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How You Can Improve Your Relationship with Exercise

Couples that work out together can stay together because they now have a ritual of connection that creates shared meaning.

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How You Can Improve Your Relationship with Exercise

Working out together is not only good for your physical health but can also be a great way to invest in your relationship.  Whether you like walking, hiking, running, biking, gym time, or any other form of exercise, you can form a habit of bonding together—particularly using the Sound Relationship House. Dr. John Gottman created this theory as a metaphor for having a strong partnership. The seven principles included in the house have three components, your friendship system, conflict management, and your meaning system. Exercising with your partner can be molded to cover several levels in the SRH.

Build Love Maps

Building Love Maps refers to how well you know your partner’s inner world—their likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, and feelings. It falls into the friendship system of your relationship. You can use exercise time to learn more about your partner. One of the best reasons to work out with a partner is so you can talk and pass the time easily. If this is something you do several times a week, just by sharing about each other’s days, you will learn more about your partner. You can also take the opportunity to ask some questions from the Love Maps card deck while you exercise.

Turn Towards Instead of Away

To Turn Towards Instead of Away refers to how you respond to your partner’s bids for connection, and it also falls into the friendship system (you can learn more about this level in “The Relationship Cure”). Exercise is an opportunity to connect. When your partner asks if you’d like to take a walk with them, turn towards their bid by saying, “I would love to!”

Create Shared Meaning

In this level, couples can create shared meaning with goals, roles, rituals, and symbols. Exercising together covers goals and rituals. Practicing yoga together every morning or taking a stroll in the evenings is a great ritual of connection to create together. Exercising for health can also be a way to set goals together whether it be for weight loss, managing health symptoms, or just gaining strength together. 

The research

Researchers conducted several research studies about the benefits of exercising with your partner.  In a 2018 study by Yorgason, Johnson, Hill, and Selland, they found that exercising with your partner resulted in greater relationship satisfaction on the days you work out together compared to days you work out alone. In another 2017 study by Osuka, Jung, Kim, Okubo, Kim, and Tanaka, research showed that working out with a partner can help you better adhere to an exercise routine that would make your goals more successful. 

Also, exercise affects hormones by reducing cortisol and increasing dopamine. When there is conflict or flooding in your relationship, your cortisol levels increase. Exercise can be a great way to counteract that. Dopamine produces excitement, pleasure, and that feeling something wonderful is about to happen. Who wouldn’t want to feel this way in their relationship?

Make a new ritual of connection in your relationship by adding physical movement to your day. You’ll find that exercise helps you build love maps, turn toward bids, and create shared meaning. It all inches you closer to the partnership you want with the one you love.

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Kari Rusnak manages her telehealth private practice and is currently licensed in Mississippi, Colorado, and Utah. Kari is a Board Certified Telemental Health Provider and trained in EMDR. She is a Certified Gottman Therapist and her practice focuses on LGBTQ+, those in open/poly relationships, chronic pain, and sexual health. Visit her website at

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