The “daily grind” tasks are the ones that often build the most resentment in a marriage.
We’re in the middle of our series about mental load in marriage and sharing the emotional labor. We talked first about what those terms mean, and then showed how the book Fair Play by Eve Rodsky (full disclosure: it’s not Christian and has questionable language) shows us a way through the haze so that we can find solutions. We looked at how to set standards for what needs to be done.
Then last week we talked about how we can eliminate nagging in marriage by “owning” different tasks so that people don’t need reminders.
Before we jump in today, I want to give a shoutout to my “Sheila’s Spotlight” affiliate product–Good Pictures, Bad Pictures, an awesome book you can use to explain to your kids the dangers of pornography, so that they’ll know what to do if they ever see it or are shown it. There’s a Good Pictures, Bad Pictures Jr. for young kids, and Good Pictures, Bad Pictures for kids 9-12. I’m so impressed with these books!
Today I want to talk about the types of tasks that often sap the most energy. When only one person does these tasks, even if the other does a ton of other work for the family, it can feel very unbalanced. Here’s Eve explaining the problem:
Research into the gendered division of labor shows that men more willingly take the domestic work that they can perform on their own time, while women pick up responsibilities that are difficult to put off or reschedule and inherently forfeit their right to choose when the tasks get done.
I call these immovable tasks the Daily Grinds and—big surprise—they disproportionately fall on women. On any given day, there are 30 of these time-sucking jobs that must be done regularly, repetitively, and many at a very specific time.
What are the daily grind tasks?
Rodsky found about 30 of them, and they’re all things that need to be done at specific times–or at least daily or very regularly. Here are just a few:
- Taking the garbage out
- Doing the laundry
- Making breakfast for the kids
- Supervising homework
- Organizing the bathtime/nighttime routine
- Monitoring kids’ screen time
- Providing middle-of-the-night comfort
- Driving kids to play-dates
- Opening the mail
- Tidying up
Now, looking through her card system (which you can read all about in our post on the Fair Play system), you can likely eliminate half of them if you don’t have kids at home, but even so–daily grinds are numerous.
And they add up.
Daily grind tasks can’t be done at your own schedule; so they’re the most inconvenient
You can balance the budget whenever it works out for you. You can choose to cut the lawn on Friday night or on Sunday afternoon or, if it doesn’t get done, you can leave it until the following Wednesday and just endure the looks from the retired neighbors.
But homework needs to get done every night. Dishes need to be washed. Meals need to be cooked. Lunches need to be packed. Kids need to be bathed and dressed.
The person doing the daily grind tasks can’t take time off or time away in the same manner as the person who isn’t doing the daily grind tasks.
When one spouse is making dinner while watching the toddlers, and another spouse is watching TV or playing a video game, even if that spouse does a lot around the house, it can lead to a lot of resentment. If one spouse gets to sit down when they want and work when they want (with the exception of paid work, which obviously must be done on schedule), then one spouse can feel as if they don’t have free time in the same way, even if their schedules are balanced.
The freedom to do things on your own time is an incredible freedom that many take for granted, while the other spouse just dreams about the luxury.
Taking just a few daily grind tasks does free up your spouse to feel as if they can sit down on their own time, at least some of the time.
Rebecca’s husband Connor and Joanna’s husband Josiah (both my daughter Rebecca and Joanna co-authored our upcoming The Great Sex Rescue with me) are responsible for bath time for the babies. They couldn’t breast feed, obviously, but they started bathtime early, which is actually super fun as a dad, because it’s often in the bath when the babies start doing interesting things–splashing deliberately for the first time; smiling; showing personality. And it frees up mom every evening to have a bit of time to herself.
Stay-at-home parents still need help with daily grind tasks
Just because one person takes on most of the paid work duties and one spouse takes on most of the home duties does not mean that only one spouse should do all of the daily grind activities. Certainly working outside the home can be exhausting, and you definitely do need some down time. But being home 24×7 with children is also exhausting, and what both people need is time that they feel is truly their own.
If only one person does the daily grind tasks, then that person truly gets so little actual down time. Daily grinds must be done constantly, all the time. They can’t be left undone. If only one person does them, that person will feel exhausted all the time–not because their work is necessarily harder than the others or even in greater quantity than the other person’s work. It’s simply because when you can’t choose the time to do your work, then you never “own” your time. You’re never truly “off”. And that’s emotionally exhausting.
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And, as I’ve said in this whole series, it’s the #1 cause for women’s low libido.
When women feel exhausted and that there is too much on their plate, they can’t get rid of all of the things going on in their heads long enough to get in the mood for anything. I talked about this in module 4 of my Boost Your Libido course–you need to find ways to have some time to yourself. Guys, if you want your wife to be more in the mood, it isn’t so much about doing more housework. It’s about taking the mental load of some specific tasks completely off of her plate.
Are you TIRED of always being too tired for sex?
Both parents need to feel as if they can step in and care for the kids
Many of those daily grind tasks are all about childcare, and BOTH parents need to be involved in childcare. Childcare is not housework; childcare is relationship building. Kids need both parents, and they need both parents on a regular basis.
And stay-at-home parents need to feel as if they could leave their kids with the other parent for a day, for a weekend, or for a week if they ever had to.
They need to know that the other parent is capable of feeding the kids well, of doing the laundry, of supervising homework, of dressing them. When you feel as if you can’t count on your spouse to parent the kids, it’s actually quite demoralizing. It feels as if you’re not really a team. And if you feel as if your spouse isn’t capable of stepping in, then it’s easy to see your spouse as “less than”. It’s really hard to feel sexy towards someone who isn’t capable of looking after their own kids.
The person doing the daily grind tasks tends to be seen as the “not fun parent”
What do kids dislike the most? Being told they have to do something RIGHT NOW–especially when that thing is something they don’t want to do.
So whichever parent is in charge of making sure kids clean up, or dressing the kids, or supervising homework–that’s the parent who is going to do the most “directing” of kids’ behavior, vs. just interacting and playing with the kids. That’s the parent that will feel as if they’re always put in the role of “bad guy”.
Let’s revisit Sandra and Mike from our first post.
The Saturday Homework Fight
(continued from the first Mental Load post)
When Sandra comes home from being out in the morning, and starts ordering Brian to begin his Science Fair project, and getting Janie to practice piano, the kids start complaining and whining. Mark comes in from mowing the grass, and sees that his kids, who were so happy after their morning outing, are now in despair. He spent all of this time having fun with the kids, and now the fun is being ruined.
“Honey, they’re just having a fun day. Let’s just leave them. They can do it all later.”
“When, Mark?” Sandra snaps. “When exactly can they do it?”
And she starts laying out the family’s schedule over the weekend, so that Mark will realize that “later” isn’t an answer. Brian is at a birthday party until bedtime tonight. On Sunday, they have church and then the annual church picnic afterwards. They won’t be home until 3:00. And the science project is due on Monday. Sandra and Mark are scheduled to go a fundraising dinner tomorrow night, so the baby-sitter is coming at 5. When, exactly, is Brian supposed to get this done if he doesn’t start now? And is the baby-sitter going to properly supervise Janie to practice piano tomorrow night?
But because Mark doesn’t have the family’s calendar in his head the way that Sandra does, he doesn’t understand how urgent the homework was. He feels as if she’s overreacting and wrecking their fun weekend, while Sandra feels as if Mark doesn’t take this stuff seriously, and always makes her into the bad guy.
How do you get around this?
Let Mark own the homework card or the piano card so that remembering these things and scheduling these things isn’t Sandra’s responsibility. And that’s what Rodsky recommends in Fair Play: it’s not that you have to split the 30 daily grind cards 50/50. You just have to each own some:
One person cannot hold all the cards, even in a marriage where one partner does not work outside the home. Both players hold the adult friendships, self-care, and Unicorn Space cards plus, at a minimum, each partner must hold a fair share of Daily Grind cards, preferably one from each suit.
If each of you holds at least 6 daily grind cards, then marriage will go a lot better. We just each need to feel as if the other is capable of doing the things that make a home run smoothly, and that each is handling some of these so the other can sit down once in a while.
When I asked women what makes the biggest difference in their marital satisfaction, they said that it depends far less on whether tasks are split 50/ 50 in the household, and far more on whether their partners perform full Conception, Planning, and Execution of those cards in their hands with competence and care.
Just share the daily grind load, and you’ll both feel more like a team!
What do you think? Which daily grind tasks does your spouse do? Or do you do them all? Let’s talk in the comments!
Posts Coming in the Mental Load Series:
- How Emotional Labor Series: How Mental Load Affects Marriage
- The Fair Play Solution: Conception, Planning, Execution
- The Emotional Labor Series: How Do We Decide Our Standards?
- The Emotional Labor Series: How to Eliminate Nagging for Good
- The Emotional Labor Series: Why The Daily Grind Needs to Be Shared
- The Emotional Labor Series: Why Everyone Needs Time to Themselves (June 29)
- PODCAST: What is Emotional Labor?
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of Bare Marriage
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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.
Yay! No, brag away, Becky! I think it’s also important for people to see that many men are totally stepping up to the plate, and are totally owning their part of parenting/housework. This isn’t a universal thing. So it’s okay to say that many guys are amazing!
I never really thought of it like this. Daily grind is the most exhausting, but I also think that a lot of working spouses – especially those who work in labor intense jobs without traditional “working hours” also feel this lack of owning their time. A 12 hour construction shift in 100+ degree weather isn’t going to leave a body feeling like it can do anything bust eat and crash into bed to start again tomorrow – if you’re lucky you’ll muster the strength to get your kids put to bed. That might be the only task. Sometimes you won’t be home when they go to bed. My dad did this, and my husband currently experiences it as well. Hopefully that will change soon if I can find a job.
I definitely do more of the daily grind tasks than my husband, but I’m still the fun parent. I think it’s because I’m the person who places the highest value on fun – even when it adds a lot of extra burden to my plate.
Plus, the kids all seem to respond better to my ordering them about than they do with my husband. He is much more likely to provoke an emotional reaction in the children, especially the girls, as he has less naturally empathy and tact – whether from gender or personality I couldn’t say. However, they normally argue less with him. 🤔
I hear you, Lindsey. When Keith was in residency, he was often on for 36 hours and then off for 12, and those 36 hours he had maybe 3 hours of sleep if he was lucky. And that went on and on and on (they’ve changed the rules now and they can’t work residents that hard anymore, but at the time, that’s what it was). But he still did the bedtime routine. He just needed that regular time with the kids, because they needed him, too. I do think it’s important to have regular time with children. That can’t really be delegated to only weekends or vacations, no matter the job. But you may not be able to do much else!
Oh, I hated that aspect of my husband’s residency!
He did spend time with our oldest whenever he was home, but the fact that I couldn’t ever count on him being available and had to factor in that he needed adequate sleep was hard. The only time that really changed was time that I was put on bedrest while pregnant with baby #2, and there was literally no choice.
Otherwise, though, I knew that I needed to do the daycare runs, the meals, the bedtime routine and night care, and getting any sort of extra time was next to impossible even when I was working my own high-stress job.
Looking back, I’m not sure what we could have done differently. The one thing that comes to mind would have been to maybe make at least some of the nights his to do the bedtime routine, so he was more aware of what was involved, and to at least insist that we both cooperate with some ground rules around bedtime. We had a small apartment and she slept in a solarium instead of a true bedroom, so light and noise from other rooms bothered her and often woke her up as she was drifting off – and that often came from my husband being on the phone with colleagues.
These days, I get that complaint from my clients who are sharing parenting with their ex. If one has shift work or frequently asks to change the schedule, the other will often have complaints because they are unable to make their own plans.
Yep. It really was tough! I think we were able to handle it because there was an end date in sight. I couldn’t have done it in perpetuity.
And I am glad that he did the bedtime routine so much! Even though he worked a lot, the kids really were attached to him.
When I was growing up, my father was the daily grind parent and my mother (whom we saw on weekends) was the fun parent. This was in addition to his very stressful job. Of course, when we got older, we understood that we needed to be driven to school, dressed, fed, taken to sports, taught how to do basic tasks, etc.
Got to say, if you’re acting like divorced parents (regardless of which parent is the “fun” parent), you’re probably doing it wrong.
Love that way of summing it up, Jane! Exactly. And, like you said, it can go both ways. Sometimes it’s the wife who checks out. But it does need to change.
“If only one person does the daily grind tasks, then that person truly gets so little actual down time. Daily grinds must be done constantly, all the time. They can’t be left undone. If only one person does them, that person will feel exhausted all the time–not because their work is necessarily harder than the others or even in greater quantity than the other person’s work. It’s simply because when you can’t choose the time to do your work, then you never “own” your time. You’re never truly “off”. And that’s emotionally exhausting.”
THIS is what I have never been able to explain. When the kids were young my husband used to tell me I needed to have a hobby like he did, and I didn’t know how to explain what I really needed was a true break. My husband was also very sick with Lyme disease the first few years of our first child’s life and I think we set up a very imbalanced relationship. It’s been over a decade and things are getting better but it’s nice to have the series to articulate and confirm what I felt all these years.
I’m glad it’s been helpful, Sara! And the thing about the daily grind, too, is that you can never truly be “off” if, by being “off”, you have more work later and it would have been easier if you hadn’t been “off”. That’s why it really does need to be shared. I think it just comes down to being engaged in the home like you are at work.
Until this series, I never really realized that the mental load was as hard or harder than the physical load.
I’v often been guilty of “tell me what to do and I’ll do it” myself. I try to take the initiative these days.
A good example is trash. Some might say “Yes,I take out the garbage”, but only when the wife takes the bag out of the can, puts a new bag in, ties up the old one, puts it by the back door, then tells the husband to take it out.
That’s so awesome, Nathan! I love that.
Yes, it’s definitely that feeling that you have to remember everything, and you can never truly relax. When you have a totally engaged spouse, it takes so much off of your shoulders, even if they only actually do a small percentage of the actual housework.
It’s like, men may think the magic words are, “Whatever you want is fine with me, honey,” But for many women that’s the last thing they want to hear. They want men to invest, too, so it’s not all on their shoulders.
Sheila you said
“It’s like, men may think the magic words are, “Whatever you want is fine with me, honey,” But for many women that’s the last thing they want to hear. They want men to invest, too, so it’s not all on their shoulders.”
Yes this is so true!
Imagine at work people just saying “whatever you want” to coworkers forcing them into the project manager role. Or coworkers constantly waiting to be told what to do rather than taking ownership of tasks.
This is WONDERFUL to read.
You have a great understanding . You’ve made the connection of all the behind the scene work that happens before the main event. An example on my end is that for random chores around the house such as trash my husband will tell me to set a reminder on my phone. I think “um you have a phone too”. For tasks that he does, why do I have to take the extra mental step to to put it into my phone. But to not start a fight I just bite my tongue and do it.
One of the things I liked about Fair Play is that Eve Rodsky used her business background to recognize that much of our household especially after kids is really like running a small business operation.
The answer is a system that recognizes that for most couples it REQUIRES a system that has a business like approach to manage the household and family “business.”
Imagine running a business where tasks aren’t defined and owned clearly. Some of us have had those kind of jobs and experienced the resulting dysfunction, inefficiency and morale problems.
Or those dreaded group projects at school where everyone is supposed to be working in partnership but because clear tasks and ownership is not there inevitably there is one or more person who do less than a fair share of the work.
The more we can treat this as a home business needing structure the easier to it is solve the problem and have more time and energy for fun and focus on building relationships rather than fighting over the trash or supervising homework.
It made a huge difference for our marriage and family to add more of a “taking care of business” model.
There are some couples where there is a partnership mentality about mental load/home business mgt built into the relationship.
But it’s important to recognize to correctly diagnose the problem that studies consistently show these are NOT the majority of relationships. There are several reasons for that. How you correct the problem depends on the reasons it is caused.
If it’s just general lack of knowledge of what needs to be done that’s easier to fix with some learning curve.
If it’s too much Gatekeeping by the wife (we must fold the towels in THIS random way) that’s a little tougher because it’s often about harder to change scripts about right and wrong ways to do x and loosen standards (in reasonable) ways.
If it’s about the husband getting defensive about control (if I let her tell me how to fold the towels where does it end for me to be henpecked?) that’s harder to change too because it requires a big shift in boundaries.
If it’s about the husband not caring that his cares that’s an even bigger problem about the relationship itself.
If it’s about the wife after years of frustration having contempt for her husband that’s again a big problem about the relationship itself.
I had all of the above problems and more. It took a lot of learning to correctly diagnose and treat the problems appropriately.
This is usually NOT an easy fix for most couples if it’s ongoing however it is usually fixable with the right efforts if there is a will by both people.
If it’s about the husband not caring that *SHE cares that’s an even bigger problem about the relationship itself.
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.
I had a friend growing up whose dad did the grocery shopping and mom did the cooking. Dad would request a certain dinner and the mom would say “if I have the ingredients I will make it for you!” She didn’t make the grocery lists; dad knew if he wanted something he had better know the ingredients! I loved that.
Thank you for addressing this Sheila! I can see how our marriage was able to survive for all those years before learning to thrive thanks to things I have learned from your blog!
I love that, Jenna! That’s so wonderful to hear. I want to do a post at the end of the series with a shout out to all the great guys out there, because there are a LOT.
Shameless brag post:
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.
I LOVE this, LauraGrace! As someone who also had a complicated delivery, I love hearing stories about husbands who rose to the challenge of having to take on more than their expected share like champions. Examples like this are so important so we can see what is possible and should be expected of each other. 🙂
That’s so awesome, Laura!
Really interested to hear from anyone else who has a spouse with mental health struggles. My husband has anxiety and depression, which flare up fairly regularly even with treatment, as well as a physically demanding job. Probably about 2/3 of the time he can equally shoulder the daily grind stuff, but the other 1/3 I find myself having to handle EVERYTHING and feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Usually I deal with it by reminding myself it’s not his fault and it’s just a chronic illness like any other, but sometimes I just can’t any more between trying to take care of our daughter AND the house AND my own job AND him at the same time. And what overwhelms me is the daily grind stuff because he neglects his portion of it when he starts to spiral so it’s not like it’s just a one-day ordeal. And I have my own chronic illness to deal with and sometimes I’m out of spoons too, you know?
My husband was struggling with mental health issues when our oldest was born. As much joy as my firstborn brought/brings, that was a really, REALLY rough period in our marriage. I’m sorry to hear you’re going through this.
Even in retrospect, I’m not sure this is the “right,” answer, but I tried to focus on health and safety issues and just let go of the rest. Clean dishes, clean laundry, healthy-ish meals (there are diet-related health problems in our family history, so trying to instill good habits young). The yard went to pot. I didn’t dust or iron for a year. Toilets started growing mold on more than one occasion before I could get to them.
This series has been really helpful to me personally, and my husband and I will be having some conversations about it once the Rodsky book arrives in the mail. But I think he is in a much better place now mental-health wise to have those conversations than he would have been back then.
I have a spouse with chronic physical and mental health issues and the only thing I can suggest is keep your life as simple as you possibly can. Maybe don’t have more kids. Don’t live somewhere high maintenance. Don’t get pets. Don’t sign up for stuff. Find a church that is OK with you just showing up when you can instead of guilting you for not volunteering. In the good times it might feel doable but use that time to prepare/regroup for bad times, not to add stuff to your life.
Honestly I hate these discussions on sharing the load because there really is very little I can ethically do at this point to make my life manageable and my husband wants to do more but he is already doing all he can. And I’m wondering every day is this the day it’s too much and I can’t do it any more. People sometimes are like “ask for help” but they don’t get that help is one more thing to manage and I simply can’t process any more.
I think that’s great advice, Eliza. Make everything as simple as you can. Even cook 3 meals, and make them big ones, so you have leftovers 3 times a week and then you order in once or something. Make the same thing for breakfasts and lunches, or choose 3 things and rotate. But keep things as simple as possible, so you have to make as few decisions as possible.
My problem with the co-parenting thing is that, he is still clueless about caring for a child. I grew up in a big family and babysat for years. He used to babysit a 7yr old special needs cousin for a few hrs. And he’s not thrilled about taking care of her. Mainly because she screamed when I was out of sight. She is now ok with him, but he still has never really been alone and in charge longer than 3 hrs. I was afraid that his learning curve might hurt my baby. So I’ve been trying to get him to parent her, and feel like he’s not going to just leave her crying for hrs.
For chores, he took over dishes and has done a reasonable job! That helps!
So I’m trying to find ways to help my wife (and at the same time help me) and I stumbled across this podcast series about a week ago. It has definitely helped me to understand why she keeps saying she’s tired even though I’m up an hour or more before her every day.
We listened to Start Your Engines 9 together last night and she agreed with what was said. But then I tried talking about how we can split the work fairly, she shut down and said she was too tired.
I already feel like I help out a lot, cooking several times a week, cleaning the kitchen, bringing kids to bed, managing finances on top of working full time while she is full time mother and house keeper.
Part of the reason for my search is because I feel the current balance is unfair. I have zero time to myself. I get up 1 hour before everyone else to do exercise. I go to work for 8 hours and when I get back I help with kids and housework. If I want 2 hours for myself at the weekend she’ll phone me after 1.5 hours to find out where I am. So there is a burden that hasn’t been discussed which is that some men never own their time, it is either their employer’s or their wife’s. Whereas the stay at home mum can choose to go to friends for lunch, meet at the play-park, visit her family. This doesn’t seem like work but when arriving home it means I have more to do to get the house ready and she gets defensive about how busy she is.
Sorry this hasn’t really turned into a question. Do you think this book will help me to have more time of my own and at the same time for her to feel noticed, loved and with less mental load?
Or do you have another book/course to recommend first?
Chris–that is rough. I hear you. And if she is spending a lot of her day with friends, then she is getting some rejuvenating time, too (although if you’re also lunching with colleagues, then so are you, so that’s likely a wash). I’d also point out that you are getting exercise time in the mornings to yourself (which you should; but this also is part of self-care time).
So why don’t you just phrase it like that? “We both need time with friends, for self-care, and to pursue passions. Can we look at where that time is?” That is an important discussion to have, and I do think that Fair Play could help you with this.