No-one is going to be surprised to hear that allocation of household chores is a common gripe and cause of arguments, and a hot topic in couple counselling sessions.
I always let couples know that there is no ‘correct’ or ‘fair’ way to manage things, beyond what genuinely feels fair and good to both parties. It is also helpful to point out that the whole thing is a bit of a set-up. Capitalism and the modern cost of living means that for most couples, both will work out of the home, maybe with a short break for child-raising for those who chose to have kids. Add in pets, fitness, socialising and there is not much time left for anything. There are just not enough hours in the day to feel that both partners are coping easily with all that!
Times have certainly changed since 30- 40 years ago when one person could work in the home and manage all the cooking, cleaning and childrearing and the family could still afford to purchase a home.
However our mindset has not totally moved on, and it often falls to the female partner in a heterosexual relationship, or to one person in a same-sex relationship to manage the mental load.
The mental load is the concept of knowing mentally, all the different things that are needed to run the household and lives of a couple or family. It is not the ‘doing’ of the tasks, which are more often split fairly in modern households, it’s the ‘thinking about’. For example, information such as when the pet needs worming tablets, when laundry is needing to be done to ensure fresh undies for everyone, dates of parents / in-laws birthdays and thoughts about present buying, when ‘insert theme’ week is happening at your kids school and what sort of dress up is needed. Etc, etc, etc.
I’ve met many heterosexual couples where the male partner takes on this role too, but much more commonly it is a female partner feeling so overwhelmed, exhausted, unappreciated and resentful of this massive burden, that it has brought them to counselling. Her male partner might wonder why his wife is no longer interested in sex? Let me tell you- there is often a link.
Most of the time, this is not because the male partner is uncaring and wants things to be unfair. It is a set-up from a patriarchal society that we still haven’t totally moved on from since the 1950’s. It is so normalised many people don’t question it or realise there is an issue.
Image: Emma Clit (www.english.emmaclit.com)
If you’d like to understand a bit more about the Mental Load, I highly recommend having a look at these cartoons by French Illustrator Emma Clit. Cartoon about the Mental Load. Cartoon about ‘Gender Wars of Household Chores’.
I’ve also created a free resource for couples who may want to reassess how things are delegated in their relationships.
You can download your free copy here; Examining the Mental Load of your Household.