As a wife, I can confidently say that communication in marriage is essential to ensuring that both parties remain happy and emotionally healthy. If one party is carrying too much of the burden of the day-to-day worry in the relationship, the weight that comes with that responsibility can become too much to bear. This can cause a host of issues between a husband and wife that can eat away at the relational bond. So, when faced with more than you can handle as a wife, it is important to know how to talk to your husband about emotional labor.
But what exactly is emotional labor? Think of it as a bunch of plates balanced on top of sticks and spinning around in your brain that you must keep going in order to keep everyone around you (yourself included) happy. The things like remembering to make sure your son has his favorite snack packed in his lunch and that your dog took his flea prevention meds on the right day may seem small and inconsequential, but they all add up. If one spinning plate drops, it could cause others to fall, and the shattered pieces are then scattered about for your toddler to step in. Obviously, I'm not speaking in a literal sense here, but hopefully you get the idea. It's basically the burden of remembering and knowing ALL. THE. THINGS.
Relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW tells Romper that women often hold onto the bulk of the emotional labor work in a relationship. "Emotional labor is defined as the often invisible work that women do to keep the wheels of family, the workplace, and society in general running smoothly. It can consist of all different things such as emotional hand holding, checking in on individuals or the group, and massaging people’s feelings when they don’t seem to be going well," she says. "Women have been socialized to be pleasant and 'keep things nice.' It’s often second nature to them to make sure that everyone around them is feeling good and comfortable. Sometimes this work is easy and pleasant and sometimes it’s overwhelming and annoying. It’s particularly annoying if you feel like your partner isn’t sharing much, if any, of the load with you."
The emotional labor that presents itself within a marriage can greatly impact your relationship if the work isn't shared, causing a cascade of issues that impact everything from grocery shopping to your sex life. "Emotional labor presents itself within intimate relationships and when not acknowledged it can cause some bad, hurt feelings. Often it’s the female partner who makes sure social plans are made, birthday gifts or cards are bought, and even that the male partner is checking in on his parents often enough," Hartstein tells Romper. "And if there are children involved, this sort of labor is quadrupled! They need to be looked after emotionally and physically and they need emotional hand holding as well."
So, if you're keeping all of the plates balanced and spinning, but you don't feel like the work you're doing is evenly distributed with your significant other, Hartstein says it is important to talk to your partner about how you're feeling. "The best way to handle this kind of discussion is directly and calmly. If you wait until you are furious, your husband is likely to get defensive and angry back," she says. "Pick a time when you are cool and collected and explain to him what emotional labor is and why you feel like you are unfairly burdened with it."
Dr. Kathryn Smerling, PhD, a family therapist practicing in New York recommends being specific when discussing emotional labor with your husband. She suggests using sentences starting with "I feel" and not jumping into the conversation with blame. "If you are up to there, you can't take anything else on, you can discuss with your husband. Ask him to take over one thing first — 'Can you cook Sunday morning breakfast?' or 'It would really help me to sleep in a little longer once a week,'" she says. "Have the conversation with intention, honest feelings, and be friendly. Blame and judgement are conversation killers."
Making a list of the things that you specifically feel like your husband may be able to help you with and presenting it in a cool and collected way is the key strategy that Hartstein suggests. "It’s also very helpful for both of you for you to have some concrete examples of what he can do to take some of it off of your plate. That way he will feel like he can be productive and move ahead instead of just feeling criticized," she says.
Although it may feel like it is all on you to ask for help when you need it, marriage and family therapist Laura Jordan, LPC, LMFT has some advice for husbands as well on how to ease the burden of emotional labor their wives carry. "Check in, try and empathize, putting yourself in her shoes as much as possible. Giving 'permission' to share and making the commitment to receive how she's feeling sans judgement or defense. Take some of the emotional related tasks off her list. Just like physical chores, this load must be shared," she tells Romper. "Also, just simply having an awareness of this being an actual 'thing' women have to deal with in all facets of her life is helpful in and of itself. To do some research and acknowledge this extra hardship women endure will go a long way!"