Abigail Lufkin is a former CCI4* eventer who is now a sports psychology consultant and clinical social worker based in the Los Angeles area. She was a member of the 1999 Pan Am Team and was shortlisted for the 1992, 2000 and 2004 Olympics. We’re pleased to bring you a series of articles from Abigail about adapting your mental game to promote success in eventing. Have a question or topic for Abigail? Please submit it to [email protected] with subject “Ask Abigail” and be sure to check out her site at www.abigaillufkin.com.
Today’s question comes from Anonymous:
How does one sustain a successful marriage or long-term committed relationship when one is also dedicated to horses? Obviously, horses require an awful lot of time, can sometimes be a hard “hobby” for a loved one to share and participate in in a reasonably enjoyable way, and also require a huge proportion of one’s disposable income. It’s understandable, then, that some partners can see this hobby/sport/passion as somewhat selfish, especially when one is not a top-level competitor and realistically never will be.
Even if they understand the fulfillment it provides, the time and money questions can be difficult to reconcile. And, if you’re in a relationship, it’s quite difficult to be committed to and successful in eventing without the support of your partner. How much support is reasonable to expect? And is there anything one can do to try to explain this passion, or approach the whole endeavor, in a way that makes it easier to accept and support to a partner?
It may sound counter intuitive, but if you want your partner to better understand and support your dream, you might start with better understanding and supporting his dream. (For simplicity’s sake, I picked a gender but it could be reversed). Try an exercise (adapted from Gottman Couples therapy) in which one person is the speaker and one the listener. The speaker’s job is to use “I” statements to talk about something that is very important to her — in your case, your riding. The listener (your partner) takes notes throughout and doesn’t talk except to occasionally say, “Tell me more about that.”
After you have talked for five to 10 minutes (use a timer) about what riding means to you, then your boyfriend repeats back to you the main points of what he heard (looking at his notes as necessary). Next, he picks one piece of what you said that makes sense to him. For example, “it made sense to me how riding is an area of your life where you feel really athletic.”
Next, reverse roles and do the exercise as the listener with him as the speaker, discussing something that is important in his life. Your job is to be curious. Follow the same procedure with note taking and repeating back. Lastly, each of you asks the other for one specific thing that you need. So, instead of “I want you to be more supportive of my riding,” you might ask, “I would like for you to ask me at the end of the day how my ride was.” Make an agreement with each other to incorporate this into your lives.
As it is with training horses, there is no magic wand that moves a horse through a problem; rather, it is coming out each day and taking small, positive steps to build confidence and capacity. The same is true with relationships. For more detailed relationship work, I would recommend the book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman.
At the end of the day, as wonderful as the horses are, it is our human partners with whom we move through time, celebrate the good, mourn the losses and eventually grow old. They are worth prioritizing. Your riding won’t suffer if you give your horse two days off and go away for a weekend or don’t ride one day to do something with your partner. In fact, you might find that you return invigorated and riding better than you thought was possible.
Abigail Lufkin L.C.S.W
Individual and Couple Psychotherapy
Sport Psychology Consultant