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How do I balance the ‘mental load’ in my relationships?

Jan 15, 2024

“I feel like I take on the majority of the mental load of my partner and I don’t know how to find balance. Do you have any advice that can help me?”

So for anyone who doesn’t know, the mental load is a term that was coined by a person whose name I’ve just forgotten to discuss the way that in relationships, sometimes even if the actual like execution of chores is relatively equal or equitable.

Often, one partner, generally in a cishet relationship, the woman, is in charge of the mental load which is keeping track of what needs to get done, when, the shopping list, the chores, the doctor’s appointments, the birthdays, the anniversaries, all of these little things that go into keeping a relationship running, keeping a household running, keeping connections with family and friends running.

Oftentimes, in a cishet relationship, a woman, the woman in that relationship will end up carrying the majority of that mental load.

There are a bunch of different resources out there that can be helpful for this.

Fair Play is a system that looks at dividing up all of the tasks of your household on a weekly basis using a deck of cards.

It’s a really great system.

I’ll make sure that my assistant has a link to it to put into the notes for this as well.

You can also think about like how things are getting divided.

If you are the person who is taking on more of the mental load, one of the things that’s recommended in the Fair Play system that I think is good even if you’re not implementing the whole system is to aim to have the planning, the conception, planning, and execution of a task all on one person.

So whoever owns the task is responsible with coming up with how to do it, creating the plan, implementing the plan, doing the plan themselves.

Sometimes what can happen is if you are used to being the one carrying the mental load, you may also have very particular ways you want things done and going instead to this model of having everybody be responsible fully for their task can mean letting go of those specifics of execution so that you can have less of the mental load.

And so what they talk about in the system is that when you sit down about the task, if you don’t agree with exactly what has to happen with the task or how it has to be done, you have to agree on what the goal is related to that task.

What does it mean for it to be completed?

What are the values you have around it?

So if the task is dishes and you think dishes should be fully done after every meal.

There should never be anything left in the sink.

But the person whose task it is for that week does not agree with that then like maybe the goal is, reduce the risk of pests and mold and bacteria.

So that might mean the dishes get done once a day.

It might mean that they get done a couple times a day.

It might mean that something else happens.

But the goal is the sink is always open.

Maybe you get a bus bin or a bus tub that you put dishes into that get tucked under the sink or somewhere else so that the sink can be open.

And what I think is helpful about moving to this model is that again, predominantly in cishet relationships, there can be this way that the woman is kind of like the task master and takes on almost like a mother role in the household where they come up with what needs to be done and how and when and then like nag their partner into doing it, and that doesn’t tend to feel good for anybody.

When instead, you have to think about like what is the goal of this task, why do we want it done a certain, what does it mean for it to be successfully accomplished, what will help us both feel good in the doing of this task?

It can help both of you clarify what it is you’re actually looking for and help you realize when you’re attached to specifics of execution that aren’t necessary for the task to be completed.

In addition, letting someone have complete control over a thing makes them more invested in actually doing it.

If all someone is doing is executing the chores you tell them to do the way you told them to do them when you tell them to do them, there is very little likelihood that they are going to actually be invested in them or follow through on them.

Whereas if it their job to make sure that dishes are done for the week and they have to figure out how that happens, when that happens, make sure that it is done, that they do the doing of it, that creates a different level of buy-in. It creates a different level of responsibility.

And so I think looking at that Fair Play system or things like it, it can be super helpful.

The other thing is, a lot of people who have talked about this, again, it’s usually talked about in cishet relationships, have said that part of moving out of being the person who carries the majority of the mental load is you have to be willing to let some balls drop.

If you have been carrying the majority of the mental load and you’re no longer do it, part of letting your partner take it on is that there is a probability they will fail and you have to be ready for that.

You have to be okay with not stepping back in and taking it back on when things fall apart, because they aren’t used to doing it.

It’s not on their regular task list.

If you are used to figuring out like okay, we need groceries this week, have I checked the pantry, like if you’re used to all of those steps involved in the thing, they may not be.

And that might mean that it takes them a while to figure out how to actually execute that task in a way that works.

You have to let them fail.

And I know that that sucks and it hurts and we don’t like it, but it is necessary.

You have to let them fail because if you don’t, you’re always going to be carrying that mental load.

Part of letting them carry the mental load is actually letting them carry it, which means not stepping in to fix it if they don’t do it.

There was an article I read where a woman was talking about having done this with her husband and one of the tasks he took on was the mail.

And as a result, he just didn’t check the mail for a couple of months.

And he ended up having like a speeding ticket or something that ended up having huge fees because it was so overdue and that was just the consequence of letting that go, just letting that ball drop, right?

And so part of this is actually letting go, actually letting go of the tasks, and that is scary and it’s hard and you have to in order to get that mental load rebalanced.

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