Stop “Wife Guilt” From Holding You Back

One of the impetuses behind starting The Mother Runners was to help fellow moms battle mom guilt because it was something that held me back—and then ate me alive. Today, my mom guilt has now transformed to “wife guilt” or “partner guilt.”

Heins Family
We are a very close family which you would think makes leaving to do things like run easier–but it often feels harder.

I find myself saying no to things ALL THE TIME because I feel guilty about asking my husband to watch the kids. And taking time to run is almost always shrouded in guilt—making it less of a stress-free “me time.”

This feeling has very little to do with my husband or anything he says to me. I don’t think I could really be more of a dedicated and engaged mom or wife. And, he couldn’t be a more engaged or dedicated dad. The guilt all comes from me.

And it can be stifling.

Related: How to Get Rid of Mom Guilt for Good

The other day, I was asked to go – all expenses paid – on a running retreat in the Poconos—a place I have always wanted to go. It sounded dreamy. They simply wanted me to write about the experience.

Whitney and Jake Heins
My mom guilt has turned into wife guilt as I feel guilty leaning on my husband so I can have time to run.

My kneejerk reaction was to say no. I couldn’t leave my family for four days. I do one girls’ weekend trip a year with my friends from high school. This is what I will allow myself. I never accept invitations for book clubs. I don’t meet friends for dinner. And when I am training for a marathon, I do whatever I can to run when it won’t impact the family.

As a result, I have lost close relationships, neglected to make new ones…and when I am running, I get tired. And I am not my best self when I am tired. When I am not running (currently injured), I feel the void of friendships because the only time I would make to socialize was on the run.

Clearly, this is something that needs to change.

I wondered aloud if I was the only one who suffered from wife guilt. You hear about mom guilt all the time—but wife guilt was a term I thought I created.

Turns out, I am not alone in this feeling! I polled my thousands of followers on my social media and asked my athletes—and a majority of them suffer from it, too. I want to help us banish this guilt for good!

For this article, I got with sports psychologist Dr. Haley Perlus to talk through ways to combat wife guilt or partner guilt. Dr. Perlus helps her clients work through these feelings, and has battled them herself! I also asked YOU, fellow mother runners and parent runners, about your experiences.

Related: Self-care tips for busy moms

In this article, I will share:

  • What is wife guilt?
  • How do other moms handle wife guilt?
  • And share expert advice from a sports psychologist on how to get rid of wife guilt

My goal is to not let this GUILT get in the way of your goals for 2024 and beyond.

So, let’s get going!!

What is wife guilt?

Wife guilt is when you experience guilt for doing something for yourself (by yourself) in which you must ask your husband or partner to watch the kids. With wife guilt, you often will say no to doing things because you feel bad about asking for help—even knowing that the kids are half his, too (in many cases).

Have a healthy marriage and train for a marathon
Before having kids, my husband and I used to run together all the time. Now we take turns to run.

Wife guilt may also manifest itself in feeling like you are a bad wife because you’re not performing stereotypical housewife duties such as making gourmet meals for your family every night.

It seems like most moms suffer from these feelings of guilt (guilt over leaving their kids) and wife guilt—but not all. About 15 percent of the moms I polled said they don’t have wife guilt, mainly because their husbands are golfers and take lots of time for themselves, zero guilt.

Related: Can Running Help Postpartum Depression?

Personally, my husband is introverted and chooses to be home with the family, so I feel badly leaving since he rarely gets out to do things. He’s a runner—but not a serious, structured, rigid one like me…If he’s going for a run and my kids want him to stay and play, he’ll gladly forgo the run. (Not me!).

The other day I was at our neighbor’s house while the kids played, chatting with the dad who was making dinner. The mom walked in after being at an exercise class. Apparently, she was gone for a couple of hours longer than expected.

He asked what happened. She said the class went long. And then moved on. No apologies, calls with a heads-up, wife guilt or mom guilt. It completely fascinated me. It IS possible to live without mom or wife guilt.

But how?

Related: How Running Makes You Happy

How do other moms handle wife guilt?

wife guilt pin
Pin these tips to banish wife guilt for later!

Clearly, some people are more predisposed to feeling guilt, “feeling responsible or regretful for a perceived offense, real or imaginary.” This can be rooted in genetics, upbringing, or family dynamics.

Many of the moms I polled have developed strategies to overcome their personal guilt trips as it relates to taking time to run.

Here are some:

  • Make extra quality time, be more attentive, and take walks with my partner.
  • Remember that partners/husbands typically take their time for themselves without guilt.
  • Communicate the needs of my time with my partner.
  • Remember that you are deserving of the time to work on yourself and be a better partner and parent. Self-care is important for physical and mental health.
  • Ensure your partner has time to do their own thing.
  • Share my feelings of guilt with my husband so he knows what I am thinking.
  • Talk it through to reinforce that you aren’t selfish at all.
  • Remember that he takes ALL the time for himself.
  • Do the run before everyone wakes up.
  • Connect with other moms and talk about your wife guilt.

Leisure study by Dr. Corliss Bean found that connecting with others is a key strategy in moving past guilt as a mom. By discussing this struggle with other mother runners, we can create our own support groups that normalize these feelings and make them feel less isolating.

Related: How to Get Your Kids to Start Running

I also want to share some of the comments I got from fellow mother runners about wife guilt:

“Get TF over the guilt. For every SINGLE female runner I know, there are TWENTY golf husbands who take literally nine hours at a time on prime weekend time and go play golf. If he gets that, she can go running whenever she wants.”

wife guilt pin 2
Pin these tips to banish wife guilt for later!

“I honestly think we as women and moms need to collectively assume this time for ourselves. Not “ask for,” not even “demand.” Assume. It’s happening, it’s not a discussion. We already assume men are deserving of time off to pursue their passions, why don’t we do the same for ourselves?” 

“I know for me when things get really busy I’ll often times neglect training to spend adequate time with my daughter or partner, but I’ve noticed that he doesn’t sacrifice his workout time for that. I think women internalize and think more deeply about things and we take the weight of everything on our shoulders, it’s hard to leave the house to do something for yourself, but I remind myself I need to bc it’s for my sanity and my health.” 

“I view my child’s life as marbles in a jar. You only get so many weeks or things with them & then they are grown….but I just know that a healthier & more energetic me is better for my family. When I’m in a routine of exercising, I have more energy, my mind is clearer and I also have more drive to get things done around the house!” 

Related: 7 Science-backed Reasons Running Makes You a Better Mom

“I feel this with my whole heart. Self-care comes in so many different forms and running is that for us. We are better mothers and wives when we are mentally and physically stable. That guilt will never go away but the constant reminders that we need to take care of ourselves to take better care of our families helps.” 

“Running is a hobby that fills our cup but also is physically challenging. It’s not like chatting with the girlfriends while drinking wine. I’m still trying to figure out how to not feel guilty about the reality that being supported as a runner is more than just when I’m out on the road. But I think most of my guilt comes from *MY* expectations of what my husband needs/ what I think I should be able to accomplish, rather than what actually is the reality.”

Related: Train for a Marathon & Have a Healthy Marriage

How to Get Rid of Wife Guilt, according to a Sports Psychologist

So how do we get rid of this mom guilt according to an expert? Dr. Perlus weighs in.

Look at the evidence.

Dr. Perlus tells us to look at the guilt in the face and ask ourselves if it is true? What’s the evidence that you are being selfish or not showing up for your family?

Then test your theory. Go out for a run and see if when you return if you’re right. Do your kids not love you anymore? Does your husband think you are selfish?

“Chances are the guilt is unfounded,” says Dr. Perlus. “It is self-imposed.”

Communicate your feelings.

Dr. Perlus recommends sharing with your partner this tug-of-war in your mind. Ask them what they think? Talk with your child. Getting these feelings out in the open will help you see what’s real and address pain points.

Then do it. Go for the run. “You just have to. You are better for it.”

wife guilt post
I will try to stop wife guilt from haunting me in 2024.

If your husband makes snide remarks or sparks guilt-tripping behaviors, talk to them about it. Seeing a family therapist who helps you both embrace direct communication rather than passive aggression will help.

Prepare for being gone.

But what if I go for a run and then everything is a disaster when I come home?

This was my reality.

For me, when my kids were really young, I’d return from a long run with the house looking like a bomb went off, my husband was quiet and angry, and my kids were melting down. I would be exhausted and then walk into a firestorm of messes to clean up and emotions to manage.

I asked Dr. Perlus, should I have tried really hard to just accept that things aren’t perfect, and that’s ok? She surprised me…She said, no. Because then that fuels resentment.

“Because then you are going to have resentment and be miserable and not feel good about yourself. That’s not the answer. You have to make sacrifices. You can’t have it all.”

Instead, prepare for being gone.

I should have asked my husband, how can I help prepare for the three hours I am gone? Should I prep breakfast? Have activities planned?

Just as we prep for our runs, think about how you can work with your partner for things to work more smoothly when you are gone.

Just speak up.  

We have such a hard time asking for help and sharing how we feel. I don’t why this is? Maybe it’s human nature. Maybe it’s society. Women are supposed to do it all but not have it all.  

If we just spoke up, we could save ourselves, and our families, from so much misery.

Dr. Perlus shared a personal experience about how she had a long day of travel and came home to her partner who had made them dinner. They hadn’t seen each other in a week, and he wanted to spend time.

But she didn’t. Not yet.

Instead of being grumpy for the rest of the night—she turned a bad thing into a good thing. She knew the best thing she could do for her relationship was doing the best thing for her—get outside, move her body, and listen to music. She knew what made her happy. What filled her cup.

It didn’t take much time, maybe 20 minutes, for her to feel better, and the night was saved rather than spiraling out of control. (She captured this moment here.)

I think about how many terrible nights or days I could have stopped if I just said what I needed instead of letting guilt and resentment take over.

As Dr. Perlus says, we are all better when we take care of ourselves. And this helps us show up better for our families…and model for our kids a path to a healthier life not stifled by guilt.

(Article reviewed by Dr. Haley Perlus)

If you want a custom training schedule to fit your running goals, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:


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