Hillary and I have been married for two years, and yesterday was our wedding anniversary. About 4 years ago, we met at a Grapplers Quest event, which is weird because there’s a video of the first time I ever saw my wife. The video shows Hillary turning to address some giant purple belt. She tells him to be quiet or she will DQ him.
After the match, I introduced myself and asked her where she trained. We exchanged numbers and started dating soon after. We have trained together ever since.
We have had a few BJJ people ask us for relationship advice over the years, so I thought this was as a good a time as any to write an article on how to navigate a relationship when both partners train. Here is some of the best advice we can give you:
- Do not get competitive with your training partner. If you train together often enough this can become an issue. First of all, there will likely be a size difference and perhaps a skill difference in your relationship. As grapplers, we are naturally competitive, but in this context with the added element of a romantic relationship, being overtly competitive while sparring is silly. This can result in injury or an awkward ride home (the latter could actually be more painful). Have fun when you train together, but don’t make it look like the finals of ADCC.
Realize when you need a coach and when you need a partner. If you or your spouse competes, especially after a loss, the last thing they want out of you is to point out what they did wrong. They might much rather have your support. This also applies to kids and anyone else you are incredibly close to.
Do not be intimidated/jealous of your significant other’s accomplishments. When both partners train and share similar goals, jealousy can creep in when the other person reaches their common goals first, whether is a belt promotion or winning the local IBJJF open. For example, my mom often introduces Hillary as a world champion and shoots me a sly grin. At the end of the day, it’s all in good fun. Hillary’s success is something to celebrate. It’s not a reflection of my own grappling ability.
Coaching a significant other can be tough. When Hillary and I started training together, we were both brown belts, and I was the instructor at the academy where we trained, so we had to figure this out rather quickly. I taught and did certain things differently than Hillary, and we had to come to an agreement that this was ok and that technique didn’t have to be one way or the other. With ego out of the way, we get to share a lot of details and have interesting discussions about strategy and theory.
Keep your drama off the mat. Don’t forget where you are, and why you are there. Spare your training partners from unnecessary and unfair drama. They are friends with both of you. When Hillary is mean to me, that’s our business. Just kidding. She is never mean…
Find balance. Even though both of you enjoy BJJ, don’t make every trip 100% about jiu-jitsu. You are still a couple and should be enjoying activities off the mat. At one point we realized that we were missing trips and personal moments for tournaments, so we do our best to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of our relationship and our families.
If you live together, find a diet that works for both of you. If you are cooking each other’s meals, you need to find a diet that both of you enjoy and can stick to for the sake of simplicity and your grocery bills. Talk about your goals and see how strict you are willing to be with your diet. I have zero self-control, so if there is chocolate and/or ice cream in the house, it will be devoured by about 9:30am.
Make distinct gi piles. Nothing is more embarrassing than showing up to class with a gi and belt to find out you grabbed your wife’s A0 instead of your A3. Also, if you wear the same gi, be prepared for “his and hers” jokes.
- The same academy may not work for both of you, and that is OK. We have friends who train at separate academies, and it works out great. Whether the preference is in regard to instruction, class size, your schedule, or your lineage, you may have to train at separate schools. If you do, don’t look at it like sleeping with the enemy (and the people around you shouldn’t think that either).
That’s probably enough of soapboxing for one article. All of this is from our own experiences, and we hope it helps. At the same time, don’t treat this as gospel. What works for us might not the exact fit for you, and that’s okay. If you want more advice or ideas on how to manage the overlap of BJJ and personal relationships (for the people of your life that train and for those that don’t), check out Valerie Worthington’s free book How to Love a Grappler. You can go here to download it.