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When your partner isn't your partner: How to balance climbing in a relationship


Original Post
Rachel Peterson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2017 · Points: 12

OK Ladies, I have a conundrum and would love your input and stories. I am in a wonderful relationship with a man I adore, but a big issue that's come up is that he doesn't share my love of climbing. We travel constantly and are on the road and I'm finding it very difficult to find a way to work in time to pursue climbing. Climbing to me is my passion and necessary for my happiness and mental health. We love spending time together, but despite my best efforts (including encouragement and even buying him shoes and harness) he has no interest in pursuing climbing.

Does anyone else have a relationship like this? How do you find balance without it being something that comes between you?

rusty pitoune · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2014 · Points: 765

Hi there. I'll offer up my story... my wife was basically uninterested in climbing for 3 years (for multiple reasons) and then all of a sudden got mega stoked. It could happen. I admire and adore her no matter what. OTOH I have lady friends that will not date non climbers or if they do, its like a wartime measure until they find a climber guy. Either way, good luck, and be happy. :)

Lena chita · · OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 735

That’s a tough one. You will never climb as much as you would if you had a climbing life partner. And don’t have kids. If you think you have trouble scheduling climbing now, it would be impossible after kids.  

I am not sure what you mean by the two of you traveling/on the road. You travel for work together? You travel for work separately? Or you two are on a road trip together?

Traveling certainly complicates things, because you need to find partners, and accommodate your SO at the same time.  

What does your SO do for fun? What do the two of you do together?

 I don’t think it is super-onerous to ask him to come with you for couple hours of belaying once a week, if he enjoys hiking/bring outdoors, and you are visiting different places... and especially if you can also do something that he likes/wants to do once a week. 

And you should schedule climbing same as you schedule anything else important. Put it on the  calendar. And do it. 

Ted Wilson · · Ovilla, Tx · Joined Aug 2017 · Points: 405

My wife is a non climber and we have three children  9-15.  I just had to become very intentional with my time.  When I’m not climbing it’s all about them.  I also had to intentionally plan non climbing oriented vacations with my wife and kids.  I travel to climb at least 20 times a year versus travel with the wife/ kids 8 times a year.  So for me it’s just being very focused and intentional with my time.  Hope this helps

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

This may be heresy on a climbing website, but...climbing isn't everything.

It should be OK for your partner to not want to climb, just like he needs to accept that you need/ want to climb. If It's important that you have a climbing partner as your life partner, then he's not for you.

If I were you, I'd think long and hard about getting rid of an otherwise wonderful person, just because they don't climb.

jon jugenheimer · · Madison, WI · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 2,248

Dump him, climbing is everything! FrankPS is wrong ;) 

Dylan B. · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 521

This question has been asked and answered many, many times by men on MP. I notice this time it’s asked by a woman, posted in the women’s forum, and addressed specifically to “Ladies.” I’m not sure there’s a gender-based difference in the range of responses, but perhaps there will be. Let’s hear from the women. 

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 525

I've responded because of the subject, not its location.  I've been climbing for 51 years, married to my wife, a non-climber, for 35 years.  We have a 31 year-old daughter.  So it is definitely doable, if the people involved care for each other deeply and are able to compromise.  Of course, from the climber's perspective, compromise means less climbing, and less climbing means that one has to have other fulfilling things in life, so that climbing isn't the only possible source of pleasure and satisfaction.

Something to consider is that lives can change incrementally or dramatically, and no matter how central climbing feels at the moment, a time can easily come for one or both partners when climbing either seems much less important or actually is no longer possible.  So the kinds of adjustments a climbing/non climbing couple have to make at the outset can become fare for those who started their journey as dedicated climbers.  Changing expectations about climbing are part of changing expectations of life.

I think one of the worst things a climber can do is to try to get a reluctant significant other to climb.  It is all to easy for climbers to overlook how scary, demanding, uncomfortable, and exhausting climbing can be.  It has to light your fire; no one who isn't internally driven can subject themselves to the climbing experience for long.  They might put up with it for a while out of love, but that won't last.

I might add, tangentially, that climbing with a significant other isn't necessarily always wonderful.  Climbing can be very stressful, and it is loaded with expectations about performance and trust that can be part of the bond of a relationship, or on the other hand a place where all the accumulated problems and issues from the non-climbing parts of life find a sharp focus.  Most of us know climbing couples who seem to be continually bickering---or worse---when they are out climbing, souring their day and sometimes ruining others'.  Because of this, I know couples who seem to be quite happy together who have pretty much decided not to climb with each other.

At the end of the day, there are no universal prescriptions.  Some people need climbing so completely that they end up filling in the gaps in their life with relationships---and sometimes family---that always take second place, and sometimes they find partners who are fine with this.  Some climbing relationships persist with both partners climbing together, or simultaneously evolving to other pursuits.  And some people, no matter how committed to climbing initially, give it up entirely or mostly in favor of children and family.  I don't know if you can even predict which type of person you'll turn to be.  All we can do is to embrace our circumstances with a full heart, and like that remote climb we know little about, see where it all leads.

Ernest W · · Camarillo, CA · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 25
rgold wrote: I've responded because of the subject, not its location.  I've been climbing for 51 years, married to my wife, a non-climber, for 35 years.  We have a 31 year-old daughter.  So it is definitely doable, if the people involved care for each other deeply and are able to compromise.  Of course, from the climber's perspective, compromise means less climbing, and less climbing means that one has to have other fulfilling things in life, so that climbing isn't the only possible source of pleasure and satisfaction.

Something to consider is that lives can change incrementally or dramatically, and no matter how central climbing feels at the moment, a time can easily come for one or both partners when climbing either seems much less important or actually is no longer possible.  So the kinds of adjustments a climbing/non climbing couple have to make at the outset can become fare for those who started their journey as dedicated climbers.  Changing expectations about climbing are part of changing expectations of life.

I think one of the worst things a climber can do is to try to get a reluctant significant other to climb.  It is all to easy for climbers to overlook how scary, demanding, uncomfortable, and exhausting climbing can be.  It has to light your fire; no one who isn't internally driven can subject themselves to the climbing experience for long.  They might put up with it for a while out of love, but that won't last.

I might add, tangentially, that climbing with a significant other isn't necessarily always wonderful.  Climbing can be very stressful, and it is loaded with expectations about performance and trust that can be part of the bond of a relationship, or on the other hand a place where all the accumulated problems and issues from the non-climbing parts of life find a sharp focus.  Most of us know climbing couples who seem to be continually bickering---or worse---when they are out climbing, souring their day and sometimes ruining others'.  Because of this, I know couples who seem to be quite happy together who have pretty much decided not to climb with each other.

At the end of the day, there are no universal prescriptions.  Some people need climbing so completely that they end up filling in the gaps in their life with relationships---and sometimes family---that always take second place, and sometimes they find partners who are fine with this.  Some climbing relationships persist with both partners climbing together, or simultaneously evolving to other pursuits.  And some people, no matter how committed to climbing initially, give it up entirely or mostly in favor of children and family.  I don't know if you can even predict which type of person you'll turn to be.  All we can do is to embrace our circumstances with a full heart, and like that remote climb we know little about, see where it all leads.

That^^^^

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,435
This post violated Guideline #1 and has been removed.
john l. · · Westchester, NY · Joined May 2012 · Points: 475

This might be an obvious point, but have you tried climbing with him indoors?  Unless someone has the predisposition for suffering outdoors, starting out at the gym removes a lot of stress and is more straightforward (easier to "get" what you're supposed to do).

To rgold's point, my wife and I used to fight all the time when we climbed outside.

EDIT: Sorry, I didn't realize this was the women's forum.  It just popped up in most recent threads.

Lena chita · · OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 735
Dylan B. wrote: This question has been asked and answered many, many times by men on MP. I notice this time it’s asked by a woman, posted in the women’s forum, and addressed specifically to “Ladies.” I’m not sure there’s a gender-based difference in the range of responses, but perhaps there will be. Let’s hear from the women. 

I do think that there are differences in this scenario, when the climber is a woman, and the non-climber is a guy, vs. the other way around. Some of them get exacerbated when the kids are involved. Others are independent of having kids. (And of course there are things that are universally applicable regardless of the gender of the climber/non-climber in the pair.)

One example of things that I do believe are different: For some reason women are more likely and willing to "come along" and enjoy the day in company of their SO, even if they aren't really into climbing.

We have all seen the scenario: A guy has a project at some crag. His girlfriend comes along. She is a newer/occasional climber, and there is nothing for her to climb at this crag. But the guy is stoked, and so are his buddies. They set up toprope on the easiest climb at the crag for the girl when they climb it as their warmup, and then get on their project. She topropes it, with a lot of hanging, maybe once or twice. Or maybe they didn't even have that easy climb, and just tell her to get on the bottom of whatever they are working. She doesn't do well, climbing-wise, but she is fine with trying the bottom 10 feet twice, or not climbing at all. She has a tablet that she brought along, to help with the boredom. And she is having a good time, just hanging out there with her BF and his buddies, even if she is not climbing much.

Have you often seen this scenario in reverse? A climber girl comes out climbing with her friends, and her boyfriend tagged along to just hang out at the crag and read a book?  Not because he is injured, or taking a rest day? (not impossible, but WAY more rare).

I do know some women whose significant others are not climbers, just a couple of them. I know a lot more guys in this scenario. From this anecdotal sample group, it looks to me that women with non-climber male partners go on outdoor climbing trips less frequently than men whose female partners do not climb. That includes both the trips where the non-climber significant other stays home, and the trips where the non-climber significant other comes along.

For the climber guys, their non-climber significant other comes along relatively often. Not always, mind you, but they certainly manage several times a year to do a "hybrid" climbing-and-other-stuff trips where the family comes along, and they do some kind of combination of the following, alternating things/mixing them up:
-the guy climbs with other people while the girlfriend/wife (and kids) hang out at the cabin, or go shopping to nearby town, or go to see a movie
-the guy takes a rest day from climbing, and does something with the family: kayaking, sight-seeing, hiking, heck, maybe a wine- or bourbon-tasting tour, etc.
-the guy goes climbing and the wife/kids come along to the crag. there is maybe some easy climbing set up for kids and/or wife, and the guy maybe climbs couple pitches of harder climbing, if there are people around to belay him. Sometimes the wife even knows how to belay, and would belay the kids on  toprope, or maybe even belay him. They have a short day, with the primary goal of having the casual/occasional climbers in the group having a good time..

For the women climbers with non-climber husband, this sort of trip happens MAYBE once a year, if that, not 3-4 times, as it does for the guys.  

I am not saying that this is how things SHOULD be, that there is some innate biological reasons why they are the way they are. But based of what I've seen, the guys with non-climber partners seem to get away with more climbing than the women with non-climbing husbands. . It can be mitigated if you live close to climbing. if your climbing can be done as a day trip, where you come back to sleep in your own bed at night, rather than going somewhere far for the weekend, it is easier to fit both climbing and quality time with your partner into your life, for example.

In both cases the people who want to climb, get to climb some. Just the amount is different..And nobody's to say that the people involved aren't perfectly happy with the arrangement. Though I do know that in case of the women climbers with non-climbing husbands that I personally know, they do wish they had a chance to climb more, even if they are O.K. with the arrangement as it is, and aren't going to leave their SO over it.

Lena chita · · OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 735
rgold wrote: I...

Something to consider is that lives can change incrementally or dramatically, and no matter how central climbing feels at the moment, a time can easily come for one or both partners when climbing either seems much less important or actually is no longer possible.  So the kinds of adjustments a climbing/non climbing couple have to make at the outset can become fare for those who started their journey as dedicated climbers.  Changing expectations about climbing are part of changing expectations of life.

...

I might add, tangentially, that climbing with a significant other isn't necessarily always wonderful.  Climbing can be very stressful, and it is loaded with expectations about performance and trust that can be part of the bond of a relationship, or on the other hand a place where all the accumulated problems and issues from the non-climbing parts of life find a sharp focus.  Most of us know climbing couples who seem to be continually bickering---or worse---when they are out climbing, souring their day and sometimes ruining others'.  Because of this, I know couples who seem to be quite happy together who have pretty much decided not to climb with each other.

At the end of the day, there are no universal prescriptions.  Some people need climbing so completely that they end up filling in the gaps in their life with relationships---and sometimes family---that always take second place, and sometimes they find partners who are fine with this.  Some climbing relationships persist with both partners climbing together, or simultaneously evolving to other pursuits.  And some people, no matter how committed to climbing initially, give it up entirely or mostly in favor of children and family.  I don't know if you can even predict which type of person you'll turn to be.  All we can do is to embrace our circumstances with a full heart, and like that remote climb we know little about, see where it all leads.

Well said. We can never predict how things turn out and where life takes us long-term.

On a personal level, I married my climbing partner. We were climbing partners for about 4-5 years before we started dating, and pretty much climbed almost exclusively with each other for the last couple years of that time, before we started dating. We started climbing completely independently from each other. So surely we were compatible climbing partners, and surely we both were really into climbing, and that wasn't going to change...

Except my husband had a shoulder surgery. And while he has physically recovered fully, he never regained the same drive for climbing that he used to have. He still climbs, and we still have our climbing vacations, which I really love and enjoy. But I now go climbing on weekend trips without him as often as I go with him. if the weather isn't perfect, he doesn't feel like going. The Tuesday/ thursday night gym climbing that used to be set in stone is no longer set in stone for him, I might find that he is bailing on a moment's notice. And he has said that if he ever gets another major climbing-related injury that requires surgery, he is done with climbing... Certainly not something that I ever could have predicted or anticipated.

Interestingly, even with a husband that is fully supportive of my climbing, and excited for me, and in no way stopping me from going on climbing trips, I find myself climbing less, now that he is climbing less.  

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 743
Lena chita wrote:

I do think that there are differences in this scenario, when the climber is a woman, and the non-climber is a guy, vs. the other way around. Some of them get exacerbated when the kids are involved. Others are independent of having kids. (And of course there are things that are universally applicable regardless of the gender of the climber/non-climber in the pair.)

One example of things that I do believe are different: For some reason women are more likely and willing to "come along" and enjoy the day in company of their SO, even if they aren't really into climbing.

We have all seen the scenario: A guy has a project at some crag. His girlfriend comes along. She is a newer/occasional climber, and there is nothing for her to climb at this crag. But the guy is stoked, and so are his buddies. They set up toprope on the easiest climb at the crag for the girl when they climb it as their warmup, and then get on their project. She topropes it, with a lot of hanging, maybe once or twice. Or maybe they didn't even have that easy climb, and just tell her to get on the bottom of whatever they are working. She doesn't do well, climbing-wise, but she is fine with trying the bottom 10 feet twice, or not climbing at all. She has a tablet that she brought along, to help with the boredom. And she is having a good time, just hanging out there with her BF and his buddies, even if she is not climbing much.

Have you often seen this scenario in reverse? A climber girl comes out climbing with her friends, and her boyfriend tagged along to just hang out at the crag and read a book?  Not because he is injured, or taking a rest day? (not impossible, but WAY more rare).

I do know some women whose significant others are not climbers, just a couple of them. I know a lot more guys in this scenario. From this anecdotal sample group, it looks to me that women with non-climber male partners go on outdoor climbing trips less frequently than men whose female partners do not climb. That includes both the trips where the non-climber significant other stays home, and the trips where the non-climber significant other comes along.

For the climber guys, their non-climber significant other comes along relatively often. Not always, mind you, but they certainly manage several times a year to do a "hybrid" climbing-and-other-stuff trips where the family comes along, and they do some kind of combination of the following, alternating things/mixing them up:
-the guy climbs with other people while the girlfriend/wife (and kids) hang out at the cabin, or go shopping to nearby town, or go to see a movie
-the guy takes a rest day from climbing, and does something with the family: kayaking, sight-seeing, hiking, heck, maybe a wine- or bourbon-tasting tour, etc.
-the guy goes climbing and the wife/kids come along to the crag. there is maybe some easy climbing set up for kids and/or wife, and the guy maybe climbs couple pitches of harder climbing, if there are people around to belay him. Sometimes the wife even knows how to belay, and would belay the kids on  toprope, or maybe even belay him. They have a short day, with the primary goal of having the casual/occasional climbers in the group having a good time..

For the women climbers with non-climber husband, this sort of trip happens MAYBE once a year, if that, not 3-4 times, as it does for the guys.  

I am not saying that this is how things SHOULD be, that there is some innate biological reasons why they are the way they are. But based of what I've seen, the guys with non-climber partners seem to get away with more climbing than the women with non-climbing husbands. . It can be mitigated if you live close to climbing. if your climbing can be done as a day trip, where you come back to sleep in your own bed at night, rather than going somewhere far for the weekend, it is easier to fit both climbing and quality time with your partner into your life, for example.

In both cases the people who want to climb, get to climb some. Just the amount is different..And nobody's to say that the people involved aren't perfectly happy with the arrangement. Though I do know that in case of the women climbers with non-climbing husbands that I personally know, they do wish they had a chance to climb more, even if they are O.K. with the arrangement as it is, and aren't going to leave their SO over it.

Lena and rgold have nailed it. All the guys I know with nonclimbing spouses travel, train, and climb much more than I do, as the climber with no climbing spouse. And the women are usually home with kids and take less solo time for themselves than the guys, also. Does the wife of the guy upthread also take 20 trips a year for herself? I doubt it. That's the arrangement they've worked out, for whatever reason. Same for me, over the decades. Spouse has traveled the world, I take long weekends, lol!

There are two parts to work out. First, is trust. Either you are or are not faithful to your SO, or it doesn't matter. Sort that out. You cannot do trips with other people if the SO is going to be jealous. My hubby and I have both had that trust in the other, that we drew boundaries the other could rely on.

Point two, you have needs. Communicate this clearly to the SO, but also line it out just what that means. Perhaps one weekend a month you are on a trip, two nights per week you are climbing locally, two mornings a week at the gym....whatever. If he knows he is on his own every Thursday evening, for instance, he can also plan ahead for his time. I am actively doing this with my spouse now, and he is adjusting. It truly is important to me, to us actually, because if I don't keep at it both my mental and physical health will go straight down the tubes.

Short answer: you have to talk it out. If the SO is unwilling, rethink it.

Best, OLH
Eric Engberg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 0

When your partner isn't your partner... you should rejoice.  Nothing is more boring then the "very serious" climbing couple whose lives revolve around a rigid training schedule, diet and the "proj".  Ask them about a movie, restaurant, museum exhibit, concert...crickets.  Sorry - despite all your seriousness you're not going to be world class.  I guess you can be "the best you can be" if the height of your aspirations is climbing a rock....

Back ground - I'm slightly younger then Rich but have been climbing 53 years, married for 48, 4 kids from 47-29.  My wife has never had the slightest interest in climbing.  Would rather do just about anything then "hangout" at the crag while I climb.  But she is passionate about things - accomplished abstract/landscape photographer (lots of shows and that sort of stuff).  And I have learned/grown a lot by tagging along with her.  She does like being out hiking and photographing so we can travel to the same places and she'll have stuff to do, pictures to take - even of rocks  (as long as there are no damn climbers or chalk on them).

But traveling with her brings me to places that I never would have gone to on my own..  Neon sign museum in Vegas, Salvation Mountain, Slab City, East Jesus near JTree.  Even the Storm King sculptures near the Gunks.  Not only for rest days.

The point being that you have the opportunity to be a more complete person if you have someone to help get your comfort zone.

Ocalslay Onlyyay · · Not That Into Climbing · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 1,170

This would never happen at #Woodson

CHeers

DMT

Julie Wang · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 0

seconded that lena and rgold got it.

Rachel, I too was in a relationship where my romantic partner climbed, but didn't have the same all-consuming obsession that I did. It was both frustrating and awesome. It was awesome because it forced me to climb with new partners rather than always climbing with the same person. I noticed that I climbed a little less, a couple more day trips rather than weekend trips, but when I did get out, it felt newer and more different. When I did manage to get my partner-partner out, we would compromise and climb one day, and then canyoneer, or hike, or hang out the other.

Not sure if that helps, but there's at least a silver lining to having a partner who isn't interested in climbing. :)

Lori Milas · · Joshua Tree, Ca · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 170

Rachel, So glad you started this conversation.  All the comments have helped me, too!  There is a difference between a husband or life-partner who you are deeply committed to and where you just have to hammer out some scheduling details,  verses a person where you may already be on the fence and feeling stifled.  I met my boyfriend when I was still discovering some freedom and 'finding myself'.  He thought my climbing was great, until he realized it was going to be a big part of my life.  He learned how to belay me, but thought once a month at the climbing gym should be more than enough. He went to Joshua Tree with me a few times, but became angry and hated it.  So, that's a problem.
Now I am traveling alone, and climbing completely alone, and he grimaces when the subject of climbing comes up--so I never mention it.  Our relationship is all but over, we just haven't made it official yet.   It's not fair to expect him to love this stuff when he really prefers to be sedentary and is a homebody, but it's also not fair to ask me to stay home on weekends and watch TV.
So, bottom line... you have to evaluate how much the relationship means to you, and whether you still have enough in common that you can both make some compromises.  
Yes, to rgold!

Edit: one other thought: knowing that I will probably be without a boyfriend soon, I have wondered what the future may hold. Honestly, I'm not sure how I'd be with someone who was completely obsessed with climbing!  I would probably fall way behind, not be able to keep up... and I also want balance in my life.  Movies, books, politics... date nights, and weekends now and then just vegging... what it this new rock climbing guru just wanted to climb, climb, climb?  So... .it might be hard to find an exact match.  Maybe love and caring for the other person comes first... climbing a distant second.  

Lori Milas · · Joshua Tree, Ca · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 170
Old lady H wrote:


 It truly is important to me, to us actually, because if I don't keep at it both my mental and physical health will go straight down the tubes.

Best, OLH

I think this piece of it is really important.  When the physical and mental aspects of climbing (or some other vigorous endeavor) are vital to one's mental and physical health, then it's important to give it its due.  So, if the option is to hang out at home and be sedentary, or get out and exercise and enjoy... it's a no contest.  I think most relationships can work this out.  Sounds like you have it wired with  your husband, which is a huge blessing!    

doligo · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2008 · Points: 269

Men like climbing mountains and love widgets, and from your profile it doesn't look like you climb on gear, perhaps you can ask your SO if he'd be interested in learning trad together. This way you'll start at the same novice level and he may even excel at it faster than you - men generally do grasp those things faster for some reason (took me a while to figure out how the cams were supposed to work and I come from math and engineering background).  No matter how enlightened men are, they just hate sucking esp. compared to their SOs.  Once you get proficient climbing on gear, you can go climb in the mountains together (WARNING: this may break or make your relationship - men generally don't suffer well).

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 743
Only, Locals wrote: This would never happen at #Woodson

CHeers

DMT

Apparently nothing ever happens at Woodson. Wa. Hoo.

CBD, someday
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