I hear women all the time expressing how their partners just don’t understand how much they have to deal with. Meanwhile, their partners insist that they DO in fact see the things they have to do. They go round and round with nobody feeling understood.
There’s a fairly new concept that may help explain this called the “mental load.” It’s the invisible stuff that one partner (usually, but not always the woman) has to handle. It’s the things you can’t see.
Outwardly it goes like this: Your partner sees you doing the dishes. To them, you’re just doing the dishes. Good for you!
Internally, it’s different. It usually goes like this: While you’re washing dishes you think “I have to remember to make snacks for little Joey’s soccer practice, and to wash hubby’s socks for tomorrow. I’ll write on my list when I get home to make a doctor appointment for Joey, and Suzy needs to go to the dentist. And next week is my Den Mom week for Joey’s Cub Scouts. Oh! Don’t forget to pick up the Girl Scout Cookie orders next Tuesday…” and so it goes. Usually that dialogue is going on in the midst of carpool, doing dishes, running laundry, putting out the trash, work, and whatever else is going on. This is the part you can’t see.
I often get the managerial partner of the family in my office in tears because they’re feeling overwhelmed, unsupported, and underappreciated. It is almost always due to this concept of the mental load. Not only are the physical duties you are undertaking exhausting, but you’re also emotionally exhausted from this mental checklist as well. It begins to permeate every part of the relationship then: you feel resentful that you have to do it all or you’re exhausted- neither of which is good for communicating in your relationship or your sex life. (Who wants sex when they’re exhausted and disconnected?!) Then you end up in a culture of discontent in the family and nobody’s happy. You end up a long way off from where you wanted to be: in a partnership, where both partner’s needs are met and both feel appreciated and understood.
So… how do we fix it? Communicate.
The first thing to do is to communicate how overwhelmed you feel. Ask for help and let your partner know what you need from them. You can’t expect them to read your mind. You have to let them know what the problem is and how you expect them to fix it. This is critical! You can’t resent someone for not fulfilling needs they don’t know you have.
Hold each other accountable.
Each of you can take on particular tasks. You can even structure it so that each partner can get the tasks they object less to. If you really hate dishes but your partner doesn’t mind, perhaps that’s a chore they could take over. Then, each of you make sure that your part gets done.
You can’t pour from an empty cup. If you’re the managing partner, you need to protect your interests. Learn good boundaries. It’s not possible to work, do household chores, run carpool, be an officer in the PTA, have a personal life, have a love life, AND stay sane. Something’s got to give. Learn to unapologetically say “I’m sorry, I can’t commit to that.” It’s an important task! The only one who can protect yourself and your time is YOU.
Make time for each other.
It’s important to nurture your relationship. It’s a myth that the children/family comes first. YOUR RELATIONSHIP comes first because it is the foundation for everything. Try to make sure that you go on a date once in a while, stay home and make a quiet dinner together, or just connect in general. Be sure as well that you get time *apart.* It’s possible to be together too much, especially while doing the mundane day to day. Try to make sure you have your separate time too.
Make time for yourself.
Have a life outside of your responsibilities: your own hobbies, your own friends and social support group, your own thing. With so much on your shoulders it’s possible to get touched out. It can be too much. You need time away- GUILT FREE time away. You are taking care of the family CEO. That’s important and necessary!
See a Counselor.
Most importantly, know when it’s time to ask for professional help. If you’re struggling with holding healthy boundaries, knowing how to deal with the overwhelm, or processing the big feelings that come with the many roles you play, there is no shame in asking for a little help. We do a lot more than talk! Part of what a therapist does is offer practical solutions and tools for the struggles you’re going through.
If this blog spoke to you on some level and you’re having difficulty going it alone, call the office and let’s talk.
I can help get you back on track.
Feel free to give me a call at (312) 810-0707 or:
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