The Power of Putting Relationships In Motion

5 Oct

Yesterday JWD and I went for our first tandem bike ride, about 30 miles roundtrip to a microbrewery. For those who aren’t familiar with tandem riding, here’s a quick lesson (the sum of my knowledge when our adventure began): a tandem bike is built for two or more riders. The person in the front (the captain) pedals and steers and the person in the rear (the stoker) only pedals. I quickly learned something else about tandems: the tandem experience depends greatly on the state of the riders’ relationship.

Maybe some would advise against such heightened activities when your marriage is still in its fragile infancy, but we decided to take the risk ;). As we took off, I began to doubt our decision. As the stoker, I had to relinquish control to JWD, my captain, something I am not very good at. My obstructed view, limited mainly to JWD’s back, left me clueless to the treacherous terrane ahead (pebbles, puddles… you know, the really dangerous stuff). Admittedly, I started out as a pretty annoying backseat driver- giving tips on gear shifting and steering (things I know nothing about- this was, after all, my first time on a tandem), delivering a swift pinch to my captain when I thought he needed to slow down, gasping and swaying my body every time he took a turn…

After several miles of white-knuckling my breakless handlebars, I decided that the only way I was going to enjoy this day was if I let go of my desire to be in control and put my trust in my captain. Most of our twelve riding companions had been on a tandem before- many of them, in fact, were experts. I admired their trust in each other as they rode fluidly, communicated almost telepathically, and told wild stories of their tandem adventures. As I settled in to my stoker role, I felt JWD and I begin to fall into a similarly fluid rhythm. Based on the fact that he hadn’t killed me yet (and the culmination of our entire relationship’s history) I decided that he deserved my trust.

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Maybe it was the pints of pumpkin beer or maybe it was my decision to trust our relationship, but the return trip was was even more enjoyable. We rode along smoothly, feeling very much on the same page. Our strengthened connection with each other left us more able to enjoy the company of our riding companions. We only knew five people in the group at the start, but we walked waddled (saddle sores…) away with seven new friends and a deeper connection to those we already knew.

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Yesterday’s tandem fun left me with two thoughts:

  1. If you want to see what a relationship is made of, put it through an exercise test. Tandem riding (or really any type of group exercise) is a great metaphor for the requirements of a relationship. You must be in sync with your companion in a way that can only arise from trust. Maybe you will hop on the bike with an already established trust or maybe you will have to work to earn each other’s trust. Trust is built on communication, another key requirement of a relationship. If JWD fails to tell me that there’s a big bump coming or he decides to zig or zag without warning, he weakens my trust. Mastering trust and communication with someone delivers a great reward- human connection built to last.
  2. Building activity into your everyday life can be more sustainable and enjoyable than a structured exercise program. I’m not saying we should ditch structured exercise altogether (going to the gym, yoga class, etc.), but there is much to gain from exercising for fun with friends, family, and even strangers. Research shows that when we socialize in a context that requires nonverbal mimicry (pedaling along on bikes, flowing through the same yoga poses), we walk away from that experience with a stronger emotional connection with our companions. In short, moving together creates a bond. Also, as you talk, laugh, and share an endorphine-rich experience, the time and the miles will fly by. You get layers of life’s moments wrapped in one experience: spending time with your significant other, socializing with friends, exercising, decompressing, and self-care. Thirty miles felt like a breeze and we walked away from our riding companions feeling a little closer and a little more connected than when we started.

So if you want to put a relationship to the test, build a new one, or strengthen an existing one, put it in motion. Your relationships will be happier and healthier for it… and you will be too.

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