Monday, May 18, 2009

How the 5:1 ratio is saving my marriage.

In Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100, Roy Wallack and Bill Katovsky ask readers to guess the ideal balance between “deposits” (generous acts we offer our families) and "withdrawals" (demands we place upon them) in a healthy relationship. Most men responded 2:1 while most women say 3:1. Contrary to popular belief, researchers have found that an ideal balance involves a 5:1 ratio to keep a marriage/relationship going smoothly!! In other words, people should make 5 “deposits” for every “withdrawal” to keep things feeling fair and respectful. No wonder the divorce rate is so high in this country. It is easy to lose track of the impact that being on a bike for 10 hours a day on back-to-back weekends with half days of driving and overnights in hotels can have. No wonder my wife was getting so testy every time I got near my bike.

My wife and I both work in schools and have two young children. Let me tell you, the month of May is an absolute killer. Evening after evening, weekend after weekend, we are beset by events of all shapes and sizes. Learning how NOT to fight this inevitable feature of my life makes everything much smoother, though. Last Saturday, I gave up riding altogether to be the Guy Friday at my wife’s annual spring dance concert. It was actually a lot of fun and it felt great to repay some of the tab I’ve run up for all of my time away.

During my first season of randonneuring, I made the serious tactical error of underestimating the impact that all of my riding was having on my wife and kids. I will not do that again. I made several concrete changes to get closer to that magical 5:1 goal.
  1. Don’t talk about cycling all the time. It just makes people angry. My family easily mistakes talking about riding with riding. I don’t want to squander valuable time on the bike.

  2. Offer to take the kids so my wife can go off and spend time with her friends or on activities she enjoys. Don’t wait until she asks me.

  3. Do nice things for my wife and kids without being asked.

  4. Say “yes” more to opportunities to be together as a family. Look at the calendar carefully and work alternating weekends of long rides into the schedule.

  5. Commute to work whenever feasible (usually 2-3 times per week.) This is tricky for me as I work in the school that my children attend. A carpool to work has helped me squeeze miles in.

  6. Ride to family events whenever possible. My in-laws have a house in the mountains 75 miles north of us. If I add a few loops in, it becomes a 100 mile ride. If I help pack the car the night before and head out early, we can arrive there at the same time.

  7. Ride at night and early in the morning. My wife is a light sleeper so waking up at or before dawn often involves waking her as well unless I sleep in another room.

  8. Try to involve my family more. In addition to entering a few events with my son, this year, I’ve also asked my wife and kids to crew for me at the Saratoga 12-hour race. We’ve secured a lovely B & B right near the staging area so every lap of the 32-mile course will bring me into contact with “my team.” I’ll really benefit from their help, not having to refill and mix my bottles, and moral support. I’m hoping that the thrill of the race will rub off on my loved ones and they will understand a bit better the pull that events like this have on me. I also hope to add miles to my results with their help.

Who knows? The 5:1 ratio may be impossible. So far, though, the effort has been paying off. The fact that I love my wife more than my bike has never been in question. Making her feel that this is the case is not always a simple matter.


  1. Wish I would have read this back in 2009... as I have now been divorced for 4 years and biking aside I could have benefitted from this kind of advice, not that things are bad my ex and I are on very good terms and I live 2.5 blocks from my old house and spend time with my Daughter regularly. My regret is that I am left wondering what might have been if I had tried harder.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Roadie Ryan. I can't believe it's been so long since I wrote this piece. I'm still trying to maintain the 5:1 ratio. I'm glad I figured this out when I did. It's helped. Sorry to hear that your marriage ended, but it sounds like you're on good terms so all is not lost. Best of luck to you as you pedal down the road.