When I got engaged, I knew pretty early on that I wouldn't go on a wedding diet, but I would never give up my weekly workouts. In fact, it totally helped me de-stress from planning. After sweating it out for a few months with wedding bells chiming in my head (okay, more like the song for our first dance), I realized that I was learning a lot more than just how to tone up—I was learning how to make my marriage last. So after a lot of hours and, I admit, some not-so-pretty effort (uhhh, kind of like marriage), here's what I learned.
I learned how to give just a little more. I learned this one a long time ago, back when my mom signed me up for soccer when I was 4 and I decided right then and there I was going to be a goalie. Playing what's arguably the toughest position in the sport for the next 17 years taught me that you can usually go a lot harder than you think—seriously, research proves it—whether that's giving all you've got in the last sprint down the soccer field, or, in the case of marriage, seeing a difficult conversation through to the end.
I learned how to think about someone other than myself. Every week I go to a HIIT workout at Epic Hybrid Training, where I'm paired with a partner to work through a circuit of exercises. While I'd love for that to be my husband (work schedules won't let Dustin and me pull that off) I'm still reaping the benefits. Sometimes I can feel the person next to me giving it their all, and it pushes me to do the same. Other times they're struggling, so I try to motivate them. Having those experiences reminds me that I'm not the only one who comes home from work tired and exhausted—my husband does, too. And I'm not the only one who has fears and worries about what step to take next in my career—he does, too. So the two of us regularly make time to hang out solo and check in with how the other is feeling. If we want to talk about something more serious, we go for a walk. Tara Fields, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of The Love Fix, says that when we're doing an activity and talking, we're more likely to open up because the activity automatically makes us more relaxed and receptive to each other's feelings—without feeling confronted or attacked—which leads to a more productive conversation.
I learned to move outside my comfort zone. Living in New York City and working as a magazine editor means I'm fortunate enough to try nearly every fitness trend that comes and goes. When I first moved here, that terrified me—I come from a small town where there are more cows than people, and was comfortable doing the old-school exercises and routines that I knew worked from years of being an athlete. Part of my job, though, was trying new classes and meeting trainers to scope out the latest in the fitness industry. Soon enough I adopted the motto of "try everything at least once...and maybe even a second time." That carried over into my love life, as my husband and I started branching out for date night. After seven years together, we had covered all the basics, so now we try to find something to fall in love with together, like the time we went zip-lining in 19-degree weather (seriously). And it's a smart strategy—studies show that couples who learn an activity or skill that's new to both of them have a deeper bond and sense of intimacy. In other words, we're going to give it a go even if it makes us uncomfortable—and we'll probably laugh about it together later.
I learned how to be part of a team. Dustin and I joined a recreational softball league—and let's just say the way we communicate changed. The two of us had always been good at talking (I'm not one to hold back how I'm feeling), but when he played shortstop and I played second base, our body language awareness was fine-tuned. As soon as a ball was hit his way, I knew what move he was going to make, how he was going to position his body, and where I needed to be in order to make the play—and vice versa. We learned to trust that we'd always have each other's back, working to nab the ball when it was just out of his reach (or mine). And we learned that the two of us performed better when we relied on each other, rather than trying to be the star of the show. Soon enough (and I hate to brag here), Dustin and I were some of the top players on the team and both of us realized that both on and off the field we were stronger as partners, rather than as individuals.
I learned how to veg. For a long time, I thought rest days were for chumps. I believed that when my half marathon training plans said "rest," they really meant no hardcore workouts—so I'd spend the day walking around with family, head out for a hike, or ride bikes through town. So long as it was casual, I thought I was good...until I got my fair share of overuse injuries. Eventually, I realized that rest actually meant rest, like lie on the couch and binge-watch House of Cards (and maybe do some foam rolling). Taking that time to just chill did wonders for my relationship. Instead of always being on the go—and collapsing in bed from exhaustion at the end of the day—Dustin and I had time to just be together. We didn't have to talk or do anything. Just sitting next to one another reinforced our bond. (If you can hang in silence with someone for hours and not feel weirded out, you've got a winner.) And when we're asked what some of our favorite things to do together are now, "nothing" tops the list.
I learned to be present. I've never been committed to yoga. I always found it to be a supplemental workout, something I would squeeze in if I had time—and more often than not, an interval run won out over the mat. That changed when I started wedding planning, as yoga gave me an hour to focus on nothing but me, my breath, and how my body was feeling (a welcome relief from table linens, menus, and seating charts). Going to a weekly class taught me to block out the background noise that usually ran around in my head while I was in Savasana, and I suddenly found myself more focused. I zeroed in on work projects in dedicated blocks of time (which research shows makes you more productive). I stopped scrolling through Facebook while my husband and I went for our nightly walk. And rather than looking for the perfect #relationshipgoals Instagram, I tuned in to our conversations. And Dustin took notice. It was a nonchalant comment, a quick "it's nice to have our phones away," but it made me realize that doing so is what gave us real #relationshipgoals.