Being able to train jiu-jitsu with your significant other seems like the ultimate level of relationship goals for BJJ practitioners, and in many ways, it is. When you and your partner both train, you’re dating someone who gets your lifestyle. You can share a common activity that keeps you both in shape while also providing a bit of stress relief. Plus, you have a live-in drilling partner if you both choose to practice at home as well.
With the coronavirus closing gyms and making it unsafe to train with people you don’t live with, many BJJ practitioners are spending time at home drilling or rolling with their live-in partners. Some couples have been training together for years, while other people are using this opportunity to introduce jiu-jitsu to their significant other. Now, couples who don’t often roll together may be making some uncomfortable discoveries about their “rolling relationship.”
A lot of BJJ couples find that they don’t roll well together, even if they have perfect chemistry together when off the mats. They find themselves feeling more competitive or sensitive than usual, getting more frustrated when the other person accidentally knees them in the head than they would with a teammate they weren’t in love with. They might feel like their ego is extra-bruised when their partner submits them ten times in a row, or maybe they bristle at constructive criticism when their significant other is the one giving it.
I used to think I was the only one who dealt with this. My partner is a brown belt and I’m a purple belt, and we’re both careful and experienced enough to generally avoid accidentally hurting the people we roll with. But because we’re a bit overly competitive with each other (in everything from Pokemon Go to jiu-jitsu) and because we just have awkward “jiu-jitsu chemistry,” we end up punctuating our rolls with “Oops! Sorry!” a lot more often than we do with other training partners.
This, of course, has never stopped us from rolling with each other, and my boyfriend continues to be one of my most valuable training partners. But it’s shattered the illusion that training with the person you’re dating is guaranteed BJJ bliss. As more and more of my friends have mentioned to me that they get overly frustrated or more frequently hurt when training with their spouses or fiances, I’ve realized that this isn’t necessarily a sign that we’re just the unluckiest jiu-jitsu couple ever — this is a fairly common situation.
I’m not an expert in anything that ends with “-ology,” but when you think about the role that two people play in a romantic relationship, it makes sense that they might not work well together in the art of Being Violent But Gently. We’re supposed to look to our partners for affection and protection, but jiu-jitsu puts us in a situation where we need to both attack them and defend ourselves from them. Is it any wonder that our brains might flip a switch and make us more sensitive to pain inflicted by the people we love? It’s also no surprise that we might feel more irritated than normal when we’re completely dominated in a roll by the person we view most as our equal.
If you have never experienced any issues while rolling with your significant other, great! But if quarantine is teaching you that you and your partner don’t have great rolling chemistry, try not to overthink it too much. It’s not necessarily reflective of deep, unexplored issues in your relationship, especially if your relationship is happy and healthy off the mats. Effective communication can help both of you get on the same page about the issues you’re having while rolling, and you can modify your at-home (and eventually in-gym) training sessions to get the most out of your time without adding more stress to your relationship. For example, drilling techniques instead of full-on rolling can decrease injury risk, and shorter sessions can stop you both from getting impatient or snippy with each other over boredom or exhaustion.
Remember, you live with this person, and you’re stuck at home with them a lot right now. If rolling together is not the fun stress outlet that you’d hoped it would be, it’s ok to drill with a makeshift grappling dummy instead. But if you want to continue training with your romantic partner, make sure you’re both listening to each other’s needs. And of course, any wristlocks are used at the risk of your own marital bliss, so submit with caution.