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The Mental Load

The Mental Load: How is this impacting you and your relationship?

Do you ever feel like there is too much on your plate, and your brain can’t possibly handle one other thing to remember or keep track of? Or find yourself feeling overwhelmed and forgetting things here and there? Our latest podcast episode, titled The Mental Load of Women, is centered around a theme we see in our office at this time of the year. In the transition of school to summer, we see more and more women come into our office feeling more stress, anxiety, frustration, and burnout than other times of the year. 

Why? More often than not, women shoulder the mental load of the household, and kids being home for summer piles more responsibilities onto their already-full plates. Now, we fully recognize that there are men out there that are the mental load carriers of their household and have the same struggles, so we’re not trying to discredit the hard work they do. But since this is something we see more often in our female clients, whether they have full-time jobs or stay at home with kids, the mental load of women is our focus for both the podcast episode and this blog post. 

There are some statistics that affirm what we’re seeing. The Pew Research Center reports that about three out of ten women say family duties keep them from seeking employment, and that 62% of working mothers would prefer to work part time. A Forbes Health article written by Emily Laurence reveals that a Gallup poll reported that 50% of stay-at-home moms feel stressed, compared to working moms at 48%. With children or no children, Jimenez Law Firm states that, “the mental, physical, and emotional toll of the overburdening responsibilities is a major contributing factor when women are considering divorce.”

We can see this is a prevalent issue in society today as women juggle their personal and family life, their professional life, and household duties. So, what is the mental load and what can we do about it?

A mother sitting at her computer, drinking coffee with a child in her lap

What is the mental load?

In a relationship, women tend to carry the load of information and tasks tied to the household. This means they’re carrying what it takes to manage and organize the home and the unseen tasks that go into having a household and/or family.

As we said above, while men can also be mental-load-bearers, we see this more often in women. That is because, historically, women are often raised by mothers who took care of the cooking, cleaning, scheduling, and child-rearing, who learned it from their mothers, and so on. Often, these are roles we can slip into without realizing. Husbands or partners might not notice or know what all is on their significant others’ plates, and we might not even recognize it because it’s so familiar and what we saw while growing up. 

Examples of the mental load:

  • Children sports/activities (carpooling, scheduling, cleaning equipment, etc)
  • Pet care (vaccinations, flea/tick treatment, etc)
  • Stock of household supplies
  • Cleaning
  • Laundry
  • Meal planning
  • Grocery shopping
  • Cooking
  • Holiday, vacation, and family event planning
  • Children’s homework and school events
  • Parenting methods, styles, and values
  • Appointments: dentist, doctor, etc

If you are the person in the relationship carrying the mental load, you may experience things like frustration, burnout, less room for creativity, feeling devalued, or feeling taken advantage of. You may feel like there are unfair expectations in your relationship, like you have to parent your partner at times, or feel a loss of trust or safety in the relationship.

Two oxen plowing a field

How does this impact the marriage or relationship?

Parenting and household management is a two person job, so when it falls to one person, it’s an unequal partnership.

We read an analogy from a blog post on, by Karla Hardin, about being “equally yoked,” in a relationship. When the partnership is equal, it’s like two oxen plowing a field. They’re of equal strength and ability. They’re both pulling their weight, so the job gets done and it gets done well. We call this being equally yoked. While it’s still work, it’s lighter because it’s shared.

When you’re unequally yoked, you are different sizes with different strengths and experiences. If one ox is pulling the main weight, the team of oxen will end up walking around in a circle. They can’t move in the same direction. They’re at odds. Even though the work is somewhat getting done, it’s falling to one oxen to do it.

So, what now?

Whether you already know you are shouldering the mental load in your relationship or you recognize that you are after reading this, you might be asking yourself, “Okay, what do I do now?!”

As with most things related to mental health and relationships, there’s no perfect, one-size-fits-all cure. Each person has their individual personalities and traits, and each relationship is unique. As usual, we always recommend working with a therapist who can help you with your specific situation. If you’re in the state of PA, you can check out our list of counselors here.

It’s important to recognize that this is not an easy fix. Once we recognize who’s carrying the mental load, it’s not like that will switch a flip and equal things out. If only! If it has been a pattern in your relationship, it will likely take time and work from both people in the relationship for change to take place and for an “equally yoked” partnership to form.

In having this conversation with your partner about the mental load, remember the goal is connection and an equally-yoked partnership. Below is what we recommend for starting the conversation in your marriage or relationship. Be sure to subscribe/follow our podcast as a future episode will be dedicated to boundaries and these kinds of conversations (find us HERE on Apple Podcasts).

If your partner seems receptive to the idea of sharing the mental load:

  • Set the tone: clarify with your partner that you want to share how you’ve been feeling, and remind them that while it’s a tough conversation, you are not attacking them. Ask how you both can create a secure environment to have this conversation.
  • Tell them how you feel. Make sure you’re both regulated for this conversation. It can help to walk, clean, drive, or do another task while having it. If either of you becomes dysregulated, take a break and come back to it later.
  • Problem solve together. Lay out what’s going on in the current season of life. Is it summer with more outside chores? What have you been taking care of and what might you need help with? How can you deal with those things together in a way that feels equal to you both?
  • Plan out the next season. Figure out what’s coming next, whether it’s sports season with the kids, holiday planning with family, vacation time, etc. Decide what you’re both comfortable handling given your strengths and figure out what could be taken care of with outside help.

If your partner is resistant, the following may be helpful:

  • Set boundaries and consequences. If your partner is not willing to decrease your workload, you are allowed to set boundaries. If they’re not willing to help with laundry, you can do just your own/the kids’ laundry. If they are not willing to help with cooking or meal prep, you can choose to only do so for yourself and the kids.
  • Consider therapy. Seeking a qualified therapist can help you with boundaries in your own specific situation and assist you in processing and working through it.

We hope this was helpful for you! Be sure to give our newest podcast episode a listen, which expands on this information with examples, tips, and more.