Emotional labor refers to the management of emotions and expression of emotions in a relationship, particularly in romantic partnerships. The term was first introduced in the 1980s by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, who used it to describe the management of emotions in a workplace setting. Today, the concept has expanded to include the invisible mental effort required to maintain a romantic relationship, such as managing the emotions of a partner or taking on additional responsibilities to keep the relationship running smoothly.
Emotional labor refers to the effort and energy invested in managing and regulating one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others in a relationship, with the goal of maintaining harmony and keeping the relationship functioning. This can include tasks such as managing appointments, planning dates and taking care of household and relationship-related responsibilities.
Assess the situation honestly
Unbalanced emotional labor may have been silently building in your relationship since you and your other half first started dating, but that doesn’t mean it has to continue that way. The first step to redistributing work is by noticing the issue and how it plays out between you and your partner.
Emotional labor in marriage can be difficult to identify as it is often invisible. However, some signs that there may be an imbalance include: one person completing or delegating more household tasks, consistently being the one to comfort or support the other person, and regularly sacrificing their own wants or needs in the relationship.
Clinical social worker Alena Gerst stated to MindBodyGreen, “Many individuals, particularly women, may not recognize that they are shouldering a disproportionate amount of emotional labor. Recognizing that an imbalance exists is the first step towards finding balance.”
Discuss the concept of emotional labor with your significant other.
Once you’ve identified an imbalance in emotional labor in your relationship, it’s important to address it through open communication. Using “I” statements, express your own unmet needs and focus on your emotions without placing blame on your partner. Clearly make a request for a change in behavior, such as taking turns planning dates.
Kate Mangino, an author and expert on gender equality, suggests that discussing emotional labor should be an ongoing process. In an interview with Romper, she stated, “I think you have to have a series [of conversations] — and when I say a series, I pretty much mean for the rest of your life.” To keep the conversation going, Mangino recommends scheduling regular talks about emotional and household labor.
Emotional labor tasks include:
Identifying specific examples of emotional labor in your relationship can make the concept clearer. Creating a list of tasks and responsibilities can help you see who is bearing the greater emotional burden and where adjustments need to be made.Coupleness, an app designed for couples, offers a free quiz on their website to discover who is responsible for various forms of invisible labor. This can be used as a starting point when creating a list of tasks. In addition, couples who live together or share parenting responsibilities can utilize the Fair Play card system to divide responsibilities.
Discuss ways to divide and delegate emotional labor duties, such as alternating certain tasks or compromising on others. Consider relinquishing tasks that cause resentment, such as reminding your partner to vacuum, even if it means a slight change in schedule.
Accept responsibility for your actions.
If you find yourself doing more emotional labor in your relationship, it is important to understand that unbalanced dynamics are the result of both partners’ actions. Factors such as attachment styles, expectations, and past experiences can contribute to one-sided relationships. Attempting to strengthen the relationship by performing excessive emotional labor can drain your energy and perpetuate unhealthy patterns.
Reflect on your contribution to the imbalance and your reasons for your actions. Assess any actions that are motivated by fear, and determine what steps you are willing to take to address the imbalance without resentment or expecting your partner to change. Address any feelings of reluctance to let go of other issues.Take note of your thoughts when you are doing more emotional labor than expected. Ask yourself if you are doing certain tasks because of societal gender expectations or if you feel that your relationship would suffer if you didn’t do them.
Understanding the underlying causes of your actions can facilitate making changes, regardless of whether your partner also makes changes.
Do not anticipate flawless results.
When working towards balancing emotional labor in a relationship, it’s important to aim for progress rather than expecting perfection. Regular communication and collaboration are key, as well as acknowledging that the distribution of emotional labor may not always be equal. The “80/80 Marriage” model, developed by Nate and Kaley Klemp, suggests that both partners should strive to give 80% to the relationship rather than aiming for a 50-50 split, as generosity is crucial for a successful relationship.
When dividing emotional labor, it’s important to be realistic and understand that no model is perfect. If you’re having trouble finding balance, don’t hesitate to communicate your needs and set boundaries. If the problem persists, consider seeking help from a therapist or couples’ counselor for a fresh perspective and practical solutions.