When Your Partner Doesn't Train
jiu jitsu, the cruel paramour
Of all the disagreements to occur in New York City that day, mine was probably high up in the petty scale, as I stood melting on a busy avenue in downtown Manhattan and argued with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, about whether he was coming to attend jiu jitsu class.
I had rolled into jiu jitsu class around Thanksgiving because I wanted something to do and jiu jitsu seemed like a good idea, until it wasn’t, because apparently serving as someone’s metaphorical murder yoga ball after a job you definitely hate isn’t the best recipe for happiness.
I didn’t admit it then, but I do now, that I dragged my partner into jiu jitsu because I was anxious of going to class by myself, of having to navigate a stressful and sweaty environment of people who could care less about who I was or what my aspirations wanted to be, and of having to be uncomfortable again, and again, and again, without the security of having someone else around to save me.
They say that “jiu jitsu takes two” and most of the time they mean that in training, you really need another cooperative, engaged, and intentional partner to make any real meaningful progress — but “jiu jitsu takes two” also even if your significant other does not train.
Over the years, I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, about what it means to be the only one in a relationship to train jiu jitsu. Here’s some of my takeaways so far.
Communicate Your Schedule (And Be Honest About It)
Depending on the relationship dynamics, your partner may care a lot or a little about when your training schedule is. However, I’ve found that having a solid training schedule in place does wonders not only for personal accountability, but also to maintain open lines of communication about how your partner feels about the time you’re spending in jiu jitsu.
The importance of this advice is to focus on the conversation surrounding it, though it doesn’t have to be super involved, unless it needs to. Some of my most experienced training partners (10+ years in jiu jitsu) religiously make it to class 3 times a week, regardless of the cities/jobs that they’ve lived in during that time. Their partner simply understands that they need that time to be at jiu jitsu. The discussion can get a bit more complicated depending on other factors, such as:
how heavy your training schedule is
the time of day that you train
whether you have a family or other caretaking duties
the time you spend commuting to/from the gym
I have found that when I am transparent and honest with my partner about how much I want to train, it’s a lot easier to come to a compromise about my whereabouts. After a lot of trial and error, it’s gotten to a good rhythm, but I still check in and make sure that the time I’m spending at the gym is not causing tension.
Finally, if you have committed to a time to start coming home, as much as possible, stick to that promise. Broken promises wear down a relationship over time.
Don’t Spaz on Your Partner
This was my husband’s response when I asked him if he wanted to contribute any tips for this essay. He didn’t elaborate, so my best guess of this advice is that your significant other probably doesn’t appreciate having any jiu jitsu techniques done on them.
Imagine that you are just minding your own business and doing something fun when all of a sudden, a bunch of ninjas descend upon your living space and start throwing dodgeballs at you.
Depending on the kind of person you are, maybe the first or even second time it’s kind of fun but also kind of annoying, because you didn’t consent to being attacked by red bouncy balls that kind of hurt.
Imagine the ninjas justifying it by saying they need to practice on you specifically.
Maybe you even throw one of the balls back at a ninja, and they stop and say, “Woah, that is not the right way to throw it, let me show you how” and then proceeds to launch into a highly technical discussion of the proper base and alignment you need for the best dodgeball throw.
I know this hypothetical sounds ridiculous, but the truth is, for most of our partners, they do not find jiu jitsu to be fun, and having moves done on them is even less fun. Keep the techniques on the mats at the gym with the rest of the weirdos who want to roll on the ground with you.
Speak Your Partner’s (Love) Language
Love languages are one of 5 preferred styles that a person wants to receive love.
Putting aside generalized relationship advice for each language, I’d like to draw special attention to partners who have Quality Time and Physical Touch as their primary love language. If you realize that your partner has these two love languages, it’s up to you whether you want to make that a blessing or a curse.
I have to admit, I was pretty selfish with how I trained jiu jitsu in the first few years, and it caused a lot of discord with my partner. He would never openly say it (Enneagram 9s be like that), but I could tell that it made him sad when I wasn’t around as much, or frankly, just too tired to do anything with him when I was. On top of that, too, I felt stressed about how little I was contributing to the relationship, and I felt guilty about how I was spending my time.
At the end of the day, after destroying my body, getting ringworm, and then straight into the pandemic, I finally understood where my priorities were in terms of relationships and jiu jitsu.
The biggest turning point was that I realized that what was going to make anything better for my life — be it jiu jitsu, career, family, partner, friends — was an intentional, constant positioning of myself to grow and learn in the best places possible. As I begrudgingly acknowledged, that involved learning to take days off from jiu jitsu to spend time with my partner, while feeling secure that I could return to the mats and be just fine. Or, on the flip side, it meant waking up early on Saturday to go train, even if I wanted to stay at home, sleep in, and cuddle with my partner and our cats while playing video games.
It wasn’t so much as achieving an artificial sense of balance, as it was about finding ways to honor my own experiences both in and outside of the relationship with my partner. That was a process with lots of adjustments, and it required a willingness (gasp!) to learn where my partner felt the most understood and loved. In turn, I unexpectedly developed a sense of how I wanted to feel most understood and loved, which allowed me to pursue and ask for what I actually wanted, instead of what I thought I should do.
Clean Up Your Dirty Laundry
This one is easy. If you ever had a cat rub up against you and turn their butthole towards you and you get a WTF reaction, this is probably how your partner feels when you leave your dirty stuff from training everywhere.
Give Them a Jiu Jitsu Education (On Their Terms)
There are plenty of ways to have your partner join in on the jiu jitsu fun without actually having them train, but it does take a little bit of creativity. At the start, the most disappointing parts of jiu jitsu for me was not having someone to celebrate my small wins and feeling a bit deflated because they couldn’t understand any jiu jitsu inside jokes.
Your partner generally wants to take an interest in your jiu jitsu, even if it’s boring or weird to them, because that’s what good partners do — they care about the things that you care about (at least in my book). Giving them a bit of
indoctrination education — especially about the quirky parts of jiu jitsu — can help them relate a little more to what you’re doing and feel less isolated from your activity.
So, feel free to educate your partner on why it’s a big deal (at least to you) that you went from laying down on your back to standing up against your training partner; why two presumably grown-up adults would want to slap each other backstage; how The Office makes for hilarious memes about blue belts; and why butt-scooting is not just a dirty-sounding term, but considered by many to be a dirty act. And, along with the lighthearted topics, it may be worth also bringing up more serious social issues with regards to sexual assault/harassment, sexism, racism, and anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in the jiu jitsu community.
No Means No
No matter how many times you ask and how many ways you ask, after a certain point, you’ll need to accept that your significant other does not want to train jiu jitsu. They might have other hobbies and passions that they want to do, and part of it is respecting their boundary in that way.
At the beginning I really wished that I could have my husband join the journey with me. I felt like we had experienced so much together already that it would be a natural choice for him to do jiu jitsu with me. I would see other people with their significant other training together and be filled with a little bit of sadness that I couldn’t enjoy that support.
Don’t get me wrong: jiu jitsu relationships can be great, but it’s not the only way that you can connect with your partner. And in some ways, doing an activity by yourself is a good opportunity to develop your own identity separate and apart from your partner. For me, I’ve come to see how being on my own forced me to be more independent and not always turn to my partner for the solution. I learned how to accept my partner for what he wanted to do with his free time and to not make the decision for him.