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exercise widow

noun [countable]

a woman who does not see her husband as much as she would like because he spends a lot of time trying to keep fit by doing physical exercise

exercise widower

noun [countable]

a man who does not see his wife as much as he would like because she spends a lot of time trying to keep fit by doing physical exercise

'The exercise widow often wakes to an empty bed – a sure sign of a morning workout – and may find dinner plans spoiled by a sudden avoidance of anything heavy before a night run.'

DealBreaker 3rd February 2011

'My fella just puts up with being an exercise widower now, although it's taken some time for him to accept that I'm not going to change!'

MizFitOnline (comment) 20th November 2008

'For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health …' So runs the customary text for the marriage vow. But what about: 'for fitter, for fatter'? It seems that there's a new threat to marital bliss in 21st century society, and it's all to do with fitness. When physical exercise becomes the number one priority in daily life, then the unfortunate casualty is the exercise widow.

evidence from marriage counsellors suggests that obsession with exercise is an increasingly common marriage wrecker

The term exercise widow is a new expression coined to describe a woman whose husband spends an obsessive amount of time doing physical exercise. This is not just a chap who likes to keep a wee bit fitter by regularly burning off a few calories, but a guy with an intense, not-to-be-messed-with, daily fitness routine – early morning and late night runs, gym sessions before and after work, weekends and holidays running marathons … The exercise widow spends the majority of her leisure hours alone, and if there are kids, they see very little of Dad, whose obsession with exercise takes him away from family life.

Before this all starts to sound a little one-sided, let me point out that wives, of course, can get hooked on exercise too, so the exercise widow has a male counterpart – the exercise widower.

Issues like infidelity, financial pressure, work stress and ill health have long been recognized as having the potential to damage or destroy a marriage. However evidence from marriage counsellors suggests that obsession with exercise is an increasingly common marriage wrecker, not least because it can also make one partner more physically attractive than the other, and leave the poor old exercise widow(er) feeling rather insecure. For the exercise widow(er), the only real solution is therefore to jump on to the fitness bandwagon – though that does beg the question of what happens to any offspring, who then, presumably, become exercise orphans?

Background – exercise widow and exercise widower

The expression exercise widow first appeared in the early 1990s. It was recently brought into the spotlight, however, by press interest in the trials and tribulations of the wife of a US banking executive, who gave a frank account of her frustrations in a Wall Street Journal article headlined 'A Workout Ate my Marriage'.

Exercise widow is modelled on earlier compounds headed by widow, in which widow refers to a woman whose spouse prioritizes a particular activity over other aspects of married life. Well-known examples include football widow and cricket widow, where husbands can be either players or simply keen watchers of the aforementioned sports. It is not just sport or physical exercise that produces widows however, and the combination is, in fact, quite productive, often used creatively to refer to any free-time activity which disrupts a relationship. Among the many examples are computer widow, gamer/gaming widow and – this is one which I'll admit I have first-hand experience of – DIY widow. All such combinations potentially have a widower counterpart, though these compounds are less commonly used. I wouldn't dare to make any assertions as to why that's the case!

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 28th February 2011.

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