in: Dating & Relationships

Lessons From the Mountain: What Hiking Teaches Us About Relationships

Whether you’re hiking into high elevations or pushing through some conflict in a relationship, Kristen Hick ascends with us to illuminate the similarities.

As is true for so many who find their way to Colorado, I fell in love with the Rocky Mountains from day one. They are magnificent, beautiful, offer a Utopian escape from city life and above all else, teach you things about yourself that you never would have imagined.

When I started hiking 14-ers (14,000 ft. mountains) a little over a year ago, I had virtually no experience hiking, let alone hiking at such a high elevation. I was invited on a two-day backpacking trip to hike Mt. Uncompahgre; the sixth tallest mountain in Colorado. While I felt a bit scared about this new adventure and whether I would be able to reach the summit or die an inglorious death at 12,000 feet, I forged ahead and agreed to go.

To summit (to reach the top of the mountain) a 14-er is not as easy as it may sound. You might think, “it’s just an extra long hike and it gets a little hard to breath toward the end, right?” No.

Summiting a 14-er requires you to push through numerous mental road blocks, physical pain and exhaustion, help your hiking partners get to the top with you, and, if you’re lucky, getting to know yourself in a whole new way.

Since summiting Mt. Uncompahgre a year ago, I have “summited” six more 14-ers. They are quite addictive. But they are not without a new challenge and a new lesson each and every time. These are challenges and lessons that also apply to scaling the summits of dating.

Lessons About Climbing Mountains (aka Dating)

Pushing Through It

Recently while hiking up Mt. Democrat, (the first of a group of four 14-ers I was set to climb in one day) I found myself going to battle with the voice in my head. This voice tried to convince me that I couldn’t do this, that four summits were just too many for one day and that I wasn’t in good enough shape.  I thought to myself, “Who am I kidding trying to hike this?

Getting caught up in this mindset, whether it’s on the mountain or in dating, is a pretty difficult place to be. You feel alone in the fight. And the self-defeating thoughts (disguised cunningly as “the voice of reason“) might just take you down. Or you fight your way through them. I pushed through the discomfort, the pain in my legs, the difficulty breathing, and forced myself to just keep going. One step at a time.

At one time or another, relationships also require you to push through your mental and physical roadblocks. Other times there are obstacles within the relationship that might lead you and your partner to think it’s over. There’s no doubt that some relationships will end, but some potentially good ones require you to push past whatever is going on to get to the other side.

Finding Your Style

I’ve had the pleasure of hiking with several new friends during my 14-er journeys. Each person has taught me a little something about how different people hike. It illuminated the parallels between hiking personalities and dating personalities.

The Ultrarunners

These people are all about speed and endurance in relationships. They challenge themselves to race to the top…repeatedly. They enjoy the challenge of meeting a personal goal or a record and have no interest in going slow and steady. These folks definitely push through the internal blocks with ease. However, they sacrifice taking in the surrounding beauty. They typically make the climb solo and miss the opportunity for intimacy and connection.

The Sprinters

These relationship goers also push through mental and physical obstacles more easily than most, but will stop to wait for others in their group to catch up before beginning their quick ascent again. Challenging themselves to overcome relationship obstacles and improve their performance is of interest to these hikers.

The How Much Further-ers

Individuals with this relationship style get mentally caught up with how long the relationship journey is. They are uneasy with the physical discomfort and wonder if they should give up and return back to the comfort of home base. They don’t often make it to the top and can lack the mental fortitude to break through the perceived barrier–intimacy, vulnerability, discomfort. They feel safer backing away from the climb rather than getting past that false summit to reach the glorious top.

The Moms

Moms are the partners that help others break through their mental and physical discomfort by coaching their hiking buddies to the top. They are nurturing, encouraging and genuinely interested in getting everyone to the top, together, safely. They are not concerned with speed or setting a record and enjoy the journey, however long it takes.

The Slow and Steadiers

In relationships, these individuals like to take things slow and steady. They take short breaks to allow themselves to regroup, find their center and then proceed towards the summit. They are content to go at their own pace and don’t feel pressured to push themselves physically faster than necessary. When they come to an obstacle, they thoughtfully plan a way through and proceed forward.

Taking in the Beauty

There is a lot of pain, sweat and tears involved in hiking any 14-er (well, except for “The Ultrarunners”). For the rest of us, there is some amount of exertion (and occasional tears) involved. And what would all that exertion be worth if not to take in the breathtaking beauty that surrounds one not only at the summit, but also along the way?

The relationship journey is full of valleys, climbs, the occasional scrambling and the days when you reach what feels like a summit together. You feel stronger for the tough times you get through, understanding each other more fully and respecting each other’s different style.

[image via buitenzorger on flickr]

About the Author:

Kristen Hick

Kristen Hick, Psy.D. is a Clinical Psychologist who specializes in the area of awakened dating and healthy relationships. She is the founder of Center for Shared Insight, a private psychotherapy practice in Denver where she and her clients focus on Individual Relationship Therapy. Dr. Hick’s expertise lies in helping individuals create healthy, meaningful, and loving relationships with others through healing, strengthening and transforming their most essential relationship, with themselves. When not helping clients fulfill their personal relationship goals, she enjoys the Colorado outdoors, capturing life through photography, practicing yoga and hopes to one day manage her first unassisted headstand. You can connect with Dr. Hick on her site, Facebook or Google+


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