What messages did you get about anger when you were growing up?
I bet you heard statements like these:
Girls shouldn’t get so mad.
Don’t curse. It isn’t very ladylike.
Guys don’t like angry, bitter women.
Calm down. You’re being so dramatic.
The people who instilled this kind of thinking in us weren’t doing us any favours. Misconceptions about anger and a lack of healthy strategies for dealing with anger can damage your relationship. So, let’s get a fresh perspective on this intense emotion that you might fear and avoid.
When Anger Goes Wrong
Far too many women think anger is telling them something negative about themselves. Thanks to what they learned from their families of origin and our culture, they fear deep down that anger means they’re a bad, aggressive person. They believe that if they could just be better somehow, they wouldn’t get angry.
These beliefs lead to:
>> Tolerating behaviour that makes you feel disrespected. For example, your husband habitually runs late. Or even behaviour that harms your family, like overspending.
>> Avoiding anger at all costs. Never having an argument doesn’t improve your marriage. In fact, the opposite can happen if you are sweeping issues under the rug.
>> Seething silently in resentment. In many marriages, women build up resentment around housework and emotional labor.
>> Withdrawing and becoming depressed. This happens when you lose any hope of getting your needs met.
>> Complaints that do give voice to your anger, but in a way that’s unlikely to get your husband to change what’s making you angry.
>> Mean-spirited venting with friends. Again, this might feel like you’re doing something with your anger. But you’re actually just cultivating contempt for your husband while avoiding the real issues.
>> We all have a breaking point. If you suppress anger long enough, you’re likely to lash out. When that happens, your words will be a lot more hurtful than the ones you would have chosen if you’d addressed your anger earlier.
How Anger Can Help You
You may not realize that anger doesn’t have to result in screaming and wounded feelings. It can actually help you improve your relationship. Anger also isn’t some indication of your character, or lack thereof.
The very wise psychologist and author, Harriet Lerner, recommends viewing anger as a warning signal. It reliably tells you when something is wrong and you need to take action to protect yourself.
To use anger in a positive way, first notice how you react when you notice angry feelings surfacing. If you tend to judge yourself and say, “Ugh, I shouldn’t be such a bitch,” or push your anger down with “No time to feel that now!” see if you can just let yourself feel the emotion without trying to judge it or squash it.
Instead of recoiling from your own anger, tune in and ask yourself what your anger is trying to communicate to you. Some common messages behind anger include:
Your needs aren’t being met.
You are being disrespected.
You are doing too much.
Someone has crossed a line with you.
When you have a handle on what’s causing your anger, you can act on it in a more effective way and use your anger as catalyst for positive change. For example, you can establish or affirm healthy boundaries around what you will do, how much you will give, and what you will tolerate. You can lovingly but firmly stand up for what you need and what you expect.
Read More About Women and Anger
I won’t lie to you: while embracing your anger is liberating, it can also be an uncomfortable journey. All of those early messages are deeply ingrained in our minds, and our society still has some deeply messed up attitudes about women and anger. To aid you in this work, I recommend Lerner’s book The Dance of Anger, as well as my own book, Strong Women, Strong Love: The Missing Manual for the Modern Marriage.
you been in this situation with your husband?
two of you are at home after work or on the weekend. You’re catching up on
household tasks or things you need to do for the kids. Or you may be trying to
rest, but your head is spinning with thoughts of all you should be doing.
While you’re stressed, he’s relaxing by the TV or happily scrolling through his phone. If it’s bedtime, he’s out like a light.
One of the most frustrating and fascinating things I see happening in relationships is that there’s still a big gulf between the way men feel at home and how women feel in the same space.
Despite all the changes in gender roles and expectations that have happened in the past half-century, I believe that most men continue to view home as a place to relax and as a refuge from the stress of the outside world.
Meanwhile, women see home as a place that has its own set of responsibilities and stresses. There’s a good reason for this. Wives still tend to do more housework than their husbands do. Primary responsibility for childcare also continues to fall mostly on women, as well as the emotional labor of the household.
And then there are the cultural norms that affect us all to one degree or another. Traditionally, we’ve seen the home as the woman’s domain. A lot of us know deep down that if, for example, the house is messy when someone drops by that we will be the ones who are judged for that, not our husbands.
Things More Fair at Home
But, just like your husband, you deserve to get some rest and relaxation at home. And your marriage will be better if you don’t have underlying resentment that you’re doing more around the house.
Change starts by talking openly about the unspoken expectations and assumptions both of you have. You might discover that the behaviors you were taking personally (“He’s lounging around and doesn’t care that I’m so stressed!”) are actually just habits he learned in his family of origin or stem from his lack of awareness of how much is on your plate.
After you’ve cleared the air, negotiate how the two of you can divide domestic responsibilities so that you both get some rest. For example, maybe you agree that each of you will take a set amount of time to decompress after work and then have certain tasks to complete. Or, perhaps, you’re responsible for the dishes and he does the laundry. The more specific you can be, the better.
This common conflict really drives home how social expectations can affect your marriage. Remember that you are both on the same team and can create a less stressful life if you work together to ease the burdens on each of you. For more ideas about decreasing the stress in your marriage, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
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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.
You and your husband may have discussed (or argued about) how you divvy up household chores and responsibilities. But have you ever talked about how the two of you divide the emotional labor that’s necessary to keep your relationship and your family functioning?
The term “emotional labor” has gotten a lot of buzz in the past few years, but it’s not new. Academics have been looking at the concept for decades. Inequity in who performs emotional labor is an issue in the workplace, in social situations and at home. But, since this is a blog about marriage, today I’m going to focus on emotional labor as it affects our domestic relationships.
Defining Emotional Labor
So what does emotional labor encompass? Writer Suzannah Weiss defines it this way:
Emotional labor is the exertion of energy for the purpose of addressing people’s feelings, making people comfortable, or living up to social expectations. It’s called “emotional labor” because it ends up using – and often draining – our emotional resources.
Of course, we all perform emotional labor in our relationships. The reason it’s such a hot-button topic, though, is that emotional labor at home disproportionately falls on women.
Emotional labor looks different in different households. But here are a few examples that might feel familiar to you:
Your husband may be happy to go to parent-teacher conferences and other school events with you. But you’re the one who is primarily responsible for nurturing and meeting the emotional needs of your kids on a daily basis. You talk to them about conflicts with friends. It falls on you to make sure their birthday celebrations special. When you can, you volunteer at school so you will be seen as a good mother.
Somehow it’s fallen on you to remember and send birthday/sympathy/graduation cards and gifts — even for his side of the family.
You habitually monitor and manage your husband’s emotions, doing what you can to keep the peace.
When you have guests, you’re anticipating their needs so they have a good visit. He simply enjoys himself.
While your husband does chip in at home, you’re the one who’s constantly thinking ahead: We need to go ahead and book our vacation to get the best rates … If we want to host dinner on Saturday, we have to pick up groceries and clean up before then … If we want to sell the house next summer, we should start fixing it up now … Your mom is having trouble getting around. Let’s find someone to help her with chores.
Again, no one is saying that you shouldn’t perform tasks like these — or even enjoy performing them. The problem is that if you’re doing all of this type of work in your marriage, you’re going to end up depleted. That isn’t good for your health or the health of your relationship. When you’re exhausted and stressed, you’re likely to become resentful with your husband. And he may have no idea why.
Sharing the Emotional Load
Every couple could benefit from thinking and talking more about emotional labor. Try these ideas and insights to get started:
First, realize that the emotional labor you do really is work. If you’re feeling tired and frazzled, it could be the constant emotional pressure you feel as you try to tend to everyone’s needs. Don’t wait until you explode. Ask for what you need from your partner.
You may undervalue emotional labor because you’ve always prioritized other people’s emotional needs before your own. It’s important to acknowledge that constantly trying to keep others happy can be burdensome. It’s okay to put your needs first at times.
Just because you’re better at emotional labor than your husband, doesn’t mean it should always fall on you. As writer Rose Hackman points out in The Guardian, we’d never accept this line of reasoning when it comes to, say, cleaning.
If your husband isn’t taking on the emotional labor in your relationship, that doesn’t mean he’s a bad or incompetent person. Family therapist, speaker and author Terry Real reminds us of a disappointing truth: Almost universally, men don’t grow up learning how to be intimate partners. But that doesn’t mean they can’t become more skilled at emotional labor. Your marriage will certainly be stronger if you and your husband can learn how to share the job of nurturing and tending to the emotional needs of your loved ones and each other.
If this article has resonated with you, you and your husband may want to read my book Strong Women, Strong Love together. It’s a practical guide to maintaining a strong marriage amid our busy lives.
Your husband is great. Really. Well, except for a few little things.
But, now that you think about it, these “little” things are actually weighing on you. They might be habits like these:
He seems oblivious to housework, and you’re tired and stressed from trying to take care of it all.
He overspends, and while you’re not headed for bankruptcy, it’s slowing your progress toward the financial goals you both agreed upon.
He habitually runs late, which frustrates you and embarrasses you when you’re going somewhere together.
We can describe these kinds of issues in a marriage as tolerations. They’re somewhere between the minor quirks or annoyances you can easily shrug off and major problems like infidelity or addiction. Because they’re not deal-breakers, sometimes we hesitate to discuss them. Airing your concerns might seem like making a big deal out of a relatively minor issue. In the rest of this article, I’ll explain why the opposite is true, and I’ll tell you the most effective way to approach your tolerations.
Why Do We Tolerate?
First, though, let’s look some of the other reasons we often avoid talking about our tolerations. Which of the following are true for you?
You’re a perfectionist. You think should be able to push through or put up with anything. But all of us have physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual limits.
You have low self-worth. And you think you must make constant sacrifices to keep your relationship.
You’re conflict-averse. You fear conflict, or you think that it doesn’t happen in “good” marriages. Many people cope with difficult, or even merely uncomfortable, situations by avoiding them.
You’re tired of trying. In her book Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, Dr. Sue Johnson describes a common pattern in marriage. You criticize and demand connection; he gets defensive and withdraws. Eventually, you give up and withdraw, too, leaving both of you distant and resentful.
The Cost of Toleration
If you’re tolerating in the name of being a “good wife,” know that this mindset isn’t actually helping your marriage. A toleration is like a stone in your shoe. It will annoy you, adding to your stress and depleting your energy – energy that could be going toward making your relationship more alive and authentic.
You may also think that you’re helping your marriage by not making mountains out of molehills. But that’s not what happens. Instead, unaddressed tolerations can spiral into major issues. The scope of the problem might grow. For example, the overspending might worsen so that you’re now missing house payments. Or the feelings you’ve held in might explode, and you end up having the very thing you tried to avoid: a hurtful, relationship-damaging confrontation.
Stop Tolerating and Start Communicating
It’s a lot healthier to address small tolerations before they become big problems. But I know this can feel like a big, scary step if you’re not used to communicating openly and directly. Here are few things to remember that will help make things easier.
Conflict is normal.All couples have points of disagreement or annoyance. Despite what it might seem like from your social media feeds, no one has a perfect relationship or is in synch with her partner 100 percent of the time.
Conflict is healthy. The amount of conflict in a marriage isn’t an indicator of how healthy it is. It’s all in how the couple handles that conflict. Respectfully working together on addressing tolerations is a way to make your bond stronger.
Directness is loving. Believe it or not, many men are unclear on how to please their wives. Your own husband almost certainly wants you to be happy, but he can’t read your mind. You’re helping him by telling him what’s important to you.
Timing is key. It’s kinder and more effective to bring up your tolerations when you aren’t irritated, tired or stressed. This is one reason why it’s best to have these discussions before your emotions get unmanageable.
Openness doesn’t have to be hurtful. Are you hesitant to talk about your tolerations because you don’t want to hurt your husband’s feelings? Remember to focus on the behavior rather than the person. There’s a big difference between “I’m feeling stressed because you regularly exceed the personal shopping budgets we agreed on for ourselves” and “I can’t believe you went shopping again! You’re so irresponsible!”
This week, think about what you’re ready to stop tolerating and how you can work together with your husband to address what’s bothering you. My book Strong Women, Strong Love can give you some additional strategies on communication and healthy conflict.