Have you been feeling like life is just the “same old, same old” even though we’re in a new year? Getting stuck in a rut can happen all too easily, especially for busy wives and moms.
Why does this happen? Well, we can blame some people who are very important to us: our kids. Or, more accurately, we can blame a culture that’s obsessed with kids and parenting. When you see other parents laser-focused on providing the “best” for the kids (education, extracurriculars, birthday parties … you name it) no matter what it takes, it’s only natural to try to fall in line. We all want to feel a sense of belonging with our peers.
In this case, however, fitting in comes at a high cost. Losing yourself in kid-centered routines isn’t good for you, your marriage or even your children.
To restore balance to your life, it’s time to devote some energy to you. Consider these questions:
- When is the last time you did something for yourself?
I’m betting it’s been too long. You don’t have to escape for a spa day to practice self-care. (Although I encourage you to do so if you can!) Even taking 10 minutes a day to be alone with your thoughts can be hugely beneficial.
- When is the last time you did something you enjoyed?
Do you always do what your husband or kids want to do? Do you even remember what you like doing? Staying connected with your favorite hobbies, interests and other activities fills your well so that you can give to others. It can also help affair-proof your marriage.
- When is the last time you tried something new?
Routines and structure are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you need them to keep your family life running smoothly. But, on the other hand, if you never deviate from your routines, the days can turn into one big, boring blur. Sharing a new experience with your husband — even something as simple as taking a cooking class together — can help rekindle the passion you felt earlier in your relationship.
- When is the last time you took a risk?
I’m not talking about anything dangerous. I’m talking about being bold enough to step outside of your comfort zone in the way you relate to others. For example, it might feel risky to clearly ask for what you need from your husband instead of dropping hints, but the potential rewards are rich.
- When is the last time you were just present?
Life moves fast, and our minds often fixate on a single question: What’s the next thing I need to get done? But when you live this way, you miss a lot. Spending more time out of your whirling thoughts and in the present moment can be enough to transform your life.
I hope that these ideas will help you break out of your rut and more fully savor 2019 with your husband and your family. For more practical strategies like these, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love
Back before Thanksgiving, you gave yourself an ultimatum: I’m just going to get through the holidays, and then I’m telling him it’s over. Now here we are in the new year, and it’s your moment of truth. You have to make the final call: Should you leave your husband?
This is one of the most wrenching decisions a woman can face. As you consider ending your marriage, know that you’re far from alone. Women are thought to initiate between 70 percent and 80 percent of divorces.
Some of those marriages, of course, are irretrievably broken. Others, though, could be saved. Without counseling you in person, I can’t know which category your own marriage falls into. But what can I do is give you some final questions to consider before you leave so that you can be at peace with your decision, whatever it turns out to be.
Did You Ask For What You Need?
I’m not talking about complaining. That’s all too common among women in unhappy relationships. And at some point, husbands just check out and stop hearing them. What works instead is speaking up clearly and kindly for what you need. Maybe that means negotiating a shift in the domestic workload. Or it could mean learning to be more clear about what you expect from your husband.
Did You Address the Serious Issues?
If you are leaving your husband because his addiction, abuse or mental impairment, have the two of you sought help for these specific issues? If you haven’t, is he willing to? (Please, please keep your own safety front and center as you consider this question.)
What Have You Learned?
Whether you decide to leave your husband or stay and work on your marriage, it’s important to understand what went wrong in your relationship, and the role that both of you have played in creating the current situation. It may seem like everything is all his fault, but most relationships are more complex than that. Working to better understand yourself, your husband and how you relate to each other could save your marriage. But even if go through with leaving your husband, you still need to do this difficult inner work. If you don’t, you could be setting yourself up for another failed relationship.
Your answers to these questions might affirm that divorce is right choice for you, or they could encourage you to give your marriage another shot. If you opt to stay for now, I encourage you to seek relationship counseling. You and your husband can also use the practical strategies in my book Strong Women, Strong Love to start to repair your relationship.
Did this year fly by for you, too? If you’ve missed any of the marriage advice articles from 2018, here’s your chance to catch up with the most popular posts. These are the five articles that resonated most with readers of the Strong Women, Strong Love blog and newsletter this year. To read each article, just click on its title. I’ve also included some suggestions for further reading so that you can continue to explore the topics that are most relevant to your marriage.
Why Does Marriage Get Worse After Kids?
I’m not surprised that this article was so widely read, since this is a very common situation among couples. The key takeaways here are: 1) Talk openly about household responsibilities so that everything doesn’t fall on your shoulders. 2) Take couple time to maintain your intimate friendship with your husband. 3) Be aware of the pressures on parents to do everything “right.” Let go of perfectionism.
More marriage advice on this topic: Do Parents Have to Be Less Happy?
In Negative Times, Add Some Positivity to Your Marriage
Even during the holiday season, there’s still a lot of negativity pervading our lives — from news headlines to colleagues who love to complain to rude people we encounter on the road and in stores. All of that can take a toll on your marriage if the two of you aren’t deliberate about building a “fortress of optimism” together. Taking good care of yourself also helps shift your mindset.
More marriage advice on this topic: Turning the Scariest Moment of the Day Into the Best One
How Your Brain Reveals Your Love Story
This article further reinforces the importance of positivity in marriage. In longtime happy couples, there’s reduced activity in the part of the brain that skews negative, researchers have discovered. Another fascinating finding: The brains of happy couples show more activity linked to empathy and emotional self-control.
More marriage advice on this topic: Can Brains Be Male or Female?
‘I’d Spend More Time Being, Not Doing’
I really love the video of older women looking back at their lives that’s featured in this article, and many of you responded to it as well. What can we learn from them? As I wrote previously: “Amid all the doing, take time for simply being. Right here. Right now. As the women in the video remind us, the years will pass quickly. And you don’t get a second chance to recapture the moments you lost.”
More marriage advice on this topic: Take Time for Joy This Summer
Divorce Is Contagious — But You Can Inoculate Your Marriage Against It
It’s a sobering reality that divorce can spread through a social circle. But the good news is that you can build your “immunity.” Put the time and energy into nurturing yourself and your marriage. And remember that what you do in even the smallest moments can either strengthen your relationship or tear it down.
More marriage advice on this topic: Why Your Marriage Needs Regular Repairs
Thank you so much for reading this blog in 2018! I hope that you’ve found insights here that have made your marriage happier and more fulfilling. I’ll be back in January with more articles that will help you keep your relationship strong amid the stress and busyness of everyday life. Until then, enjoy the rest of this festive season!
P.S. As you shop for gifts, consider picking up a present that you and your husband can share: a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love. I’m very grateful to be celebrating the fifth anniversary of this book, and I’m so happy that it’s made practical, down-to-earth marriage advice accessible to more couples.
Sometimes looking at your social media feeds can give you an inferiority complex about your relationship. Other couples seem to be taking more romantic trips, giving more beautiful gifts, posting more effusive birthday tributes to each other, living in fancier houses and even looking more in love in their photos.
It’s time for a reality check: 1) You don’t know what’s truly going on with other people. 2) The things I described above don’t actually have a lot to do with how good a marriage is.
Instead of comparing yourself with other couples, there’s a better way to gauge the health of your relationship. Take a look at the list below. If statements like these describe your marriage, then you and your husband are doing awesome — even if your life doesn’t seem very Instagram-able sometimes.
- You Fight Fair
Having a great marriage doesn’t mean that you never disagree. How often you fight matters less than how you fight. For example, if you can argue without attacking each other’s overall personality or character, that points to a strong relationship. For more on arguing in a healthy way, check out my article “The Right Way to Fight With Your Husband.”
- You Manage Ongoing Issues
Whether it’s your hypercritical mom or his needy ex-wife, some things will always be a source of tension. That doesn’t mean your marriage is bad. According to leading marriage researcher John Gottman, almost 70 percent of disagreements in marriage are recurring. The key thing is learning to manage the issues you can’t resolve.
- Your Sex Life Is Right For You
Do you have a friend (or even a celebrity you follow on social media) who claims that she and her husband are going at it all the time? Your own marriage might feel less sizzling by comparison. But the truth is that frequency of sex varies a lot among happy couples. The important things is that both of you are satisfied with the amount of sex you are having.
- You Have Your Own Lives
There’s a romantic ideal in our culture that your spouse should be this magical person who fulfills all of your needs and whom you never want to be away from. But couples who believe this are actually putting a lot of pressure on their marriage — and making it boring. Each of you needs strong friendships outside of your marriage to get all of your emotional needs met. You also both need space to pursue your own hobbies and interests. When you cultivate yourself, you change the whole energy you bring to your marriage.
- You Know How to Apologize
Nobody’s perfect in marriage. You’re going to make mistakes, and so will your husband. What keeps your marriage on track is knowing how to apologize and recover from mistakes.
- You Own Your Stuff
Great relationships don’t just happen to people who had happy childhoods and parents who modeled what a healthy marriage should be. If one or both of you came into your relationship with emotional baggage, you can still have very satisfying marriage — if you work together on your issues. I talk more about this idea in my article “How Attachment Styles Affect Your Marriage.”
- You Speak Up
Some people don’t want to make a big deal out of anything — even if it is a big deal! They think that a good partner should have infinite patience. But this can backfire. Little things can spiral into big issues if you don’t deal with them. In healthy marriages, each partner feels comfortable raising concerns and can talk about them in a way that isn’t hurtful to the other partner.
- You Respect Each Other
Romance gets all the attention, but respect is what keeps marriages together. If you’re in a period where passion is low (for example, after the birth of a child) and you still treat each other respectfully, that’s a great indicator that your relationship is still strong — and that you’ll eventually rekindle your passion.
- Your Lifestyle Supports Your Marriage
We all get lots of messages about the things we’re “supposed” to be doing, having or achieving. Successful couples know what’s important to them, and they know that their relationship has to be among their priorities. They’re not afraid to say no to what they don’t value.
- You Know It Takes Work
There’s a misconception that true love should be effortless, but happy couples know that’s not true. They realize that, like everything else, a marriage needs maintenance to stay functional. That’s why they’re deliberate every day about noticing positives, showing appreciation and giving their spouse moments of focused attention.
I hope that this list has highlighted all the things that are going right in your marriage and that you take a moment to appreciate all you and your husband have created together. To keep your relationship going strong, and work on any trouble spots, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
The health of your relationship can depend on how things are going in bed. And I’m not talking about sex!
When you don’t get enough sleep, or your sleep schedules are out of synch, it’s a lot harder to have a happy, connected marriage. So today I hope to convince you that catching some ZZZ’s together is one of the most romantic things you can do.
What’s Causing Your Sleep Problems?
For working parents, a great night’s sleep can seem like the impossible dream. Lots of factors can come together to keep you from getting the rest you need. They include:
- Stress and anxiety. You wake up at 3 A.M. and an endless loop starts playing in your mind: Will there be layoffs at work? Will your son pull up his grades? Is your mom showing signs of dementia? What’s going to happen next in this crazy world? More than two-thirds of Americans report that they lose sleep because they’re worried about something.
- Your jobs. Different work shifts can put the two of you on different sleep schedules. Sleep also gets disrupted if either of you feels compelled to keep checking work email late into the night.
- Technology. Even if you aren’t using your devices for work at bedtime, having them in your bedroom still makes it harder to sleep because they keep your brain alert and disrupt your natural sleep rhythms.
- Packed schedules. Our busy days don’t leave us time to wind down and process the day. So we end up staying up later just to get the mental space we need.
- Your kids. If you have young children — or even older kids who still wake up at night — your own sleep can suffer.
- Each other. When a night owl marries an early bird, they can cost each other sleep. And when one partner has a sleep disorder — such as snoring or insomnia — the other often loses rest too.
The Sleep-Deprived Marriage
Have you ever noticed that even when people complain about a lack of sleep that they seem almost proud of it? It’s as if they’re “humble bragging” to the world that they can still do it all even when they’re exhausted.
But the truth is that skimping on sleep can profoundly damage our health, our work and our relationships. It keeps us from being at our best and from being there for others in the ways we want to be.
When you’re not in a healthy sleep routine, you may notice negative effects like these on your marriage:
- Weaker connection. If the two of you are on different sleep schedules, you miss out on pre-sleep talking, cuddling and sex. The same is true if you go to bed at the same time but spend the moments before sleep on your phones. Marriage is all about maintaining connection, and missing these intimate moments can contribute to the two of you drifting apart.
- Less interest in sex. A lack of sleep lowers libido for both men and women.
- Nastier arguments. Being sleep deprived doesn’t just lead to more conflicts. It also changes the tone of those conflicts. Couples who get enough sleep are more likely to stay constructive and keep their sense of humor when they argue. On the other hand, couples who lack sleep get more hostile and negative. This is important because how often you argue is less important than the way that you argue.
- A lack of gratitude. Appreciation is one of the key ingredients to a happy marriage. But when you aren’t sleeping enough, you feel less grateful for you partner.
Sleep Your Way to a Happier Marriage
You know now that you need more sleep. But you also know that your crazy schedules and all the things causing you anxiety aren’t going away. So what can you do to get the rest and the nightly connection you need to keep your marriage strong?
- Create work boundaries. For some tips to help keep your job out of your bedroom, see my recent article on workaholism.
- Curb technology. Ideally, you should keep your devices out of your bedroom before sleep. But if that’s not possible, start putting them away earlier to give yourself more time to wind down and to connect with each other.
- Create a “good night” ritual. If the two of you don’t go to bed at the same time, you can still share some moments of connection at the end of the day. Take a few minutes to cuddle and talk even if one of you gets back up afterward.
- Take care of yourselves. If you’re prone to middle-of-the-night worry sessions, look for at least one way you can start better managing stress, whether that’s exercising more or planning some time to talk with a friend.
- Give yourself some breathing room. You might need to create some space in your schedule for more downtime and sleep. That’s especially true this time of year, when traveling, socializing and even wrapping presents can keep you up late.
It’s easy to let sleep fall to the bottom of your list of priorities. But when you take steps to get the rest you need, you’ll see the benefits quickly in your marriage and in other areas. For more advice on maintaining a happy marriage, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
Does your husband roll his eyes when you mention particular friends of yours? Does he try to get out of activities where he knows they’ll be present? This might not seem like a big deal, but it could turn into a trouble spot in your marriage.
Researchers have found that conflicts over friends can raise the risk of divorce, especially when a husband does not like his wife’s friends.
So what are you supposed to do with this information? After all, you love both your husband and your friends.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. You need friends! Having a variety of nurturing relationships makes your marriage stronger. If your husband doesn’t like you spending any time with friends, there’s a deeper problem.
Assuming, though, that his animosity seems limited to a certain friend or friends of yours, let’s take a closer look at what might be going on.
Does He Not Get Your Friendships?
First, if you know he has issues with a friend of yours, don’t let his dislike of your friend become the “elephant in the room.” Try to create a space to talk openly about what’s happening. For example, maybe he worries that the just-divorced friend you’re hanging out with a lot is filling your head with ideas about leaving him. But, in reality, you and your friend actually spend most of your time talking about work or the kids.
Another possibility is that you have different ideas about friendship. Let’s say your husband’s family lives by the famous quote: “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Your family, on the other hand, emphasizes loyalty above else. So it makes sense that he’s not too happy you’re sticking by your aimless friend from high school. And it makes sense that you wouldn’t dream of distancing yourself from her even though she drives you a little nuts. When each of you understands where the other is coming from, you can find a way through the tension.
Is He Jealous?
Your husband might also be jealous of the bond you have with your friend(s). It’s a challenge for any of us to maintain a healthy support system amid all the demands on our time. But men are even more likely than women to rely on their partner to meet all of their emotional needs. Your husband may feel that your friends are crowding out couple time. In this case, it could be helpful to encourage him to build up his own friendships and pursue his own interests. You can also make sure the two of you are actually setting time aside to spend together on a regular basis.
Is He Right About Your Friends?
Finally, consider that your husband may be on to something. Does he dislike your friends because he’s noticed they drain all your energy and leave you irritable? Has he seen a pattern of your giving more than your friends? Do you and your friends say means things about your husbands under the guise of “teasing” or “venting”? That last question is especially important. Research has shown us that contempt is lethal to marriages. So you don’t want to do anything to cultivate it.
Everyone needs friends, but the way to balance friendships and marriage is unique to every couple. You can learn more about how both you and your husband can build and maintain a healthy support system in my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
Does your husband ever seem like he’s become a totally different guy?
It might sound like I’m about to launch into a creepy “Jekyll and Hyde” story for Halloween. But I actually want to talk to you today about the real-life power of stress and how it affects your marriage in ways you may not be aware of.
This article is for you if you’ve ever wondered “What happened to the great guy I fell in love with?” The answer is probably not what you think.
Before we dive in, though, let’s clarify the intention of this article. My advice here is not for you if you’re in a situation involving dire issues like abuse or addiction. If you ever find yourself saying things like “My husband is a great guy, except when he loses his temper” or “He has a totally different personality when he’s using,” then please consider seeking professional help.
Then and Now
First, let’s think back to when you and your husband first became romantically involved. You were totally new to each other, which really lit up your brains. He was paying lots of attention to you, and you to him. So you both felt seen and appreciated. If neither of you had children from previous relationships or other family obligations (like an aging parent), the beginning of your relationship may have also been a more carefree and less stressful time in your life.
Fast-forward to today. You probably have many more demands on your time due to your family and your careers. That makes you feel more stressed, which in turn makes it much more difficult to emotionally connect. You’ve quit looking deeply into each other’s eyes because you’re too busy looking deeply into your phones. All of those qualities that seemed so intriguing about him at first are now old hat. Instead, you notice more of his faults — his abrupt tone, lack of helpfulness, emotional distance — and they’re driving you crazy!
Our Brains ‘Go Negative’
So what’s going on here? Has he really turned into a terrible person? You’ll be relieved to know that this is highly unlikely. When you’re overwhelmed with stress, you get worse at noticing the good things about your husband. At the same time, you become super-attuned to anything negative about him. If he’s super stressed, he’s doing the same thing too! This is just how our brains are wired. Our ability to react swiftly to threats helped us survive as a species. But it’s not so handy in a modern marriage between two stressed people. One partner’s mistakes or slights can feel threatening to the other one. If you feel quick to anger or criticize, part of you is just trying to protect yourself.
Bring Your ‘Good’ Husband Back
Just knowing that your stressed-out brain might be playing tricks on you can start defusing tensions with your husband. Here are a couple of other things than can help as well.
- Identify the sources of your individual stress. Are you sleep deprived, eating junk foods, or just plain lonely? Do what you can to bring your own stress down by making small changes like getting an extra hour of sleep or making sure you’re spending some time connecting with each other during the week. Sneak in the little things that keep love strong, like asking about each other’s days and marking special occasions. It may not seem like much, but can make a big difference over time.
- It’s hard to start treating each other more lovingly if you don’t address the underlying stress that’s causing you to be critical and defensive.Take a hard look at your priorities as a family and seek ways to ease the pressure on you both. Do you need to reduce the kids’ activities so that you all have more time together? Can you rethink your budget so that you can work less or pursue jobs that aren’t as demanding.
Try these strategies and you’ll start seeing more of the man you fell in love with and less of that irritating guy who never does anything right. If the tips in this article are useful for you, can find many more like them in my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
You might be worried about the flu and other physical ailments that start circulating this time of year. But a contagion of a very different kind was the subject of a recent story in the Chicago Tribune.
The Tribune took a look at how divorce can spread through social circles. It cites a study that found you’re 75 percent more likely to get a divorce yourself if a friend has divorced. Even a friend of a friend getting a divorce raises your own chance of divorcing by 33 percent.
Why does this happen? In the article, relationship expert Helen Fisher says friends’ divorces prompt us to reassess the condition of our own marriages.
Just as physically ill people are hit harder by sicknesses like the flu, your marriage can also suffer from a weakened “immune system.” When your marriage is compromised, you may find yourself fantasizing about leaving, especially if a close friend has already taken that step.
Here are a few tips so you won’t unintentionally fall victim to the divorce contagion. It’s all about strengthening the health of the emotional connection between you and your spouse.
Take Care of Yourself
It’s hard to emotionally connect with anyone when you are running yourself ragged. Sleeping enough, eating well and managing stress make it more likely you will have the bandwidth to connect with your partner. Don’t forget to also make space for the people and activities you deeply enjoy. If you’ve been neglecting hobbies and interests, take some time to renew your passions. Have you lost touch with a dear friend? Reach out today. This can keep you from feeling that you’ve “lost yourself” — and that you need to leave your marriage to find yourself again.
Get Deliberate About Being Positive
Research shows that marriages stay strong when spouses share far more positive interactions than negative ones. But when we’re busy and stressed (which, for most of us, is always!), it’s easier to notice all the negatives. This week, try to intentionally look for and tell your husband how much you appreciate his good qualities. Be affectionate, playful, and compassionate to increase the positive even more. Keeping your “emotional bank account” full with positives prevents it from being overdrawn in difficult times.
Seize Every Moment
Juggling the responsibilities of adulthood can make it hard for you and your husband to even “se” each other. When we focus exclusively on what we need to get done, and not on our partners, that intimate connection frays, little by little. You don’t need a two-week romantic vacation to rekindle your intimacy. (Although I’m very much in favor of taking one if you can!) Instead, take advantage of the small moments in your day — like when you both come home after work — to connect. Investing even a little bit of time each day strengthens your relationship. Check out the Gottman Institute blog for a great resource on this topic: “6 Hours a Week to a Better Relationship.”
The reality of contagious divorce is alarming, but it also serves as a powerful reminder to take care of your relationship. If you’d like a total “wellness guide” for your marriage, I invite you to check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
Being married to a workaholic can make you feel like the third wheel in your own relationship. If your husband’s job seems to consume all of his attention, that’s not good for your marriage, his health or your health. Today I want to share some advice on how to get things back to a more balanced place. Of course, if you’re the workaholic in your marriage, the information here applies to you too.
What Makes Someone a Workaholic?
All of us in the U.S., men and women, are working a lot these days. Some analyses have even found that maintaining the same standard of living requires working more hours than it used to. This financial pressure can certainly be one reason your husband works so much.
And then there’s the impact of technology on our work. Our image of a workaholic used to be someone who burned the midnight oil at the office. But now — thanks to smartphones and laptops — work can follow us anywhere. Your husband might actually spend more time at home than his father did, but be working more hours.
With these new technologies come new expectations about what being a dedicated employee means. In some fields, workers are “always on,” responding to work communications during evenings, weekends and even vacations. The weight of those expectations drives workaholic tendencies.
Researchers Lieke ten Brummelhuis and Nancy P. Rothbard found that there’s a difference between being a workaholic and simply working long hours. Workaholics are constantly connected to their work, obsessing about it and even feeling guilty when not working. They don’t take regular physical or mental breaks from working.
Workaholic Habits Take a Heavy Toll
Rothbard and ten Brummelhuis also found that workaholics suffer both physically and emotionally. They reported having more health problems and were at higher risk for metabolic syndrome. They experienced more insomnia, emotional exhaustion, and feelings of depression than employees who worked long hours but did not have the same workaholic tendencies.
A new study out of Virginia Tech sounds the alarm that a worker’s significant other and family also suffer ill effects when the expectation to work is constant. The researchers state that “‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.”
Work vs. Relationships
Not surprisingly, an excessive focus on work harms your relationship too. In the Virginia Tech study, partners of employees who feel the pressure to always be available for work report that the quality of their relationship suffers.
If your husband is a workaholic, his long hours and the constant intrusion of his work on your life are probably stressing both of you out. And when you’re in a state of constant stress, It is much harder to connect with each other. You have more trouble seeing the positive aspects of your relationship and tend to magnify the negative ones. You become more reactive and defensive. “Little things” could push you right over the edge.
Resentment can also be a problem, especially if you are also working full time. Women still typically take on more domestic responsibilities, and that’s probably even more true in your house if your husband is preoccupied with work. As I talked about in my last post, the mental load of being the household and family manager is exhausting. You might also feel angry if there’s an unspoken assumption that his job is the “important” one and that you should curtail the development of your own career to pick up his slack at home.
Working Together on Change
For all of these reasons, your husband’s workaholic habits just aren’t sustainable. But I also realize that he’s unlikely to suddenly start leaving the office and switching of his work email at 5 p.m. every day. So what’s the realistic solution?
First, start a conversation with your husband about how much of the pressure on him is external and how much is internal. Workaholics can put more expectations on themselves than any boss ever would. He may have grown up with the idea that “the most important thing for a man to do is work hard and be a good provider for his family — even if this means he can’t spend as much time with them.” And he might even assume you believe the same thing.
Talk more deeply about the gender expectations you both grew up with. The revelations might surprise you both. You may be assuming that he works a lot because he enjoys it more than participating in family life. But he might feel that he’s doing the most loving thing for your family.
You can support your husband’s career and also insist that there be some boundaries with work. Discuss with him the considerable amount of research indicating that being a workaholic actually decreases his productivity. If he’s highly driven to do his best at work, he may be surprised to learn that having more downtime will make him more effective on the job.
The two of you can experiment with balancing work and your personal life differently. For example, what happens if he stops checking work email after 8 p.m. for a week? Does he really miss anything? Is he better rested, less stressed and more productive? Use the information you gather to guide future decision making, always negotiating for an arrangement that supports your relationship.
For more help with navigating your busy lives, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
If you were able to enjoy a more leisurely pace this summer, it’s probably becoming a distant memory now that September is here. If you have kids, you’ve taken care of back-to-school shopping. Now you’re filling the calendar with the kids’ school events and other activities while trying to keep the household running and juggling everyone’s packed schedules.
And you’re probably doing most of this on your own, right?
Researchers have long noted that women still spend more time on household chores and childcare than men do (although men are doing better than they did in the past). But there’s another aspect of inequality in domestic responsibilities that’s starting to come to the forefront. And that’s the idea of mental load.
What Is Mental Load?
Mental load encompasses all the planning, scheduling, strategizing and anticipating that go into managing your home and family. It’s all the information you routinely keep track of: your kids’ teachers, best friends and clothing sizes — and on and on. It’s the running list of errands or home projects you keep in your head.
Women carry a higher mental load than men do. Being the only person who knows what needs to be done is extra work for you — even if your husband happily helps with household tasks when you ask.
You might see a lot of yourself and your husband in “You Should’ve Asked,” a comic about the mental load by an artist known as Emma.
“When a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he’s viewing her as the manager of household chores,” Emma writes. Being the household manager and organizer, she adds, is basically a full-time job.
Part of women’s mental load is also thinking more about the “big picture” than their male partners often do. Did you cringe at the scene in the comic where the woman asks her husband to take the baby’s bottle out of the dishwasher? He does — but leaves the rest of the clean dishes inside.
How to Share the Mental Load
Shouldering the majority of your household’s mental load over the long term is a recipe for resentment that will ultimately damage your marriage.
So how can you and your husband redistribute the mental load differently?
First, it’s always best to talk about the situation openly. He may notice that you’re stressed but not understand that this stress is related to your mental load — which means that he doesn’t know what needs to change. And if you’ve been dropping hints, it’s not a very effective way to communicate.
We all go into marriage with our own “scripts” about how things should be. Those scripts are shaped by the families we grew up with and by the culture as a whole. It’s easy to think that our script is the same as everyone else’s, but that isn’t the case. For example, your husband might assume that the way his parents’ marriage worked is just the way that all marriages work.
Remember, though, that inequities in how the two of you handle your family’s mental load could also stem from your script. As women, we grow up hearing lots of messages about how we should tirelessly devote ourselves to the needs of others.
Compare your scripts so that you can understand and empathize with where the other person is coming from. Once you’ve opened the conversation, the next step is working together to negotiate who is fully responsible for managing various tasks. Maybe that means he takes over planning meals and making the grocery list while you cook. Perhaps he takes the lead with your daughter’s gymnastics lessons while you manage her school activities. It doesn’t matter how you distribute the work. What’s important is that it feels fair to both of you.
If particular tasks need to be done by a certain time, identify the time frame so both of you have the same expectations. If one of you is better at a task, go ahead and play to your strengths and let that person be responsible for it. Same thing if you care more about a particular area — you should be the one in charge of it.
As more of the mental load shifts to your husband, you may find yourself having difficulty letting go. You will have to grapple with your own perfectionism or anxiety about not being in charge. If you find yourself micromanaging tasks that you both agreed he would manage, he’s likely to get upset with you.
You have to trust your husband and give him space to figure out his own system for managing his responsibilities. After all, he is an adult. He may not do things in the same way you do, or do them to your standards. But it’s healthier to redefine your definition of “good enough” than to continue to carry your whole family’s mental load.
Talking about mental load with your husband and working together on changes might not be easy. But it will improve your marriage and help you set a better example for your kids. If you’d like more practical advice on balancing marriage, family and career, you’ll enjoy my book Strong Women, Strong Love.