Sharing The Mental Burden
There has been a lot of talk about how, in relationships, one partner usually bears more emotional or mental burden than the other. This is true whether the relationship is heterosexual or not. In heterosexual relationships, it is frequently the woman who has more emotional and mental responsibilities. There seem to be many ways to define the burdens in relationships, and what it means. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the mental load and define it as:
One partner is in charge, whether directly or indirectly, of the majority of the household organization.
Simple, right? Until you start to list all the things each partner is in charge of. I did that once a few years ago when I was feeling exceptionally frustrated and overwhelmed. Here is my incomplete list:
- Work my business
- Plan meals
- Make grocery lists
- Go grocery shopping
- Prepare meals
- Clean the bathroom
- Keep the rest of the house (relatively) clean
- And all the things that go with that
- Schedule appointments for the entire family
- Make sure everyone gets to said appointments
- Balance the checkbook and pay the bills
- Track quarterly or yearly bills
- Get kids ready for school
- Take kids to and from school
- Make sure kids do their homework and chores
- Keep kids from fighting too much
- Take kids to soccer practice
- Make sure we have team snacks on our day
- Go to work
- Perform home & car maintenance tasks
- The small things that aren’t performed by a professional
- Uh, what else does he do?
Seriously, I couldn’t think of anything else my husband did without being asked. Actually, there were many times I had to ask him repeatedly to check out something on my car before he would remember to do it. Yet when I asked him what he thought his household duties were, he responded with, “I help you anytime you ask.”
That, my friends, was my inner awakening. I realized he did not notice when the sink was full of dirty dishes or the dog’s water bowl was empty. I discovered he didn’t see the spilled coffee grounds next to the coffee maker. It’s not that he has bad vision, but his brain just didn’t tell him that he should do something about it.
Not only did I have more of the mental burden, but I also had the added burden of having to ask him for help when I needed it. I did not feel like I had a partner who could pick up the slack if I was sick or slammed with work.
Before wives everywhere raise their fists in solidarity, I want to clarify that for most of our marriage, my husband has worked out of town. We all got used to him only being home for a few days each month. I made the above list when he finally was able to get a job in our area that met all of the qualifications we needed. He was home, but not really. He didn’t know what to do or how to help because he had never been in that position before.
Whether your partner is unfamiliar with the duties of running a household or is oblivious of the uneven mental burden in your relationship, there are some things you can do to even the playing field.
First, sit down with them and have a conversation. Do not blame them for the unfair distribution of responsibilities. Explain to them how you are feeling, and maybe even make a list of all the day-to-day tasks you do. Chances are they don’t even realize how much you have taken on. Next, make a plan to begin sharing the mental load. This could be as simple as a chore chart, but technology has graced us with a couple of solutions you are probably already using.
When someone in our family has an appointment, practice, game, concert, etc. it goes on the shared calendar. We label the calendar event with the person’s name, such as: Tim – eye appointment. It took some training to get my husband to quit asking me what was going on the next day. Basically, he would ask me and I would respond with, “Did you check the calendar?” After a while, he got in the habit of looking at the calendar and then talking to me about any coordinating we needed to do.
Shared grocery lists
I cannot even explain how much relief I felt when we created a shared grocery list. We can both add things to it as we see the need and then when someone has time, they can go to the store. This might take some training, similar to the calendar, but it is doable.
Shared notes or other lists
There have been occasions that we needed to make plans but we were both too busy to sit down and talk about it. Sharing notes was the perfect solution. We could each add our thoughts to a single, dedicated note and then work out the fine details when we finally had a moment before collapsing into bed.
Ask for help
Finally, I had to learn to ask for help before I needed it, instead of waiting until I was overwhelmed and drowning in my to-do list. In general, men and woman are wired differently, whether this is instinctual or cultural. While a woman can look at a sink full of dishes and know they need to be washed, a man doesn’t even notice the dishes. (Not all men and a lot of it is a result of how they were raised, but I’m not going to get into the details of that.) I started by telling him which nights I wouldn’t be able to cook dinner due to meetings, and he responded by cooking dinner. From there, it was easy to retrain the children to ask dad about going to a friend’s house if mom is busy.
All of this started several years ago. Today? My husband and I are mostly equal regarding the mental burdens in our relationship.
Please note, this is not marital advice and I am not a counselor or therapist. I am only sharing a positive experience I had in learning how to shift the mental burden in my relationship.