A Shout Out to the Great Guys Who Share Emotional Labor & Mental Load

by | Jun 30, 2020 | Uncategorized | 23 comments

Great Guys Who Take on Mental Load and Emotional Labor
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It’s the last day of our emotional labor and mental load series!

We wrapped up the big teaching points yesterday talking about how important it is that both spouses get down time. 

And we’ve tackled a ton of things this month, including what mental load is; how to stop the nagging dynamic; and how to decide on common standards, among other things. And we’ve had podcasts explaining it, too!

One of the tricky things about talking about how exhausted many women feel with mental load is to make it clear that we’re not man bashing.

Our intention this month is not to make anyone angry at their spouse; it’s to help women (and it is mostly women, according to surveys, but in some marriages the dynamic goes the other way) articulate why they’re frustrated and exhausted, and give them ways to explain it to their spouse and find a solution together.

In the last few centuries, our society has gone under tremendous upheaval. It used to be that most families lived and worked together. They had a farm where they both worked; or they had a family business, like a store, and they tended to live above it or beside it. Dad would be around, the kids would often help dad, and the family all worked together.

When dads started going out to work and left the home, suddenly the home became the woman’s domain in a way that it hadn’t been before. We had much more stringent ideas, then, of “women’s work” and “men’s work”, and these became solidified. And because the church especially tends to see gender roles as crucial for marital harmony, these ideas of “women’s work” and “men’s work” had moral weight to them in Christian circles.

But then two things simultaneously happened: women started working outside the home, too, and life simply got more complicated. Managing the home became a bigger task than it was fifty years ago, and many women are also spending a lot of time outside the home earning a living. But the ideas of “women’s work” and “men’s work” haven’t kept up with the changes our society has gone through. And so many women are trying to do even more than their grandmothers did, at the same time as they work more. It’s no wonder so many women are exhausted!

Women’s mental load is not a problem with men as much as it is a problem with the way our whole culture sees the responsibilities of men and women.

Think about the fact that everyone assumes that women are better multitaskers, for instance. Studies have shown that this isn’t actually the case. So why do women multitask? Because they have so much to get done, often all at once. They don’t have the luxury of doing one thing at a time. But this cultural belief that women can just do it is one of the things that perpetuates our mental load problem .

So as we’re wrapping it up, I thought what I’d do today is to point us to something better.

Yes, there are a lot of women exhausted by way too much mental load. But there are also a lot of men who have fully embraced the idea of being an equal partner in the relationship.

Many men–and especially younger men–are not content to sit back and let their wives do most of the work of the household, and especially most of the work of childcare. They want to be fully involved. They want to be engaged with their kids. They want to be a team!

This is not just possible; it’s becoming normal in many Western subcultures (I would say that it’s the norm in my kids’ social circles). And if we keep speaking up, it will become normal all the more!

So I thought, to end this series, I’d highlight some of the big success stories that were left in the comments this month, and then invite you all to share your own stories of how you have a great husband who is determined to “own” mental load with you.

Let me start with a big shout out to my husband and my son-in-law Connor.

They shared last week on our Start Your Engines Men’s Podcast on how they have determined not to need lists, but to instead notice what needs to be done themselves.

(by the way, this is my all time favourite photo of the two of them, taken on a cruise a few years ago. They were each trying to perfect the “Blue Steel” look from the movie Zoolander. And this photo hangs on our wall): 

 

And now–Shoutout to the Guys who Try to Break the Stereotypes

I love this story Andrea shared yesterday:

 

One of my friends got married last year and her new husband unintentionally caused an awkward situation at her parents’ house when, after Thanksgiving dinner, he got up from the table together with his wife, her sisters, and their mom, to help with the clean-up. This made the dad uncomfortable, so he asked his new son-in-law to sit back down with him, but the new guy made the situation even worse when he responded with, “Oh, I’ll totally come sit back down with you, just as soon as I finish helping in the kitchen.” Eventually, my friend’s mom asked my friend (her daughter) to ask her new husband to stay seated after dinner and not get up to help because it just made her (mom’s) life harder if her husband (the dad) was being emasculated by his new son-in-law. So now my friend and her husband pretend to be a traditional couple when they visit her parents in order to spare her mom from dad’s post-Thanksgiving grumpiness. My friend says that her husband not helping in the kitchen actually, ironically, makes the holiday get-togethers at her parents’ house less tense and more pleasant for everyone.

Andrea

I’m sorry the story didn’t have a better ending, but at least he tried. And I feel sorry for this young woman’s mom who has put up with this her whole marriage. Generation X men–we really can do better! And Generation X women–it’s okay to ask for more.

When Guys Recognize the Importance of Teamwork:

A lot of commenters gave big shouts out to the husbands who truly were partners and jumped in with everything:

My husband has honestly been great about handling some of the daily grind tasks. He almost singlehandedly deals with our laundry, which is fine with me since he’s much picker about how towels and sheets are folded. He also does the trash on a weekly basis without being asked, and is usually the one to deal with getting and sorting the mail since he grabs it on his way home from work. We both handle bedtime currently. I usually take the baby so I can nurse her, and he gets the boys settled. We also both handle dishes as needed, which will be much easier now that we finally have an operating dishwasher again. Handwashing multiple times a day for a year and a half was wearing on both of us! He also usually takes the lead on getting lunches packed for things like our homeschool co-op day before COVID shut it down for the year, and packing for day trips. Though I usually help with that to make sure we don’t forget sunscreen, and giving feedback on how many outfits and diapers are needed per kid.

I hope this doesn’t come across as bragging, because I honestly never realized until this series how good I’ve got it in the emotional labor area. I guess I just kind of assumed that both of us handling household responsibilities is how it was supposed to work. I do wonder if one factor in my relationship is that I did marry later than many in the Christian community do, and my husband was already a homeowner who was used to handling the entirety of household tasks on his own (aside from cooking, since he just usually grabbed prepackaged stuff or fast food.) So he was already accustomed to seeing what needed to be done and handling it without being asked.

Becky

My husband lived with housemates for 10 years before we got married. He cooked dinner twice a week and shared a chore roster with his housemates. He NEVER had the mindset that housework was my responsibility or that he needed to “help” me keep the house. He notices when laundry needs to be done and throws a load in. He folds more laundry than I do, and always empties the dishwasher and takes out the trash. When we had our first kid, the rule was that I was responsible for input (feeding) and he was responsible for output (diapers) — and I had also had a pretty traumatic emergency c-section after being VERY sick, so he had to take on more child-caring tasks than I think a lot of dads end up doing, and that persists to this day. I can count on my fingers the number of times in almost three years that I’ve given our son a bath or put him to bed solo. We do post-dinner cleanup together, always.

Reading this series has given me such a deep appreciation for him

Laura

Then there are the guys who truly “own” their areas of responsibility: 

This series has been so helpful for me – in learning to be grateful for my husband!

We have our problems (I found your blog for a reason haha) but dividing tasks is something we have always done naturally. We both came from very traditional households where dad brought home the bacon and mom did everything (and I mean everything) else. I guess we both subconsciously knew we wanted something different.

He would never think to do a load of laundry, bathe the kids or pack their lunches, arrange carpools/play dates/drs appointments or vacuum floors. But he does all the cooking! And the bills. Light bulb or batteries need to be changed? The kids know to talk to dad. Pet food is low? His problem! Of course we can ask each other for help but he truly OWNS so many takes. And we share a google calendar so if one of us wants to make plans for a day the other person has something already on the calendar, cool. But it is up to the spouse scheduling over the other’s plans to find childcare.

Jenna

We always have room for growth!

And finally, I wanted to share one of the emails that touched me the most this month. It wasn’t only about this series, but it touched on it. And this one was from a guy:

On Monday I finished listening to your podcast on “Marital Rape, Consent, and Obligation Sex”.

It was a very sobering podcast for me because after some reflection I realized that much of the time in our marriage, to use Rebecca’s term, I’ve been a “pig”. That is not an easy thing to admit but I can now connect what was communicated to what my wife hasn’t been able to explain all these years (we’ve raised several children who are now adults).

It’s not that I’m into porn, or abuse or anything like that but I don’t think I understood the weight of being disappointed/frustrated/angry if my wife said “no”. I’d honor the “no” but not with grace and understanding. I also didn’t understand the emotional weight of tracking all the things in the house. I’ve always been good about helping around the house (cleaning up dinner, making the bed, etc) but not really taking the emotional weight off her shoulders. This of course is very selfish which is another hard thing to grapple with; admitting I am more selfish than I thought:)

We both love each other very much, are working through things and see hope for the future; and in reality God has been incredibly faithful and our married life is not all doom and gloom:) We’ve had great times together and look forward to more in the future.

So I just wanted to say thanks for loving Jesus, being passionate about the topics and message God has called you to communicate, not pulling any punches and giving voice to emotions and feelings that, sometimes, our wives can’t express themselves (or at least not in a way that we guys can understand).

G,

I love the humility in that email, and I hope that’s what we all can have. I’ve seen it so much in some of the male commenters on our site this month, too, and in some women who realize they have put too much on their husbands’ shoulders. So thank you!

We all have blind spots in our marriage (and I’ve shared many of my own with you, and Keith regularly shares his, too!). We all have room for growth. And I hope that when we read things that make us uncomfortable, our first reaction won’t be to just dismiss it out of hand, but instead to honestly ask: “Is this something I need to improve in?” And if it is–then let’s work at it!

We don’t have to be perfect. We just have to be moving in the right direction.

In my marriage with Keith, if something is bothering him, that should matter to me (although I’m not always the best at hearing it at first). We should listen to each other’s frustrations. And I hope that we can all grow!

Anybody else have some bragging they want to do? Or anything else they’ve learned this series? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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23 Comments

  1. Nathan

    I would hope that nobody interprets what goes on here as man-bashing. I’ve never gotten that from this site. While this site tends to be more woman-oriented, men can benefit, too. I know I have.
    My guess, though, is that the biggest challenge may be getting husbands to understand that the mental load can often be more stressful than the physical labor. I’ve been guilty of “tell me what to do and I’ll do it” more than once. I try to be more pro active that those areas.

    Reply
  2. Nathan

    And the discussion of men’s work vs women’s work is interesting.
    In one of my favorite children’s books, the main character wanders around the kingdom, learning various trades from people. Farming, shepherding, blacksmithing, pottery and finally weaving. He looks at the loom and says “weaving? That’s WOMEN’S work!”. The weaver woman smiled and said “I’ve heard of men complaining of doing women’s work, and women complaining of doing men’s work, but I never heard the WORK complain about who did it as long as it got done”.
    And in still another story, there was a remote village that wasn’t under the control of any larger kingdom. They were lead by a men’s council and a women’s circle. The men’s council was in charge of “men’s business” and the women’s circle was in charge of “women’s business”. That sounds great, except that the two groups were always arguing over what constituted each type of business

    Reply
  3. Kya

    Dividing the load has always come very naturally to my husband and me (we are older millennials), but this series has helped me put into words the dynamic that I see in so many other marriages. I have sent the link for this series to several friends because the way you describe the problem and the solutions is just so good!
    My husband always teases me about reading this blog and others and asks, “Have you told all these people how great your husband is yet?” So now I guess I should 🙂 We both work full time and have a toddler. My husband does ALL the cooking–meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, all of it. And he is an AMAZING cook. When we go to church potlucks the women always compliment me on the food, even though I’ve been telling them for years now that I never make it. After supper one of us always asks, “Do you want to clean up or put the kid to bed?” and usually the parent who has been working later and seeing the kid less that week takes bedtime. He is just as good at getting kidlet dressed and ready in the morning as I am, and he treats watching her as a joy. The rest of the housework is divided along pretty traditional lines (he does bills, yard work, car work, and I do laundry and cleaning), but that is because I’m more of a neat freak than he is. He tries to do the vacuuming as often as possible because he knows it’s my least favorite task, and he has been trying since the birth of our daughter to get me to take more time for myself. I’m oddly resistant to it, but he’s gotten creative about his tactics and had some success 🙂 I never feel that I am the only one working, or that I am pulling the weight of our household alone. He is such a gift to me.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That is so lovely, Kya! I hope that we can raise a generation that will aspire to this.

      Reply
  4. Susanna Musser

    I haven’t been following the posts in this series closely, because our marriage has come so far in this area that I have turned my attention to other things this month. However, I do want to add this thought if it hasn’t already been addressed. My marriage was so far from being equitable and mutual that for most of it, I would have quit reading this blog in hopelessness that things would ever change for the better, not wanting to create resentment in myself at seeing solutions that were out of reach for me. UNTIL I learned about boundaries, what they were, how to set them, how to hold them. As Dr. Henry Cloud explains, some narcissists will not change and some will. But no narcissist will change without strong boundaries set for them. We have to transfer the pain of their behavior back onto them, and setting boundaries is how to do that. Some wives may be where I was for two dozen years, feeling hopeless knowing that broaching the subject of mental load (or any other desperately-needed changes) very gently and gingerly with my husband would cause huge, stressful pushback and conflict and make things even worse.
    Some of us have to start with boundaries.

    Reply
  5. Ina

    The more I read this, the more grateful I am for parents that always operated in a respectful, egalitarian manner even though we were apart of some overwhelmingly strict complementarian leaning communities. My husband was also raised in these type of churches and his parents had a very unhealthy marriage. I’m so grateful that he recognized the dynamic for what it was and rejected it. As I look around, I really believe that our generation is changing the tide. At least, I choose to hope so.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I like to believe that it is, too! When I look at the teens that my kids knew in youth group, so many are trying to find healthier expressions of the body of Christ than very legalistic churches.

      Reply
  6. Nathan

    > > part of some overwhelmingly strict complementarian leaning communities.
    This sadly tends to propagate itself. My wife’s sister’s husband is a very good guy, but he was raised by parents where dad went out and worked, and did NOTHING ELSE. His mom did everything around the home. He’s improved on that a bit, and hopefully his own son and daughter will continue the trend

    Reply
  7. Jess

    I have read every post in this series and wanted to comment a bunch and just could never figure a way to put my thoughts down concisely. But I did want to say that people who are willing to change can change. It will likely be difficult and need to be taken day by day but I wanted to encourage those that feel stuck that it is possible.
    Background…my husband was raised in a very “traditional” house….dad worked and mom was stereotypical housewife (cooks 3 meals a day, does all of the cleaning, waits on her husband hand and foot). I have depression which manifests itself in sometimes debilitating fatigue, general feelings of unwellness, and lots of guilt about not being able to accomplish what I wish I could in any given day. We also have 4 kids ranging in age from 7 to 1. Oh and my husband’s love language is acts of service (go figure with a mom like his).
    Early in our marriage, this was a combination for disaster. I have journal entries from the first few years of our marriage talking about how unloved I felt, how I felt like the only thing I was good for was sex and maid services. My husband is a wonderful, loving, compassionate, caring man but early on, his expectations of what a wife should be were way off and my levels of resentment and guilt were high and my self-worth was very low.
    One day, my husband was talking to a wise friend of his whose wife also has depression and his friend said, “I realized that I could keep being mad that my wife couldn’t do everything I expected her to do and make her feel worthless and guilty over something she can’t control, or I could just love her well and do whatever I wanted done myself.” This wasn’t done in a resentful or bitter way. It was done out of love.
    After that, my husband gradually started to change. He always expresses gratitude for the things (however small) I do accomplish in a day, and whatever I don’t get done, he does. I still constantly feel guilty that I can’t do more, but it is not my husband bringing on the guilt, it’s me. He always reassures me he loves me for me and he doesn’t mind picking up more of the load.
    I had a breakdown a few years back and told him I was taking a month off from cooking dinner….he could cook or I would order take out. I was just totally overwhelmed and needed something off my plate. He cooked dinner for the whole month and has cooked probably 80% of nights since. He says, “If cooking dinner is the thing that pushes you past your limit each night, why wouldn’t I just do it? I want you to be happy and healthy and I am perfectly capable and willing to cook and I don’t mind doing it.”
    He loves me so well and now, 10 years into our marriage, we have the strongest, closest, and most loving relationship of anyone I know. Words cannot express the gratitude I have for him and that he was willing to listen to all of my guilt and insecurities and be open to change…to see that our relationship doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) look like his parent’s marriage. That he loves me now with such a model of Christ’s love…sacrificial, servant-hearted, selfless, free from guilt-heaping.
    This ended up being way longer than I intended (sorry!) but I just wanted to encourage anyone out there reading thinking things will never get better (as I did in those first few years), that things really can and do change when you openly communicate and both spouses are willing to listen and change for the better!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s amazing, Jess! Don’t apologize for it being long! What a great story. And what a GODLY story. Your husband just decided to love you rather than try to change you, and that is just simply beautiful.

      Reply
      • Jess

        Yes, he truly is such a godly man and I am so grateful to God every day for the change he continues to produce in both of our hearts to draw us closer to Him and to each other. My husband is truly the best man I have ever know.

        Reply
  8. Lindsey

    Just a short note to say that after reading and discussing some of this series, we were preparing for a camping trip and my husband began to clean out our cooler unprompted. I thanked him, and he said “no problem, I don’t want you to be the one who had to think of everything on your own.”
    I love it when we read something, discuss it, decide that it’s ideal and then I see him follow through! That’s how I know I got a good one!
    None of us can understand what life is like from our spouses perspective, but kudos to all the spouses out there trying to understand as best as they can!

    Reply
  9. Samantha

    My husband is a gem! We have been married for a year and he just keeps surprising me with his thoughtfulness and efforts to make sure I am loved in every way.
    My dad was of the mindset that there was “woman’s” work and didn’t help with anything.
    I just assumed I’d marry someone and assume the role of housewife like my mom did.
    After meeting my husband I was shocked when he offered to clean up after supper, help bring in groceries, and other jobs I didn’t think men did (or could do).
    Most women I know don’t have what I do, so I don’t get to share it often. I want to brag on him because he loves me so very well and is a wonderful Christian man, but I get a lot of women wishing their husband was that way or men giving my husband a hard time because he’s “making them look bad”.
    I tell him how much I appreciate him and tell others from time to time depending on who is the listening ear.
    Your blog has helped me gain so much perspective after growing up in a legalistic background, thank you for your hard work and perseverance in getting your messages across!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s awesome, Samantha! I’m glad you bragged. 🙂 And I’m glad my blog has helped you!

      Reply
  10. Bill

    Thanks for this and also the great comments people have made.
    My wife struggles with a lot of emotional and “invisible health” issues and so, like the comments Jess makes above, I have taken on a lot of the emotional labor and household tasks in our marriage – for example, I do all the cooking and cleaning even though I’m the one with a full time job. Though it can be challenging at times, in the end I am happy to do this as a sacrifice for her.
    The hard part is how invisible it feels. It makes me feel different from “typical” guys and it’s hard to talk about it without sounding like I am complaining about my wife .
    A lot of Christian men’s ministry means nothing to me because it feels only directed at guys in a ‘standard’ marriage where the wife does the bulk of the emotional and household labor and the focus is to encourage the guys to step up a tiny bit. That’s obviously important, but I think there could be an overhaul to recognize and encourage the wider range out there.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sorry, Bill. That must be very frustrating. I do find that the gender stereotypes in so many Christian ministries are profoundly unhelpful.
      And thanks for stepping up to the plate and doing so much to support your wife! That is very encouraging to see.

      Reply
  11. Chris

    There are great men out there for sure! My wife’s husband is the best man I have ever met! 😊

    Reply
  12. Rebekah

    I definitely got a good one. Part of it is that his dad passed away when he was 12, so being raised for a few years by a single mom (he’s the oldest kid) meant he learned young to pull weight in a household. So he’s never had trouble with doing the work, but we definitely had some discussions about what particular thing would help me the most at various times (like if he’s tackling laundry but the kitchen is a mess and we’re getting close to meal prep time). We were given a marriage book when we were married where the author talks about not painting the house when your wife would really prefer a new kitchen floor (or something along those lines). So key words/phrases can really help take any frustration out of trying to communicate. Just saying ‘kitchen floor’ brings the book to mind. I’ve also gotten better about being gentle (or humorous!) about redirecting when I have the mental energy to communicate more fully.
    We also kick each other out of the house for a day now and then when one of us is getting frazzled. He understands that if the kids and I are in the same place, a section of my brain is in mom mode. So while a couple hours on a computer game now and then help him chill, he knows I need to be not in the same location as our minions!

    Reply
  13. Lisa

    It has taken us decades to get to where we are now, in our marriage. Right now, I am far away with one of our five children and he is at home with the other four. He is telling me how exhausted he is. I am still helping with some things I can do remotely. I am calling and doing a lot of the listening/parental therapy for our oldest teen. I am reminding the kid who needs to take medication to take it every single morning. I am ordering some of the things that need to be delivered. But he is finally experiencing the unrelenting, never ending, soul-sucking nature of the fact that people need to be fed, multiple times a day, every day, forever and ever and ever. And he is finally understanding that his former advice about chores, “just have the kids do it,” isn’t a method that makes life easier. Yes, children need to do chores every day. But it’s actually MORE work because you have to stay on top of them, all the time, or they slack off. And it sucks the life out of you to tell someone for the hundredth time to pick up their garbage that shouldn’t even be in the living room because food stays in the kitchen.
    He’s starting to get it.

    Reply

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