Emotional labor and mental load take their toll on a marriage–because they often exhaust the wife.
So many women experience this, and yet we don’t really have a name for it. We know something is wrong, we feel guilty because we dream of getting away for just a day, we find ourselves snippy at everyone–but we can’t name why.
Chances are it’s mental load!
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That’s our series for the month of June on the blog, and today on the podcast Rebecca and I introduce the concept:
What are mental load and emotional labor?
It’s feeling like you have to keep track of every single detail in the household, or else nothing will get done. It’s the feeling that you’re responsible for making sure everyone is okay, and you have to monitor all the relationships around you and make sure everyone is on an even keel.
We talked about it at length in two posts this week–one on the problem; and one on a solution:
- How Emotional Labor and Mental Load Affect Marriage
- How the Fair Play Solution can Help with Mental Load
We’ve had a ton of feedback on both of those posts, and I think that many of you find this is a big problem in your marriage. I encourage you to read those!
Remember, here’s why we’re talking about this so much this month: mental load is one of the biggest libido killers there is.
When women have a million things in their brains that they’re trying to carry, and they never get any time off from having to remember details or tell someone to get something done, then it’s hard to relax. And that means it’s really hard to get in the mood!
If we’re going to have great sex lives, we need to address mental load.
We mentioned many of the comments we’ve had from people about mental load, including these themes:
- When we ask women what would get them in the mood, 50% of them say some variation of “do some housework.” But then men turn around and tell us that doesn’t work. What’s the disconnect? What women need is for men to “own” the task and notice it needs to get done, not just execute the task. You need to relieve some mental load, not just do some housework. But many women don’t have words for this and can’t articulate it, and many men don’t understand.
- Making a list for him to do is still work. And it’s managing him. It’s treating him like a subordinate. No one wants to be married to a subordinate. We want a partnership.
- So many women dream of getting sick or being hospitalized to escape mental load. This is real, and it’s dangerous.
Women are not Better Multi-Taskers
We have this belief (I know I did until Rebecca shared the research with me) that women are naturally multitaskers while men aren’t.
But brain studies and experiments have shown that’s not true. And when women do handle several things at once better, it’s because we’ve learned how, not because it’s innate. And men can learn it as well.
But the big thing is that women take ownership of more things, and so that means we naturally have to multitask. Think getting dinner made while you’re trying to supervise a 9-year-old doing homework and while a 3-year-old is on the kitchen floor getting into things and crying out for attention. That’s normal for many women. But it’s still supremely stressful, and we don’t do it well.
Honestly, this floored me when I learned this. I really thought women were better at it. This makes me even more adamant that we need to share the mental load!
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No one is saying that men have to do half the housework, or that men are not also stressed.
It is just that when one person carries the majority of the mental load for the household and the kids, it’s very, very draining. And if husbands are wondering why their wives aren’t attentive or romantic or in the mood anymore, perhaps the question should be asked: Is she simply carrying too much?
We’ve got some great solutions to mental load coming up this month, but read Tuesday’s post on Fair Play to get started.
And as Rebecca said in the podcast, she and Connor have talked this out and worked this out in their own marriage. Here’s the main podcast where they talked about it:
Our Boost Your Libido course deals with mental load in module 4, and if you’ve been struggling with libido, you’ll find this 10-module course super helpful. Each video is short, with concrete action steps that you can take to start seeing immediate results.
Are you TIRED of always being too tired for sex?
Let me know in the comments: Is mental load exhausting you? Did you know that women weren’t better multitaskers naturally? Let’s talk!
Like this post? You should also check out:
Posts in the Mental Load/Emotional Labor 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
Mental Load Example: The “Let’s Go to the Beach” Saga
The Emotional Labor Series: Why The Daily Grind Needs to Be Shared
The Emotional Labor Series: Why Everyone Needs Time to Themselves
PODCAST: What is Emotional Labor?
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of Bare Marriage
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So – There were a couple times during the podcast I wanted to call you guys or something and say YEAH BUT. I could share my arguments on the topics such as The Science fair Project and the birthday party. Yeah I saw the science fair project – didn’t know when it was due or what work needed to be done to complete it. I found out about the birthday party that morning and little Johny had a flat tire on his bike and I was gone for 4 hours on the bike ride – didn’t have a clue you needed to wrap the present let alone go and buy it also! So yeah those arguments went swirling around my head. But I think I got this figured out. If we take the mental load – (The Cards) in the FIRST PLACE that resolves the circular arguments. Say I take on the school projects with the kids and she takes on the birthday parties. All that being said I still go back to the communication issue because sometimes things go haywire and the other spouse just plain old needs help to get their(OUR) job(s) done. In that case we need to ask for help with not only the task but maybe even the mental load. being aware fo such a thing as mental load and having a label is SUPER helpful. NOW – I just got home from a job for my work and there is a pile of laundry on the bed. Grace normally does laundry down to the folding and I jump in and help on that when I am around. Then everyone puts their own stuff away. So I have more work to do for my work today but working from home gives me the opportunity to lighten the mental load. Good topic this month Shiela. I am enjoying it. It’s an eye opener for sure..
Thanks so much, Phil! And YES, you’ve got it exactly. If you talk about it beforehand, so that he knows that he’s responsible for homework, then he likely would have said, “Hey, kid, work on the project for half an hour before we go on our bike ride!” And, yes, even if you decide that he’s responsible for homework, it still may mean that she has to supervise one or two days. But then they know that and he can tell her ahead of time, “Okay, the science project is due on Wednesday, and he’s doing pretty well, but he needs to get some lemons for the experiment and take pictures…” So she knows what has to happen. But at least they have it figured out whose responsibility it is, and then it makes it easier to talk to each other about it if you need the other to step in. It’s more clear what info you need to share.
Again, I don’t think people need the cards per se, but I do think we need some system for sorting all of this out so that she doesn’t feel that she has to remember everything.
I felt pretty similarly. Whether you use cards physically or metaphorically, just the idea of who owns the task, of mom is responsible, own the childcare, how can she then get upset that he doesn’t do it right? I mean I have felt this tension, if I’m going to do something else and I want all the things done so I can relax and I’m the childcare card owner, I have to make that list. If my husband knows he can count on me to take care of it all, then I would indeed have to let him know what needs doing before I left. I would still have to do the planning so he can execute it in my stead. And the same for Sandra, she would need to let her husband know what’s going on that day. And I know sometimes I leave out info or add too much. And Rebecca’s example of knowing that Connor can be trusted to not leave all the tasks for her to do after she works, she’s handed over that card. So that one card isn’t all hers all the time. Communication will indeed be constantly needed, as it is anyway. And to develop those eyes to see what needs doing and go ahead and do it for the good of the family. Also, if I learned how to clean the shower, can’t he also figure it out without me telling a step by step process. With a child teaching cleaning etc would be different, more teaching. Maybe it depends on the person – like you mentioned standards or cleanliness. We have different standards, different things we notice, that can be a good thing.
Something my husband believed especially early on in our marriage was that biblically we are supposed to share every.single.decision since we are now “one.” But the practicality of that meant that we were ALWAYS stuck waiting for the other person to weigh in on EVERYTHING.
The thing I like about the mental load series is it clearly defines who has what. There is freedom and trust in the decision-making. No one person controls every single thing. Everyone has their own lane.
What at first was scripture out of context, (being “one accord” didn’t mean we couldn’t make ANY decisions apart from each other). It revealed that there was an insecurity and fear in making the wrong decision. Deciding everything together meant guilt/failure was shared—which was kind of a security. But being wrong is ok—being wrong just means learning.
Love that, Aspen!
One thing that revolutionized my mental load for me has to do with that 24 hour on thing. This really only works for SAHM moms though. My work ends once supper does. As far as my job in the home, I clock out. What doesn’t get done gets left at the “office” until tomorrow. Of course, I’m mom 24/7, but my husband is dad 100 percent of the time he’s home too.
I totally disagree about the list thing though. I mean, if I was making the list for him, I guess that would bother me, but I “brain dump” every night and put everything down in my planners for the next few days (actually a great way to get your share of the mental load off your chest so you can relax in the evening!) I always have a list for myself and I love it when my husband takes a peek it at and does some of it. Maybe it’s different because he doesn’t ask so I don’t feel like I’m managing?
I had to chuckle the other day, though, because we had a conversation that perfectly demonstrates this whole concept. We’ve got 3 children; 3, 2, and 7 months. None sleep through the night (unfortunately sleep training babies does not guarantee preschoolers or toddlers that don’t have nightmares!)
Me: “The big girls didn’t come into our bed last night?!”
Husband: “Oh, they did! I took them both back and 3 year old was dreaming a dinosaur was eating her. I was up with her for awhile…. But, the baby had a pretty long stretch, huh?”
Me: “Nope, I nursed her three times….”
He “owns” the big two so I don’t even hear when they cry. I “own” the baby so he never hears when she cries. If I had to be alert to hear all of them and even if I woke my husband up to deal with them, I’d get much mess sleep, but I know he’ll hear them and comfort them so my sleep is less disturbed! Still exhausted though…
Hang in there Ina! It’s tough when they don’t sleep & everyone is exhausted. Sounds like you have a fair system though.
I think your last sentence is important–“he doesn’t ask, so it doesn’t feel like managing.” I do the brain dump, too, we actually have our chores list broken down in daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly tasks on the fridge (I’m doing a post on our system later actually) so that everything is out of my brain and on the fridge and whoever is “on” that day/time just takes care of the chores. So yes, Connor works on a list. But so do I! And I don’t have to ask him to do it.
Before, when I did have to ask, it was a large point of contention in our marriage because the assumption was that it wasn’t his problem or responsibility unless I asked, so unless I asked he wasn’t responsible for doing it. Now the assumption is that he WILL do it, and he knows where to go to see what needs to get done so I don’t need to deal with all the questions, either! It works really well for us for just that reason that you said–he doesn’t ask, he just does (both of us do!) 🙂
Wow! I just finished the podcast and it feels like you were right in my living room last night and this morning as I wrote a letter to my family saying I would be retiring or at least taking a long break from doing anything around the house. I would only do the following: cook for myself, clean up my own dishes, do my own laundry. I won’t be doing any other house work or planning for the family for the foreseeable future. I was crying in my car on the way home from work because it was like you and Rebecca were speaking right to me and that you understood exactly how I felt. I wrote my family (husband of 24 yrs and two daughters, 21 and 17) a nearly two page letter expressing my exhaustion, burden, and frustration. I will be making the family listen to your podcast in the next day or two. I also ran right over to the local bookstore to by the “Fair Play” book. I’m praying and hoping for some resolution and help here. THANK YOU!!!
I’m so glad it helped you! I hope that conversation goes well. Fair Play talks a lot about how to have fruitful conversations about it, and I think if your adult children (the 17-year-old is basically an adult) are involved as well, there’s no reason you can’t get a better arrangement.
Have you ever seen the movie Mrs Doubtfire with Robin Williams? The movie is a classic case study for this I think…
Also, it might be good idea to take ones spouse grocery shopping and teach them how. I know that sounds weird…but there is some serious choice overload when selecting what would seem a simple item off the shelf. Many products are the same as they are different and it’s honestly annoying.
And totally random, have you tried peanut butter in your nobake cookies?
Most of the recipes for them call for peanut butter–but I’m one of those weird people who absolutely HATES peanut butter. I just hate it. It’s a running joke with my family.
I’m working on this, and trying to get him to understand it. I decided that simply giving him all of laundry would help free up my days. I have to keep up with hand washing dishes, and all the other stuff. Chore wise, he currently takes the trash to the curb, and helps with her as needed though limited. She’s a mommy’s girl though…
I’m also having this talk with my kids asap! And I may make my own cards for visual effect! 😆 With ages ranging from 9-17, there is absolutely no reason they can’t own their assigned chores with minimal checking-in from me. When I told them about their dad and me divorcing, I told them that all I needed from them was for them to stay on top of their schoolwork (homeschooled) and their chores. Chores are divided as fairly as possible.
Is there a section in the book for single parents and utilizing the village idea? Or could you include a bit on it? I don’t know what I’d do without my village (and it’s still heavy *with* a village), possibly still be trying to make an abusive marriage work. Praise God for community.
Excellent question, B! I’d say FamZoo is a great app for that, since it allows you to track their chores and their allowance at the same time, and you can assign “jobs” that kids can pick up if they want to. Fair Play is honestly about marriage, so I don’t think it would help you that much. But we’ll hopefully be looking in another post this month about other ways of dividing up mental load, and we’ll be sending out an email about it if you’re on the list (which I’m pretty sure you are!).
I’ll look into FamZoo, thanks! Yes, I am happily on the email list! 😁
I appreciated that this wasn’t just a conversation about gender roles or who should be doing what in the household, but instead a practical look at household life, regardless of how much or little you work. Thank you for providing practical ways to talk to your spouse about the topic and SOLUTIONS! So often I think we talk about a topic without look at practical ways to solve the issues. This ‘card system’ solution may not work for everyone, but it is a starting place, a place to start.
Thanks, Shari! And, I agree, the card system may not work for everyone (and there are a LOT of cards), but I think starting the discussion and having a physical way to see the entire mental load can help flesh out the problem.
I loved this book and I bought the full deck of cards. It’s helped us SO much. I have a few tiny complaints about the cards, though. There is ONE card for “cleaning.” Um, wow. That’s all I can say. We added our own cards.
Dust and Vacuum First Floor
Dust and Vacuum Second Floor
Sweep and Mop First Floor (we don’t have much carpet)
Sweep and Mop Second Floor
The author’s kids must be much younger than mine because a HUGE issue is
Get the kids to do their chores.
Getting my kids to do their chores is 3x more work than just doing it myself. So it is very tempting to just do their chores for them (BAD IDEA) and a huge mental load to stay on top of them! I get so drained from getting after my kids to do their chores. My husband just says, “just give them a list,” as if that works. We need to take turns on that so I’m not always the “bad guy,.”
Very good. But I find that half the battle is getting my wife to let go. She might complain about the mental load, but she holds onto it with a deathgrip.
(why do comments get threaded under another person’s comment sometimes when I just fill in the comment form at the bottom? I did not click the reply button)