Emotional labor: who bears the brunt in your relationship?

Think about your household for a moment: which adult is usually responsible for planning meals, arranging for home repairs and maintenance, scheduling family events, organizing playdates, knowing where everything is, coordinating after-school activities, remembering birthdays and other special dates, buying gifts, sending cards, scheduling and remembering appointments, and reminding everyone in the house to stay on top of chores? In many cases, there is one person who ends up doing the bulk of all the organizing and scheduling that’s required to keep a household running efficiently.

These tasks fall under a category often called “emotional labor,” so named because it puts an additional mental load on the person responsible for taking care of these things. This extra, unpaid work keeps others in the household happy and organized—but the work often goes unseen, and therefore the scope of the burden this additional work puts on the person responsible for it often goes unnoticed too.

This uneven distribution of invisible management tasks—and the lack of appreciation for all that work entails—can sometimes lead to tensions and resentment.

What can you do to change this dynamic?

  1. Speak up. When you’re both relaxed and have the time to discuss it, let your partner know that you’re feeling overwhelmed by the additional thinking and planning you’re responsible for. They may not even realize the amount of extra work you’re actually doing each week, or how much being responsible for all of it is wearing you out.
  2. Delegate. Sit down together and determine how you can divide up the list of tasks in a way that eases some of your burden. Remind your partner that it can’t be your responsibility to police this arrangement either—that simply adds another job to your list.
  3. Let go. When you’re the one who has been in control of the running and management of the household an everyone in it, it can be hard to let go of the reigns—even when you’re exhausted from holding onto them for so long. Accept that giving up some control means things might not happen exactly the way they used to when you were organizing them. Resist the temptation to swoop in and “do it right” by reminding yourself of the benefits of letting go: you have fewer daily tasks to worry about and more free time to devote to self-care.
  4. Re-visit. Agree to revisit the arrangement once each week to make sure that everything is working as planned. This is your time to voice any concerns about tasks that may have quietly made their way back to you, and to praise and thank your partner for picking up the slack and making your burden a little lighter in the process.
  5. Reconnect. If the tension caused by this issue has made you feel a little distant, make an effort to reconnect by doing things you used to enjoy together, or having a special date night. Just make sure you plan it together!

For more tips on how to divide up household responsibilities so that one person isn’t overwhelmed with responsibility, visit Very Well Mind.

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