RESEARCH DEEP DIVE: Does Sex Start in the Kitchen, or Does it Die There?

by | Oct 3, 2022 | Libido, Series | 54 comments

Research has found that mental load inequality makes women less likely to want sex with their partner--but doesn't make them have a lower level of solo desire. What does that mean for couples battling libido differences? Read the post!
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What if sex doesn’t start in the kitchen–but her libido can die there?

Rebecca here on the blog today, and I want to tell you about a fascinating new study coming out of Australia. This is the first post in our research deep-dive series on the blog that will be happening for all of October, and I’m excited for this one! Let’s jump into it.

Researchers from Australia set out to answer the question: how does mental load inequality change women’s libido? They asked women questions about their level of sexual desire, and also questions about how equal the emotional and mental llabour around the house was. Were they responsible for keeping track of their partner’s appointments, juggling friendships for the both, doing the housework, taking care of the kids? Or were the relationships more equal–they shared the load, the woman didn’t feel like they did more than their partner, and they weren’t carrying more than their fair share?

Ironically, and completely unsurprising, they didn’t have enough women who reported their partners doing the majority of the housework to draw any comparisons to that group.

But then they also asked a question that makes this study so fascinating: they asked whether or not this would affect the woman’s solo desire, or her dyadic desire. So what do those terms mean? Here’s how the researchers explain it in an article about their study:

As a way of addressing the complexity of female desire, a recent theory proposed two different types of desire: dyadic desire is the sexual desire one feels for another, whereas solo desire is about individual feelings.

(Eva Johansen and Dr. Simone Buzwell, Reference)

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So as far as I understand, a woman with solo desire could be very drawn towards erotic content, have a strong libido in general, but if she has low dyadic desire she may simply not feel a lot of libido towards her spouse. In other words, she may want sex–but struggle to want sex with him. A woman with high solo desire and low dyadic desire could feel like a very sexual person and have incredibly high sexual confidence–but just not feel any real pull towards sleeping with their spouse. So it’s not always that the low-desire woman isn’t a sexual person (we hear that a lot!) or doesn’t have a libido–it’s just that the dyadic desire is fizzling out.

And why does the dyadic desire fizzle out? For many couples, it’s because she’s tired of feeling used. 

Johansen et al. found that women who carry more of the mental load than their partners have lower dyadic desire, and their relationship satisfaction is lower as well. Interestingly, they didn’t find tha solo desire changed much, but just the desire for partnered sex–so it seems that women who are in unequal partnerships may begin to feel resentment at being taken advantage of for so many years, and as a result their libidos tank. 

The marriage that was supposed to be their source of joy, love, and partnership feels a bit like a chore. The question isn’t really why she doesn’t want sex–it’s why would she want sex in that scenario?

The researchers also discuss how this dynamic impacts the couple long-term, too:  

Research shows long-term relationships are associated with decreasing desire for women, and this is often attributed to the tedium of over-familiarity (think of the bored, sexless wives in 90s sitcoms). However our research indicates relationship boredom is not the reason, with the increasing inequity over the course of a relationship often the cause of women’s disinterest in sex.

(Eva Johansen and Dr. Simone Buzwell, Reference)

When I read this research, it makes sense to me. This is logical, and it’s also the same as the patterns we see throughout Scripture. We are supposed to be equally yoked, and do you know what happens if one ox isn’t pulling its weight? The whole plow veers off course. But working in tandem, working together, the two can do more than either could alone. The whole “two is better than one” passage in Ecclesiastes speaks to this, as well:

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:

 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

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We are designed to want a PARTNER, and that is a good thing.

It’s no wonder that in marriages where there isn’t an equal level of effort there will be ramifications. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)

So in light of this new research, what can couples do who are facing libido differences? 

Here are a few suggestions.

1. Recognize there are likely mental load inequalities and research how to fix them. 

No, not all instances of low libido are mental load related, but considering the vast majority of couples have the woman carrying the majority of he mental load, it’s irresponsible not to at least consider this.

You can start by reading our mental load series, it’s a great introduction to the topic.

2. Stop seeing libido as the problem. 

We talked about this in The Great Sex Rescue, but when we see libido differences as THE problem for a marriage to overcome, we set ourselves up for a bad time. Why? Because low libido is often a symptom, not the problem itself.

When you are dealing with chronically low libido, or a completelack of desire for your spouse sexually, it’s time to figure out why.

3. Remember the goal is health and wholeness, not just to get more sex. 

I’m gonna be honest and talk to the dudes who have been letting their wives shoulder more than her fair share of the burden around the house for years. You do not do housework to get sex. You just don’t. When you start to do your fair share of the housework and become the equal partner your wife deserves, you aren’t doing it FOR her–you do not do housework FOR your wife. She does not owe you anything for you simply carrying your own weight, that’s the bare minimum standard. 

If she’s been carrying your share of the mental load for years now, in fact, she’s been doing housework FOR YOU. Not the other way around. 

Women are not sex vending machines, and to treat them that way is not respectful or appropriate. What this research shows is not a road to more sex as much an area for self-reflection and growth so that men will stop allowing desire for personal convenience and adherence to gendered tasks to destroy their wives slowly over time.

The whole problem is that women have felt used and taken advantage of. The answer isn’t to simply “buy” sex from your wife now by doing housework, but to stop using and taking advantage of her by pulling your fair share regardless of if her libido ever comes back. It’s simply the right thing to do!

4. Check out the Boost Your Libido course 

If you enjoy sex when it happens but you just never seem to want it, but you’re ready for a change, do check out the boost your libido course! It’s not about how you SHOULD want more sex, it’s about figuring out WHY you don’t and fixing those things. You are not broken, your environment may be. So just a quick plug for our course in case you didn’t know about it and it sounds like it could help you!

5. Recognize that this research did find what lowered dyadic desire, but it also saw what raised it! 

Female libido is not stagnant, it ebbs and flows with our environment. Women are very attuned to what’s happening around them, which means our libidos tend to respond quite dramatically to changes in our relationship, our daily routines, our stress levels, all of it. 

But we don’t only have libido dips–our libidos can also rise! So this doesn’t mean your libido is destroyed forever, it doesn’t mean damage has been done that can’t be undone, it doesn’t mean that this is just your lot in life–but it does mean that some serious changes may have to be made. And if you are the higher-drive spouse and you want the lower-drive spouse to want sex more–well, recognize that you may have contributed to creating an environment for your spouse that made sex become less attractive and fix it!

Research has found that mental load inequality makes women less likely to want sex with their partner--but doesn't make them have a lower level of solo desire. What does that mean for couples battling libido differences? Read the post!

So that is our first research deep dive for October! What do you think about these findings?  Let’s chat about it in the comments!

Rebecca Lindenbach

Author at Bare Marriage

Rebecca Lindenbach is a psychology graduate, Sheila’s daughter, co-author of The Great Sex Rescue, and the author of Why I Didn’t Rebel. Working alongside her husband Connor, she develops websites focusing on building Jesus-centered marriages and families. Living the work-from-home dream, they take turns bouncing their toddler son and baby daughter, and appeasing their curmudgeonly blind rescue Yorkshire terrier, Winston. ENTJ, 9w8

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54 Comments

  1. Jane Eyre

    “Women are not sex vending machines, and to treat them that way is not respectful or appropriate.”

    “Sex vending machines” is such a great way to describe the way some people think of women in marriage. Insert housework or other payment, get sex. She’s not a person with emotions; she’s there to dispense sex, like a vending machine dispensing a candy bar. The vending machine doesn’t enjoy the candy bar – it gives it.

    Reply
    • Laura

      So true! In my former marriage, I felt like I was a sex vending machine to my husband. He only did nice things in order to get sex. I recall one time he took me out to a nice dinner, a Kenny G concert, and dessert. When we got home, I was just tired and he still expected sex. I told him to take a rain check and would be available in the morning. Thankfully, he was mostly nice about it, then said, “I did all this for you. Now you owe me sex.” When I reminded him of the rain check, he felt reassured he’d get laid after a good night’s rest. Well, the next day, he wanted sex at least 3 times in one day. Nothing wrong with that if neither of us had to work that day or we were on a honeymoon.

      Reply
    • exwifeofasexaddict

      or, insert wedding ring, get sex on demand.

      Reply
  2. CMT

    There is a lot of great stuff here! I think the distinction between solo and dyadic desire is really interesting, I feel it’s rare in conservative religious circles to even acknowledge that women can have solo desire.

    The point about women’s libido being sensitive to our environment is really important too. I feel that there’s often an unstated assumption in Christian marriage advice that this shouldn’t be the case (ie that sex shouldn’t be impacted by what is going on in the family or the relationship, because of men’s “need” for regular sex). It leads me to wonder if men truly do not experience this impact of environment, and if not, why?

    Reply
    • Codec

      As a man I think that male libido is affected by environment, though I can not quite say how. I will say that seeking out an erotic haze is much like seeking out an alcohol haze or anything similar. I find that depression is a strange thing as a man. On the one hand it might completely destroy your libido. On the other hand the desire to escape depression can in a strange way fuel libido. At least that is my experience.

      Reply
      • CMT

        Wow. That’s really honest. Thanks for sharing that. I wonder if this were talked about more, whether men would have an easier time with things like that. Men and women would certainly be able to relate to each other better!

        Reply
      • Nessie

        Codec,

        I’ve also experienced both sides of libido based around depression. At times, I couldn’t muster up the mental much less physical energy to have sex, couldn’t see how my spouse would want to have sex with me because I felt so ugly, worthless, etc. Other times, I greatly desired sex to see if the chemical productions/physical exertion could help me push through/escape some of the worst of the depression. (FWIW that ultimately made my depression worse afterwards because I felt I had used my spouse plus our marriage had no emotional connection which made me feel hollow and empty. Maybe with a caring spouse, it could have a very positive effect.) I have no idea why or what sometimes fueled yet other times extinguished, my libido.

        Escapism, distraction, avoidance, etc. Very solid considerations for both sides of the libido “coin.”

        Reply
        • Benjamin

          I appreciate how you are focusing on the importance of carrying your share of the mental load. I came up hearing about how I had to do half the housework if I was going to expect my wife to want sex. But that never really touched the heart of the matter. It was more a thing of using her for a sex vending machine.

          Such an approach never produced results that stuck. I ended up feeling used myself. I held a full time blue collar job that resulted in me spending 50 to 60 hours a week and often even more. I would come home physically weary and mentally strained because I had to make a half dozen other people happy that day. And now I have this thing hanging over my head, “Unless you do half the housework, your wife isn’t going to want sex!” And since doing half the housework was such a monumental task from my worn down perspective, I resented needing to do any of it.

          What really turned things around for us was learning just how much God wanted to bless our marriage and me in particular, and that blessing would be increased as I honored and cared for her. Then, caring for her became, not buying sex, but honoring her and doing it all for God. Suddenly, it began to all make more sense and seem worth it.

          I still do not do much housework, my wife does not feel that I am required to do that. But I have changed things that affect her mental load. And that makes her desire time together vastly more. And for me, it has made that time much more fulfilling.

          I really appreciate the focus on carrying the mental load. How that plays out in real time with household chores will be heavily influenced by each person’s immediate circumstances, but mental load is mental load. And that is a vastly more accurate metric to use to help couples develop a thriving relationship when their focus is caring for the others heart however that plays out in real life. And I believe has a better chance at not causing either one to feel used.

          Approaching it from a wrong angle ended up causing me to feel used and left her feeling used as well. It didn’t work until we went past works and focused on what God wanted to do for us and how that was set in motion by things outside our performance of physical activities.

          Thank you for sharing this! I believe it holds significant keys to unlocking marriage potential that will take couples places they never imagined possible!

          Reply
          • NL

            I wish there was a like button!

    • Tim

      Can’t speak for all men, but I’ve definitely experienced an almost complete lack of desire for sex during a couple of periods of our marriage due to ‘environmental’ factors (specifically relationship issues, now resolved).

      Also associated with depression but that was itself caused by the relationship dramas.

      No idea how typical or not that is.

      Reply
      • Rebecca Lindenbach

        Men definitely also experience libido changes with environment and relational upheaval! The myth that men are sex-craved animals who will go go go at any time is just that–a myth 🙂

        The differences between men and women is more in intensity of the effect of the environment. Women tend to experience even MORE of environmental effects on libido, so I hope that our shared experiences can help men have even more empathy for their wives and understand that she’s not being ridiculous, but that this is likely a sign that there’s something in the marriage that he needs to work with her to fix!

        Reply
        • Tim

          Well said. I think that makes sense. Also, spitballing a little here, but if you’re familiar with the five love languages framework (and other similar ideas), then:
          1. I’d hazard a guess that a lot more men have touch (specifically expressed through sex) as their primary language.
          2. It would seem likely to me that people are much less likely to disengage from the primary way they experience love, even when the relationship overall is poor.
          3. If the first two points are true, it would partially explain why environmental factors influence men’s libido les than for women.

          Despite what I said above, there have also definitely been times when I’ve avoided necessary conflict as I knew that raising the issue would mean no sex for a few days. Obviously this is a bad idea and ironically, with hindsight it contributed to the much bigger conflicts down the track that meant I lost my sex drive completely for a while. But it’s consistent with what you said Rebecca, and also with CMT’s comment above.

          Reply
          • Anonymous

            Gentle push back on the touch thing: touch that demands sex and touch that is giving are two different things, sorta like helping with chores to get sex vs. sharing chores because it’s the right thing to do.

            For a lot of women, touch is one of their love languages, but the man often only touches when he wants sex. Women intuitively know the difference.

            The thing with all the love languages is that if you’re doing them to get something in return, long-term it’s more of a libido killer than doing nothing at all.

          • Tim

            Yes Anonymous – I think you’ve expressed that well. If I said something in my previous comment that made you think I’d disagree with that then I obviously wasn’t explaining myself well. Good point regardless.

          • Sarah

            Chapman does say in his book that when the love language of physical touch is raised, most guys will go, ‘oh, that’s me’ but when he goes on to say that the love language of physical touch primarily describes nonsexual touch, they’ll say ‘oh, perhaps not.’ I think touch is a bit of a misunderstood love language, like Gifts. Gifts is sometimes read as materialistic, and touch as hypersexual. Which I think is because of the cultural baggage surrounding both of them. Our capitalist society reinforces the notion that a good gift =expensive, and in the West especially, touch is often associated with sex/sexual behaviour in contexts where that’s not at all the purpose. Just a rambling thought.

  3. Codec

    I find it interesting Mrs. Shiela that there is a growing sentiment among both men and women that sees marriage as nothing more than a trap. I do not think that is the case. I think that you have a healthy view. I find as someone who has dealt with pornography that if you are chasing the desire to feel good you will inevitably find yourself drained bored depressed and sad. I think it is sad that people do not know how to socialize. I do not really know how to deal with some of that, but I want to thank you for helping people.

    Reply
  4. Jim

    ‘Women are very attuned to what’s happening around them, which means our libidos tend to respond quite dramatically to changes in our relationship, our daily routines, our stress levels, all of it. ‘

    Is it more accurate to say that ‘Women are very attuned to what (they perceive or believe is) happening around them…’ One’s perception defines their reality. Perception is not allows an accurate representation of reality. And this applies to both men and women.

    I have a hard time believing that if there is a decrease in a wife’s libido that it is entirely the husband’s fault and that only he can fix it. What happened to female empowerment?

    To me it seems like this follows the idea that all of women’s problems are created my men and can only be fixed by men. This shifting of blame can turn off men from this content and gives women a ‘get out of jail free card’ to not address issues that both spouses need to work on.

    Marriage is supposed to be a partnership of equals, not a blame game. (I’m thinking of that meme with 3 Spidermen pointing fingers at each other)

    Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      Jim, your comment about “perception” is tone deaf. It gives people (not just men) an excuse to ignore a woman who is in pain, which is something that happens with alarming frequency.

      And it’s an unfounded leap from “her environment” to “it’s always her husband’s fault.” If a job is too stressful, if her parents are being jerks to her, if she’s gotten sucked in to Instagram culture and freaks out about having a perfect life, her libido will be affected and none of that is her husband’s “fault.” Maybe he can help (strategy session about her getting another job or setting limits at this one, backing her up to her overbearing parents, supporting her if she kicks her competitive Instagram-addicted frenemies to the curb). Maybe he can’t help because she needs to learn to set limits. Maybe all he can do is to say that the situation is affecting their marriage, but that should be in the context of a dropping libido being a *symptom* of a larger problem, not the only problem.

      Reply
      • Lisa Johns

        Thank you.

        Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Jim, research has shown multiple times that women do MUCH more housework than men. When a couple gets married, on average she will do MORE housework and he will do LESS.

      Telling women that what they are perceiving is not true, even when it is backed up by literal decades of research, is gaslighting.

      Research shows that when men do their fair share of housework, their wives are much less likely to have a libido loss in their relationship. I’m sorry if that makes men upset, but that is what the research shows. Why does it always have to be “it takes two to tango?” Why can’t we just accept that this is unfair, and it’s MEN’S responsibility to fix it?

      It’s not that the problems can only be fixed by men, but you cannot fix a problem that one person is actively sabotaging. When a man refuses to be a fair and equal partner, including stopping taking advantage of his wife, then there is nothing she can do.

      I believe that marriage is supposed to be a partnership of equals. But that means calling out where one partner isn’t pulling their weight. And research shows that in the case of housework, it is overwhelmingly men who need to step up.

      Reply
      • Jim

        Me:’One’s perception defines their reality. Perception is not allows an accurate representation of reality. And this applies to both men and women.’

        Rebecca: ‘Telling women that what they are perceiving is not true, even when it is backed up by literal decades of research, is gaslighting.’

        If you are going to quote and respond, please respond to the entire comment, not the parts that create a sound bite that you can attack.

        Strawman arguments are not helpful.

        Reply
        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          Jim, your entire comment was trying to explain why women are wrong and why it’s not just men’s fault that men don’t do housework.

          Research shows that statistically speaking, women’s perception of it being unfair IS TRUE.

          Your argument is telling women that what they perceive is not reality.

          That is the definition of gaslighting.

          if you don’t understand that, and if you don’t care to grapple with the inequalities that women face every day in their relationships, that is your choice. But if you want marriages to improve, than you have to accept that research shows that right now, in this area, the blame is not equal.

          Reply
          • Jim

            Rebecca,

            Read my entire comment, please. I was attempting to be charitable to both men and women. ‘Perception is NOT ALLOWS an accurate representation of reality. And this applies to BOTH men and women.’ Perception can be accurate but sometimes it is not.

            You and Sheila have talked about this regarding men thinking that they do enough foreplay and men thinking that they are doing their share of the housework. If we follow the logic of your response to my comment, you are gaslighting men when they think that they are doing enough but they are in fact not. Once again, perception and reality do not allows line up.

            It is important for everyone to check themselves and make sure that what they are perceiving and understanding matches up with reality.

            That is what I am trying to convey. We ALL need to check ourselves to make sure that we are not over-reacting or misunderstanding a given situation. That is accomplished by having a civil dialogue and trying to reach an understanding with each other. Accusations and personal attacks do not accomplish this goal. If anything, it widens the divide and makes the situation worse.

          • Rebecca Lindenbach

            No, because we have to look at reality. Let’s look at numbers.

            Men think they do enough foreplay. Women don’t orgasm. So, is he doing enough foreplay? No. Objective measures say that she is not getting what she needs out of sex.

            Women think men don’t do enough housework. Studies show that women do more housework than men. Objective measures show that women are right, and men aren’t doing enough housework.

            I recognize what you’re trying to convey. But why is it that you are so focused on this post on convincing women to re-evaluate if it’s really that bad or if it’s all in her head, instead of looking at the data and the numbers and seeing, “Wow, it’s really NOT all in her head”?

            I just suggest that you take some time and reflect on why you are commonly called out on this blog not just by me, but by multiple readers, for minimizing and dismissing women’s pain.

          • Tim Little

            Rebecca, Jim demonstrated a flaw in your logic but you didn’t seem to catch it. What a woman (or a man) perceives may not actually be reality. Perception ≠ Reality.

          • Rebecca Lindenbach

            I have no problem with the assertion that perception is not identical to reality. What I DO have a problem with, though, is ignoring the reams of data that show that actually, the perception that women do more housework than men IS reality for the vast, VAST majority of cases.

            Instead of getting caught up in semantics, why don’t we put our energies towards equality and everyone pulling their weight instead of making excuses for men who take advantage of free labour provided by women? 🙂

        • David

          Jim,

          I get that your response was taken out of context and I get why it happened which is nothing more than a misunderstanding. Some reasons this happens has more to do with of our life’s personal experiences and work loads, the way we’ve been mentored (or not mentored), social ideology and education are uniquely individualized. None of us are wired the same.

          For many of us, there is a natural defense mechanism that sometimes prevents us to admit or accept that we do make inaccurate assertions.

          It isn’t in their (our) DNA to assume some responsibility, when we essentially take the “you’re wrong and I’m right approach”. At age 62 it is much easier for me to admit, that (especially in my 20-30’s) I’ve “immaturely” made inaccurate and embarrassing assertions in the past, than I do today.

          Most psychology majors (myself included) should know this, as they too are vulnerable to making inaccurate assertions, in this case speed reading and skimming through a comment thinking the point being made as being argumentative, when it’s not.

          This article itself was choregraphed well and has unique points for all of us to grasp.

          What I got out of this thread is the desire for my spouse (and her high level of intelligence) and I, to keep emotionally stimulating our minds, which to some may be construed as experiencing mutual “brain sex” on a regular basis.

          As for house work, both my parents worked outside the home and I was the eldest of 10. (doing the domestic work) I grew up witnessing most of my male friends barely doing nothing in comparison. (even a couple of female friends) Though the ones that worked on family farms physically worked harder and longer before and after school, than I did.

          Later, I became a workaholic outside the home, the only way (so I thought) to put food on the table and found myself not chipping in and helping my spouse, nearly forgetting how exhaustive it is to keep everything in its place, at home.

          By the age of 50, I drastically had to change my work load outside the home and found myself with more time to help clean the home and prepare meals.

          There is something to be said about the benefits, when spouses don’t take one another for granted which usually leads to both emotional (and sometimes) physical intimacy when they are doing things to make life mutually easier for both. (like cleaning together with consistency) Which can give couples more time to do other things they like doing together.

          Mutual cleaning itself can be a form of recreation or a date and a sense of accomplishment for my spouse and I, which is like giving one another an emotional massage.

          Reply
    • Anna

      One’s perception does, indeed, define their reality. And I see over and over, men commenting here and many other places, that they don’t understand their wife not wanting to have sex with them, because they are WONDERFUL, caring, compassionate husbands, who vacuum every Monday and Thursday, do the dishes every night, bring her flowers every third Sunday, take the kids to the pediatrician and the dog to the vet, pick up toys every night, ad infinitum.

      All I can say is….sure wish we could get the other partner’s perspective on the relationship. I tend to wonder what else is going on, that isn’t being mentioned. That’s why I appreciate guys who come on here (some of them regularly) and say, yeah, I messed up, I fixed some things, still have stuff to work on, could do better. Will try to do better.

      Reply
      • Rebecca Lindenbach

        YES! Thank you, Anna!

        Reply
    • Suzanne

      Jim I am having a hard time understanding this comment of yours:
      “I have a hard time believing that if there is a decrease in a wife’s libido that it is entirely the husband’s fault and that only he can fix it. What happened to female empowerment?”

      I don’t think anyone said it was entirely the husbands fault that their wife is not up for sex, or that he was the only one who could fix it.

      Female empowerment is saying sorry honey I am not okay with transactional sex, I don’t feel like I owe you my body at any time no matter how many times you sat on the couch and told me I was silly for stressing about making the house company clean. You may have done the dishes or planned a nice date but you didn’t buy free use of my body because you did that. I am not your prostitute. Female empowerment is not pretending to have more libido than you really have to please or keep up with your husband want for more sex. Female empowerment is not saying well my anxiety and metal load are just a perception problem I better get my head right so I want to have sex with my husband.

      What in your mind is female empowerment?

      Reply
    • Jane

      This comment and conversation has been rolling around in my head for the past day. I want to thank Jim for his comment; It sounds exactly like something my husband would say.

      Also, a big thank you to all the folks who modeled how to push back against the “it’s just your perception” argument. Very helpful.

      Reply
      • Rebecca Lindenbach

        I’m so sorry that the “it’s just your perception” argument is happening in your marriage, if that’s what you’re saying here. That’s so hurtful, and it’s so dismissive.

        I hope that this conversation has helped you <3

        Reply
  5. Vincent

    Sheila:

    Your advice has been helpful to me over the years in trying to understand my beloved wife of near half a century. We’ve had our rough passages, but we are ever more closely bonded in our autumn years.

    That said, one of the things I have struggled to understand is what you maybe calling “emotional load.” I don’t really know, but part of the issue seems to be that people, each of us, feels and reacts differently, and in a broad, statistical sense, men and women react and feel differently as groups. This is certainly true of the two of us. Things that are apparently big and emotionally oppressive to her often seem smallish to me. If I therefore ignore them (or fail to notice), it causes hurt. I know of no solution except communication, which is a very broad concept and more easily said than done in some aspects of daily life.

    This seems to pop up in various ways. For example, I make and change the beds, do all laundry more than half the time, do about half of the overall vacuuming and dusting, clean my own bathroom, and am completely responsible for cleaning two other rooms of our 11-room house including the library which requires the most tedious dusting. Yet, if she is tired or stressed, it is still an emotional issue if I don’t pitch in on other housework.

    Alas, discussing these things puts our life in an unbalanced light. We are far from troubled despite frequent irritations and occasional fights. We love to spend time together. We have common opinions and interests — for the most part. I love to please her with gifts and surprises. We have more and better sex than we did as kids (after our very hot first year), despite the usual system unreliability for both of us that comes with age. We both savor the glow of those bonding hormones, and the closeness. I cannot imagine life without her. She says she feels the same.

    However, recognizing emotional load and its perception on lack of balance is not simple.

    Reply
    • Angharad

      My husband is usually really good at sharing mental load, but one area where I CAN’T get him to change is our holidays. I’m the one that has to meal plan and get all the food together (we do self-catering holidays as they are much cheaper here), put together our books, videos, board games, medication, mobile phone chargers, maps and all the other holiday paraphenalia, as well as making sure that the clothes he wants to take are laundered and ready to go. I’m usually running round like a mad thing in every spare minute for the two days beforehand.

      Meanwhile, he strolls into the bedroom half an hour before we are due to leave, flings his clothes into a bag and starts loading the car. And EVERY time he tells me I shouldn’t be ‘stressing’ so much about our holiday, but should do as he does. The problem is, if I do that, we have a horrible holiday because a good half of the stuff we need and 75% of the stuff we want gets left behind…

      On our last holiday, every time he asked for something that I had packed, I pointed out that the reason we had it was because I had ‘stressed’ about it beforehand…I’m hoping the message might have got through, but I doubt it!

      Reply
      • shevrae

        I think when you say holiday you mean vacation (marking myself as an American, LOL). But I had the same issue in my house about Holidays (like Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays). I would run myself ragged trying to manage all the things, keep up the traditions (mostly adopted from his family), deal with the guest list (mostly his family, I’m an only child), etc. He would get so frustrated with me that I had no holiday spirit!

        After hinting and hinting that I would feel better if I had some help (you know, that indirect communication that is the only way to “respect” one’s husband), I got frustrated and said “Well, if all I had to do was sit around and eat food people cooked for me and open presents people wrapped for me, I could enjoy the holiday too.” He stopped complaining about my holiday spirit after that. Finally, in the last couple of years, he has been taking more of an interest in making the holidays happen. After 24 years, I’m starting to enjoy holidays.

        That’s one of the problems with the “respect your husband by never pointing out any of his bad behavior” rule – it just doesn’t work. Looking back, my marriage only improved when I broke that rule.

        I gave up on vacations long ago – I pack what I need, help the kids gather their stuff, and he packs for himself. If he doesn’t have something, I just say, “It’s too bad you forgot that, we could stop somewhere and pick one up.” If he chooses to go without deodorant because he forgot to pack it and doesn’t want to spend money on more – well, he can just stay a few feet away from me. He’s a grown up who gets to make is his own grown up decisions and live with his own grown up consequences.

        Reply
        • K

          I love this comment so much.

          Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Hi, Vincent!

      Emotional labour and mental load is, in essence, being the “Manager” of the home. The person who does quality control, is in charge of making sure things get done, the person who is the “default” for any given task.

      That would include the things you don’t think are a big deal, but if you forget to do them, who picks up the slack? It’s always going to be her, right? Additionally, there has been research that shows that women do tend to take things more seriously than men–and as a result, they tend to have better social supports and are set up better after their spouse passes to be able to live by themselves. For example, many men don’t take initiative to send the thank you notes or call relatives to check in or put together the cute welcome-home basket for the cousin who just came back from the hospital with a new baby. The result? When the wife dies, men are often left completely bereft of social connections, even if they had a bustling family culture before. I’m not saying that is what is happening with you at all, I’m just reporting what the research says so that anyone else reading can think about it, too. I’d suggest talking to her about WHY those things are so important to her and then honestly thinking about if this is something you could decide to care about, too! Maybe it won’t be. Maybe you guys will talk together and decide that it’s not worth the effort. That also works! But it’s not “her” issue, it’s an issue to work through together. Which it sounds like you’re already trying to do, so that’s great!

      If you want a more thorough explanation of mental load and emotional labour, the links in the post will help you out!

      But another big issue with emotional labour and mental load is not only what gets done–it’s about whether or not it’s fair. The way that Eve Rodsky, an expert in the field, defines that isn’t by whether or not the chores list is the same length, but by whether or not both parties have equal amount of down-time. I wonder if that may be a great place to start with conversations with your wife! It sounds like you are both really working at this and that’s fantastic. But I’d start there–I wonder if she feels she never gets to “turn off” because there are too many little things on her mind? It may be worth a discussion!

      Best of luck!!

      Reply
    • R

      Clarification: The term is not “emotional load” but “mental load.” It doesn’t refer to emotions. It refers to the organizational tasks of a family. Even when one partner has chores assigned that roughly approximate half of the actual labor, that doesn’t necessarily reduce the mental load. If one spouse is responsible for assigning everyone’s chores, making all the family doctor appointments, keeping the family schedule, handling all communication with the kids’ school, knowing who needs what sports uniform clean for what day, etc. — that’s mental load.

      Reply
      • Rebecca Lindenbach

        Excellent clarification, thank you!

        Also, here’s the original comic that made this whole conversation start in the wider public, check it out.

        Reply
        • Anna

          I’ve never seen this before, and after I read it, I dropped down to the comments to read them…and I started to breathe harder just reading them. The mental load conversation that Bare Marriage wrote about changed everything for me.

          I grew up with a SAHM, and she carried the mental load for every damn thing, without exception. Even including things normally regarded as “men’s work.” I never saw my father mow the lawn. He never changed the oil in any car, nor even scheduled someone else to take care of it. That was Mom. So was household repair. So was taxes. Although I realized that that lifestyle was unsustainable for me, I unconsciously attempted to live it out anyway. And my husband, WHO IS A GOOD GUY, let me, and never questioned it.

          When I started to identify the inequity in the mental load, and ask for a better way, he responded with great words. Supportive words. Enlightened words. But what I’ve found in practice is that there is always a line which he will not cross. Once, when my daughter had head lice, and I had spent two solid days hunched over her head, removing eggs, I asked him, during a break to take a stretch, to do a head check on me, to make sure I was still clear. His response? Paw around my hair for about 15 seconds, ask, “What am I looking for? What do I do?” and then walk away a minute later, throwing his hands in the air, ranting that he couldn’t do it, because he just wasn’t capable of seeing what I was “so good” at seeing. I had to make a special trip to the school nurse to have a stranger head check me.

          I was the only member of the family willing to take our sick puppy to the vet to find that she was sick with parvo. I was the one who had to make the life and death decision about what to do about it, and I was the only one there when she was put down. Now that is some mental load, friends. My husband is lucky he ever got to have sex with me AGAIN.

          All that to say…some of you guys…would you want to have sex with you?

          Reply
          • Jess

            I actually do think men are created to be the leaders of the family. As the leader, he should have been in charge of the puppy situation (with your input). As the leader, if he couldn’t figure out the lice situation, he should have solved the way to check. He could have called the doctor, but exc. Women already do SO much, if the man doesn’t see himself as the leader he will be passive. That is just my opinion.

    • Tt

      It sounds like you are really doing a great job trying to understand your wife and create equity in your marriage. Which is amazing!

      Mental/emotional load is complex. You’re not the only one who finds it confusing and hard to pin down.

      I think when we just reduce it to doing a certain amount of housework, we miss some of the nuances. My husband and I have been working through this as well, and I think both parties have to understand that most women have been conditioned to be the “default” person for all the home management. So it’s really hard to untangle all that conditioning and get what’s in our heads out of them.

      So for example over the weekend we had plans for Saturday night. My husband sent me a message on the way home on Friday asking if I wanted to also go do something that night. Seems like not a big deal, except I had dinner planned already. So I had to go through an entire mental checklist in my head of the ingredients for dinner, and whether or not they would be okay if I waited to make that meal on Sunday. And I had already put in a grocery order that afternoon, so it would bump my meal plan for the whole week by one day – so then I had to think about freezer space and rearranging meals around our schedule. So all the details I had already made decisions about had to be reworked. Then I also had to rework the diaper bag that I had packed for Saturday because different types of outings with toddlers = different kinds of contingency items.

      So when a wife always has all these spinning plates – she has this Tetris game in her head of how all the pieces of our life fit together – okay I have an open window here this is when I’m going to go get the birthday card for my MIL and I need to make sure and get that shirt washed for that event coming up. And so on and so forth. So one little change to the schedule can throw the entire thing out of whack and she has to make all kinds of new decisions all over again.

      And emotional load to me is a lot of what Rebecca described above in the relational aspects of organizing our lives. We have a pulse on how everyone in the family and our friend group is doing and what they need and how we are supporting them. We are the ones working with our kids through big emotions whether that’s our toddlers or grown kids asking for advice.

      It’s really hard for me to take that web and explain it to my husband. Men are kind of naturally conditioned to take care of themselves and it’s assumed that women will take care of him and everyone else. And so many women have internalized a lot of this as their God given duty. So even if husbands – like mine – want to be more of an equal partner, I have to manage my own guilt and false beliefs around what I was taught I was made to handle.

      It’s just a lot. The best thing you can do for your wife is listen, validate, and help her transfer the load as she is able.

      Reply
  6. Nathan

    > > VERY time he tells me I shouldn’t be ‘stressing’ so much about our holiday,
    > > but should do as he does. The problem is, if I do that, we have a
    > > horrible holiday because a good half of the stuff we need and 75% of the
    > > stuff we want gets left behind…

    And that’s partly the essence of the mental load. Like “Donny and Marcia go to the beach. Sure, just grab a bathing suit and towel, and you’re ready. Why are you stressing? Then you get to the beach, and all you hear is where’s my snack? Where’s my sunscreen? Where’s my drink? And so on.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Exactly, Nathan! 🙂

      Reply
    • Joy

      I have taken this mental load thing to heart with my kids! Anytime we go on a trip they first have to write a list of everything they think they will need. Then I check it/give hints about stuff they forgot, etc. Then they go around gathering it all up, I check that, and they pack the suitcase. The finishing touch is their list of “last minute items” that they may need to grab the day of like an ipad charger or toothbrush. That list pokes out of the small front pocket of the suitcase. As time goes on they should be able to create a more complete list to the point that I don’t have to check anymore. Right now they are all under 10, so this seems reasonable.

      My husband always packs for himself at his leisure since I forgot some major stuff the first couple of times we went on a trip early in marriage. It was an accident at the time since I was trying to do it myself, but he ended up having to buy a belt and dress pants while we were out. Maybe it’s okay if he does without on the next trip!

      Reply
  7. Anonymous

    You know what else tanks dyadic desire? Lack of personal hygiene. When your husband only showers once or twice a week and doesn’t brush his teeth everyday. Repeated conversations about why this is a problem and destroys my libido have never lead to a long term lasting change. He knows I won’t engage sexually if he hasn’t showered that day or at least the day before but he doesn’t care enough to change his habits. After 20+ years I want to move into a separate bedroom but we don’t have the space. I have libido but don’t want sex with him because he’s rarely clean. (Thank you for giving a name to this difference between dyadic and solo desire.) Combined with all the other obstacles that make sex infrequent (recovering from betrayal trauma from his past porn use, health issues, stress, etc.) it hasn’t happened in several months and I see no reason to expect anything to change at this point. Thank God for menopause lowering my libido because at least I’m way less frustrated now and I can just try to forget it. I’d divorce him if we didn’t have kids together.

    Reply
  8. Jen

    Love the idea that the environment is broken, not me! Hallelujah!!! I carried the emotional and relational burdens for decades of marriage, and I was exhausted. We did a really good job splitting up the housework, but that balance could never overcome the emotional neglect. My husband has a disorganized attachment style and both literally and figuratively ran from me our whole marriage. He had a sex addiction as well. Betrayal kills everything, but even before I knew about it my libido was dying from the emotional neglect. My desire to be married was dying, too!

    So, I would posit that emotional neglect is super important to these discussions. Surely it’s a main cause of the orgasm gap, too.

    He is getting the mental health help that he needs, and after two years of individual work we have begun marriage therapy. As he becomes an actual emotional partner instead of just some man-boy who happens to be good at cleaning, I am finding that my libido is changing. The work to rebuild trust is horribly painful for both of us, but it is happening.

    Honestly, we talk about rebuilding trust after betrayal, but my husband also has to rebuild trust after decades of isolating himself and being emotionally anorexic. Trusting that he won’t cheat or lie is one thing. Trusting that he will show up for me emotionally is a complete other subject. When you’re used to being neglected, hoping for engagement is frightening. But this work is necessary for healing.

    There are many ways we can fail each other marriage. All of them will kill libido.

    Reply
  9. Arlie

    Thanks so much for signal boosting this research. Personally, I’ve had a strong libido since I was a teenager, and really didn’t know so many people were still stuck in Victorian mindsets about the female capacity for sexual desire and enjoyment. Or that so many women were still pressuring themselves to accept unfairness, many decades after Hochschild published The Second Shift. My dad believed that part of his responsibility in following Christ was to be sure he helped my mother have energy and time to properly steward her spiritual gifts, and it’s about time more husbands started to realize that God will hold them accountable for unfairly taking advantage of their wives. I’m so glad yall post on peer-reviewed research and I’m looking forward to this series.

    Reply
  10. exwifeofasexaddict

    Near the end of our marriage, my ex asked me if I didn’t want sex AT ALL, or just didn’t want sex WITH HIM. The answer was with him, because he was treating me so badly, and had for so long. Duh.

    Reply
  11. Kay

    This concept of dyadic vs solo desire is so freeing! Something isn’t “wrong” with me. It’s not that I don’t desire it, but it’s my SO ; ( which I imagine would be a hard pill for him to swallow as he’s a great “helper,” but my issue is that there’s no connection, so to all the sudden be in the mood at the end of the day, when all our interaction has been a good morning kiss and what kid activities we have going on later that evening, no…. No I’m not particularly interested in then throwing my clothes off and getting it on!

    Reply
  12. EOF

    This rings very true to my lived experience. I can’t count how many times I’ve been in the mood, but then as soon as my husband starts grumbling and complaining, starts going off on some political rant, or something similar, my desire disappears in seconds.

    Reply
  13. JOHN

    Thanks for this article. Interesting research. I haven’t read all the comments, but I’m wondering about pronouns. You wrote: “A woman with high solo desire and low dyadic desire could feel like a very sexual person and have incredibly high sexual confidence–but just not feel any real pull towards sleeping with their spouse.” I know that “they” and “their” are preferred pronouns for situations when either gender is possible, though I wish the usage was with plural referents, but in this case the referent is clearly female: “A woman.” So I’m wondering if using “her spouse” instead of “their spouse” would be appropriate in this context?

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Haha yes, grammatically it would 🙂 My natural inclination is to write gender neutral so I tend to use “they/them” as much as possible, and it sometimes slips into times when it shouldn’t!

      Reply

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