I think as adults we’ve all been there. We’ve told our partners something a million times, only for them to tell you this is the first time they’re hearing about it. Emotional labor is a crucial part of parenting, and when you feel like you’re carrying the emotional labor more so than your partner, things can get tricky. You may start to feel resentment, anger, and hurt that your partner isn’t stepping up, but how do you ask your partner for emotional support? You want to ease some of the emotional labor you’ve been experiencing and share the load, and in turn, feel closer and more connected to your partner and be a better friend, partner, parent, and more.
What is emotional labor?
Emotional labor is sometimes called invisible work, and it refers to the unseen work that a parent takes on that is disproportionate to their partners, says Kaitlin Soule, a licensed marriage and family therapist, women’s mental health expert, and author. “Because the truth is, even if your partner is great at executing, there is an incredible amount of conceptualizing and planning that needs to happen in the day-to-day life of a parent — and it's downright exhausting,” she says. But how do you ask your partner for support in these day-to-day matters?
How do I get emotional support from my partner?
“It’s absolutely okay to ask for emotional support from your partner,” says Heidi McBain, LMFT, LPC, PMH-C. “Be specific around what emotional support you are needing from your partner. Is it a simple hug? A listening ear? Someone to hold space for you while you cry?”
Soule offers three tips. She says that number one, the way you ask is key. “We want to pick a time to engage in the conversation when we aren't highly emotionally charged, or overly tired so that we can communicate our needs with more clarity,” she says.
Number two, she says to not approach your partner from a posture of blaming or finger pointing. “While we might feel angry or frustrated, our partners will likely shut down and become defensive if we start blaming and shaming,” she says. And a way to do this is to focus on how you’re feeling and using “I” statements, telling them you’d like to work on solving the problem together as a team, according to Soule. She adds, “It can be helpful to ask your partner something along the lines of, ‘Do you have any ideas around how we can support each other better?’"
Number three, Soule says to highlight the fact that getting more support from your partner will give you more time and energy to show up as the best version of yourself, and the same goes for your partner.
Why is emotional support important?
McBain says if your partner isn’t able to emotionally support you, you can end up feeling sad, lonely, hurt, resentful, angry, and more. She adds that you can also begin to feel disconnected from one another.
“Being a human, let alone a parent, in today's uncertain and complicated world isn't an easy task — we all need and deserve love and support from our partners,” Soule says. She adds that all time is created equal, and no matter what someone’s title is in the household, it doesn’t mean they have super powers, they need help and support, too, so that they’re free to be a whole person beyond just the role as parent, partner, or professional.
What does emotional support look like?
Soule says support will look different for each person based on their needs, but she says, “As a whole, support looks like showing up for the person you love by taking some of the weight off their shoulders and carrying your fair share of the heavy load that is life.”
This might look like dividing up domestic and childcare tasks, or making sure that you both have time set aside to engage in your own versions of self-care and fun, she says.
“Fun is such an underestimated part of self-care... if we don't have support from our partners, we have little time and space to enjoy being human,” Soule says.
What to do when your partner doesn't support you
Sometimes, unfortunately, our partners still just don’t get it. What do you do when your partner still doesn’t support you? Allow yourself the space and time to feel your feelings, says McBain — are you feeling lonely, angry, or sad? “See if you can find another time when your partner is able to support you,” she says. “If they’re also struggling, try to find someone else who can help you during this hard time, be it a friend, family member, coworker, therapist, etc.”
“Start with a conversation about how you feel, be clear about what needs aren't getting met, and how their support would positively impact you (the person they love) and the family,” says Soule. “If you're still struggling to get their support, it's a good time to consider engaging in couples therapy, or taking a workshop or training on how to better share the mental and emotional load.”
She also suggests checking out Fair Play, created by social justice activist and author Eve Rodsky. “It’s a great resource for couples who are looking to make changes in their domestic system but unsure where to start,” Soule says.
Nobody should go through life without feeling loved and supported from their partner, especially when parenting is involved. Come to them without finger pointing, make “I” statements, and come from a place of wanting things to be better for the both of you.
Heidi McBain, LMFT, LPC, PMH-C, therapist and life coach for moms and moms-to-be