by Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT
I want to talk about the “mental load” today. This post might make some people feel uncomfortable but it’s really important for individual and relational health. It’s a concept I first heard about from the attached cartoon by Emma Clit but it was something I’ve always deeply felt and known. When I read the cartoon I remember actually crying a bit and having my husband read it- hoping it would help him to understand how burdened and exhausted I felt.
I believe that “the mental load” being carried by partnered women in heterosexual relationships is causing serious relational distress, anxiety, and depression. Overall, it’s bad for society. You wouldn’t believe how much conflict I see in my office from this.
The mental load means “always having to remember”. While a partner might help with dishes, or grass cutting, or taking a child to the doctor, they often are not burdened with remembering that their teenager needs new soccer shoes or that the plumber needs to come next Wednesday, or that all of bandaids are out. This creates an “I’m the manager and you’re the helper dynamic”
I say to my couples all the time “we are trying to live in a symmetrical world by still applying complimentary relationships”.
By that I mean that we want things to be symmetrical or “even” – both people work, both people help at home. But because of socialization what’s commonly happening is both people work outside the home while the woman manages and the husband helps inside the home.
While we can agree that feminism has created important opportunities for women (including myself) to work outside of the home (if they choose – yay feminism!) what we still haven’t figured out is how to create a system that works in modern families that prevents a woman that is working from getting burnt out by also carrying the mental load.
Most of the men I know I would describe as feminists.However, to be a very good feminist, in support of your wife, it’s important that you find ways to even the playing field. How can you make your relationship more symmetrical? Raise your hand if this resonated with you.
I encourage you to read the entire cartoon online.
Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT is a licensed marriage therapist in Philadelphia. Elizabeth supports individuals and couples improve the relationship they have with themselves and others through better communication, self soothing, and a clear understanding of what a successful marriage looks like. She believes that any committed couples who is willing to do the work can walk away from therapy with more clarity and connection in their relationship.