual and are easily understood by oh so many fellow 'sufferers'. You'll see that you're really not alone, even if you haven't (yet) been able to get support from those in the know.
You’ll share the good times - the glory, achievements, money (for some) - and have the chance to support someone who may become the stuff of legend in the sporting world. But, there’s a definite downside to life with an athlete too, which is often little understood by outsiders.
Here, you’ll find strategies, tips and advice you help you survive it all... and to decide if this is the kind of relationship you really want.
Your elite athlete partner is most likely to be motivated by any one or more of the following...
Now go over this list again. Consider which points apply to your partner and how this impacts your relationship. What does that mean for you, your partner and your relationship?
Here are 3 potential scenarios with regards to your motivation (although they don't cover all possibilities which are, of course, endless!):
Whatever your motivation, I wonder if you've really thought about your hopes and dreams for the relationship, and how they fit into the reality. It's vital that you know what motivates you to stay in the relationship and whether your needs will be met sufficiently..
You only have to look at the faces of athletes and their supporters to realise the scale of the emotions at play - before, during and after an event. You can read the highs and lows of the competition and achievements in the reactions of fans, teammates, trainers, coaches, managers and sponsors. All of whom, incidentally, have a vested interest in your partner's success and all of whom, therefore, add to the enormous pressure of expectation that your partner will feel.
It's therefore easy for them to fall into the trap of wanting to be their best, not only for themselves but also to avoid letting others down. They may well be very aware that they're striving to fulfil their dreams at the expense of you and your relationship.
You’ll also know from your relationship with a top sporter that it’s all about emotions. And we haven't yet even considered your partner's emotional state at various stages leading up to and after an event, let alone on a day-to-day basis.
I remember seeing a clip of 5-times Olympic rowing champion, Steve Redgrave. On the morning of his birthday he was woken by his wife and children, all singing Happy Birthday dear daddy with a card and presents. Yet, that very evening, he proclaimed he had had a shit day because training had been disappointing. Just imagine how that made his wife and kids feel!
Depending on the stage and the depth of your relationship, you’ll probably also feel a whole host of emotions - tension, frustration, happiness, elation, anger and totally gutted - on behalf of your partner.
In other words, loving a top sporter may require more from you emotionally than you'd ever bargained for.
Are you up for all of that?
If so, here's what you can do to help yourself not only survive but also thrive. Read on to discover what you can do to give yourself and your relationship with the topsporter the best possible chance...
You’re now aware of some of the practical and emotional implications of being in a relationship with a top-sporter. And it matters not if they’re a footballer, skater, runner, cyclist, basketball player or any other kind of elite athlete.
Here's how you can cope with the turbulent times:
It may be difficult to know who you can really trust. The lure of even a loose association with fame can unhinge even the most down-to-earth and trustworthy person. Particularly at the hands of news-hunters needing to fill their papers and TV headlines.
So, be sure to read my article about the things you need to consider before you take someone into your confidence. And you may find a professional therapist is one of the most reliable options to explore in this situation.
Your life is likely to look very different when your partner is home than when you're on your own, much like the family lives of army personnel. You may often be on your own for long periods of time.
Here's what to do…
You may either be thrust into the limelight or be completely ignored as if you don't exist (other than being the partner of…). You might have to contend with the press and social media. There's an enormous pressure on the entertainment industry to produce TV 24/7. Being the first and only source to publish anything that captures attention becomes the ultimate prize.
As the partner of an athlete in the spotlight, you need to expect that you may get caught up in all of that. And remember: what you read may be anything from a little distorted to completely and utterly false. You'll also have to deal with the social media fall-out which, at various times, can include adoration as much as total condemnation and even abuse.
To keep yourself sane...
Not all elite sporters who are good-earners are good at managing their finances, particularly if they're earning big money. At some point, the steady stream of income (if indeed it was that steady!) will most probably stop, and that could even happen unexpectedly.
Some sporters have found themselves having to pay for part of the costs associated with their career. Depending on how your partner's involvement in the sport is financed, you need to be very clear about your own financial boundaries.
Be sure, therefore, to have your own bank and/or savings account. Don't get yourself into a situation where you’re totally financially dependent on your partner.
Your partner will experience different emotions during the training season, before and after a major competition, and in every-day life away from the sport.
The intensity of emotion is often at its greatest before a major event. Your partner will be acutely aware that he or she has to be in the right frame of mind as well as in top physical condition. The right frame of mind may require a lot of giving on your part... there won't be anything spare for the taking!
But, it’s important that you accept that you cannot change your partner (and you shouldn’t really want to, either!). Any change they might want to make will have to come from the inside. So, be aware that you only have control over yourself. If you yourself need some work, recognise that now. Improving yourself will ultimately benefit your relationship too.
Away from the sport, you're uniquely placed to help your partner realise that they are not their sport. There is so much more to them.
Help your partner to stay in touch with who they are socially (away from the sports world) and in the community at large. Help them to focus away from the sport when possible and remind them of their role as a partner, parent, friend, sibling, daughter/son, etc. Don’t do this by nagging, but instead by what you talk about and how you fill in the time together. This is really important for their general well-being, and thereby yours as well :-)
At some point, they're going to be too old and/or not up to it and "not good enough” anymore. The end of their sporting career, however it happens, can be a particularly challenging time. It's not unusual for an ex-sporter to fall into a big black hole and suffer from severe depression when their career has ended.
How they handle this is to a large extent dependent on:
Your role at this time should primarily focus on supporting them through this transition. Good communication, patience and empathy are essential in helping you make the most of your time together. Need some help with this? Then look no further than my Complete Guide to Building a Happy Relationship :-)
What if you happen to suddenly have to deal with a personal crisis that’s not related to your partner or their sport?
This will be a real test of the health and strength of your relationship. You may have to be prepared for the fact that your partner won’t be able to support you as fully as you’d have liked.
But know that your partner can’t read your mind. If their focus is on their sport (as it most probably will be) dropping hints just won’t work. You’ll need to make crystal clear…
You may have to be particularly assertive, but be aware of not setting yourself up for a disappointment. Finding a balance can be particularly challenging, but if you’re in the right relationship for you, together you and your partner will get you through the crisis.
If you're doubting whether you're in the right relationship, you may find my comprehensive relationship test really useful in helping you make the best decision for you.
A relationship with a top sporter will have its highs and lows, just like the sport itself. Communication is key, as is a willingness from your side to understand just how important the role of sport is in your partner’s life.
If you can take the lows with the highs, there’s every reason you can build a wonderful life together. If, however, you become fed up with being what feels like the third wheel in your partner’s relationship with his/her sport, then don’t hang around too long. Just because you may not be a top athlete, doesn’t mean you’re not a top human being - and you deserve to feel worthwhile too!
I really hope this article is of help to you. :-)
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Thank you so much in anticipation. :-)