Marriage and Muscle

TAGS: take responsibility, plan execution, nutrition program, marriage, relationship, Mark Dugdale, john meadows, bodybuilder, bodybuilding

Following up on last month’s article "Commitment for Bodybuilding" in which I touched upon the often eerie similarities between the elements of a healthy marriage and progress in the gym, I hope to offer practical advice for achieving satisfaction in both.

Previously, I stated that there is no neutral gear in marriage or bodybuilding in which to coast without eventually backsliding. In this article, I'll touch upon sensible ways to avoid hitting autopilot and ensuring intentionality. Last time, I said that ultimate freedom dwells in restrictions. The right restrictions, properly placed, aren't a hindrance but a benefit to the deeper joys found in bodybuilding and in marriage. Finally, we’ll look at ways to reasonably avoid the grass is greener lie that easily entices us to look elsewhere.

Neutrality avoidance: Make plans

Getting stuck in neutral is often a product of laziness. Sorry, but it’s true. A calendar and a budget are two invaluable tools when managing marriage and avoiding complacency, especially with teenage daughters. I realize the term “managing” marriage isn’t very sexy, but you can’t live entirely spontaneously like a single college student. Spontaneity is great, but I prefer to think of it more like planned spontaneity. I liken it to mapping out some long-term plans whereby you budget and schedule purposefully to capitalize on short-term opportunities for spontaneity. Be intentional and build some margin into your life. Keep your ears open for things that your wife enjoys. They drop hints often if you’re paying attention. Remember, nobody ever said with remorse on his death bed, “If I had only worked that extra hour of overtime or did one additional set of the bench press!”

Can you imagine approaching bodybuilding with 100 percent spontaneity? Actually, I’m willing to bet that there’s a Joe Weider spontaneity principle. However, the best bodybuilders are meticulous planners. They set short- and long-term goals with their nutrition, training programs, body composition and measurements. Think long term and bolster your “dreams” with short-term goals to get you there.

For Christina and me, bodybuilding and our marriage often operate in a see-saw fashion. She takes less while I’m in the final push to contest day and I give more in the off-season. It’s a give and take backed by both a short-term and long-term mindset.

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Note: Execution required

Making plans is a good first step. However, a plan isn't enough. Define concrete steps to effectively execute the plan. If you don’t, your wants will turn into I wish I hads. I want to be a good husband and I also want to bring a ripped physique to the contest stage. Both require a plan. Both require executing the plan. Formulating plans won’t get you to the desired destination any more than the act of purchasing a gym membership will get you big, strong and in shape. Follow through is crucial. As my junior high football coach once said, “The road to failure is paved with good intentions.”

Restriction reminder: Change is inevitable

I don’t care how much of a bad ass you are. Time waits for nobody. The grind and fast pace of life often renders this a forgotten fact in marriage and bodybuilding. People change as do their bodies. Sex is different on your wedding night than it is 20 years later. What stimulated muscle in your 20s likely will need modification in your 40s. The point remains such that time marches on and therefore we must change and adapt with every new season in life.

Raising teenage daughters along with managing their vast array of social activities, sports and cheerleading invariably means that finding one-on-one time with Christina proves difficult. Oh yeah, and I train seven days a week, too.

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Face time, date nights and intimacy each play vital roles in the health of my marriage. Occasionally, one-on-one face time includes a run to Starbucks at lunch to talk and sip coffee. Sometimes it means saying “no” and restricting other opportunities so that we get to enjoy a night out for dinner. Now and then, I go home with Christina for lunch because nobody is there … and we don’t eat lunch (hint, hint). Sure, some things were easier when it was just her and I, but just because children came along doesn’t mean that our need to connect on various levels diminished. If anything, the need increased. Don’t be afraid to put some restrictions on your social calendar to ensure that you're connecting well with your spouse.

Similarly, my entire approach to bodybuilding changed a few years ago when I started working with John Meadows. HIIT training served me well in my 20s, but it led to tons of joint pain and a few muscle tears in my mid-30s. Thankfully, John taught me about intelligent brutality. Intelligent brutality simply means maximizing hypertrophy in creative ways that differ from simply adding another plate. Time under tension, drop sets, iso holds, giant sets, bands and chains are just a few of his proven techniques for stimulating growth without constant risk of injury. Sometimes restriction means restricting yourself from doing the same thing or, in other words, changing.

Grass is greener cure: Take responsibility

In my book, real men take responsibility. This squares with both bodybuilding and marriage and is the first practical step in combating the grass is greener lie. How? It eliminates blame shifting and finger pointing. In every failed or failing marriage or bodybuilding career, there’s often more than one person to blame. Some guys spend an inordinate amount of energy sorting out percentages in such a manner as to make themselves look innocent. Meanwhile, real men take responsibility for their share of the blame, regardless of percentages and without expectation of the other party “owning” theirs. Easier said than done, I know.

However, the quicker you take ownership and responsibility, the sooner you’re able to make constructive future progress. It serves somewhat like a safeguard against the grass is greener lie. Why? Well, when the focus is external, guys quickly start attacking the person (coach and/or spouse) versus the problem. Anger and emotions fuel personal attacks that lead to the grass is greener death spiral. In the death spiral, you start by blame shifting and projecting the problem on to your wife or coach. Once you’ve erroneously labeled him or her as the problem, the mind quickly runs to thoughts of greener grass. Take responsibility for yourself and attack the problem, not the person!

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