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Fed Up With Emotional Labor? How to Talk to Your Husband About It

Photograph by Twenty20

You know that meme that describes a woman’s mind like an internet browser with 19 or so tabs open, three of which are frozen, and there's mysterious music playing from one of them? I have never felt so seen.

Because day in and day out, I juggle everything for our family. There are at least 19 tabs open in my brain at all times. I coordinate wellness checkup appointments, school picture forms, my husband’s Amazon returns, lunch packing (and unpacking) and birthday gifts for my in-laws. I book family getaways and lodgings. I shop for outfits for six people for an upcoming wedding. And I get paid for none of it and appreciated for only some of it. These tasks are just expected of me because I’m mom.

But, I think, the tides are changing.

Ladies, get ready to cheer—the book of our lives debuts soon. "Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women and the Way Forward" by journalist, mother and emotional labor expert Gemma Hartley opens up a conversation about the invisible work women do and paves a way for us to close some of the 19 tabs that haunt us day in and day out.

I spoke with Hartley recently and asked what was the best way to kick off the conversation of emotional labor with my husband because, honestly, it feels like an argument waiting to happen. My husband and I have been married for over a decade and we’re in a groove — one where I’m burdened by emotional labor and he is ignorantly unaware. I know we need to talk, but I’m wary.

What we need is more equal distribution of emotional labor, for our partners to take up their rightful responsibilities in our shared lives.

Hartley shared this insight: "My first and most adamant piece of advice is don't ask for 'help.' Help implies that emotional labor is your responsibility, and that your partner is going above and beyond when they decide to pitch in. What we need is more equal distribution of emotional labor, for our partners to take up their rightful responsibilities in our shared lives. Also, keep things focused on your partnership. It doesn't matter if your partner thinks he does 'so much' when he's comparing himself to his friends who don the title of 'babysitter' when they watch their own kids. This is about the balance of labor between you and your partner, not him and his lackluster man friends."

It’s good I asked for advice because I never would have thought to approach our discussion like that!

I especially feel drawn to the topic of women’s emotional labor because I have three boys. My husband and I have a huge responsibility to raise them well and I know this is an area where we can improve. Hartley agrees.

"The absolute most critical part of raising boys who understand and accept emotional labor as their responsibility is to witness a healthy dynamic between parents, so for moms that means setting boundaries on the emotional labor we perform first and foremost," she said. "Teaching our sons to take initiative and responsibility for emotional labor is also something we have the power to shape, but keep in mind that 'Do as I say, not as I do' isn't going to inspire much change in the next generation. We have to focus on changing how we respond to the expectations for emotional labor if we want our children to do the same."

It’s going to be a slow and steady process, first to address how emotional labor has impacted our marriage, then to enact change. From there, we can model a more balanced approach to the work that it takes to run our family. No doubt this will be an ongoing conversation and, probably, a "two steps forward, one step back" kind of situation. Bottom line though, I married a good man and I am thankful that when something burdens me, my husband is willing to hear me out and, in this case, join me in the journey toward a new way of doing things.

"Fed Up" is currently available for pre-order and will arrive on store shelves on Nov. 13, 2018. I hate to admit it, but I’ll be taking on the emotionally laborious task of purchasing the audiobook version, downloading it onto my husband’s phone, and then writing a gracious email prompting him to listen on his commute so we can discuss the topic and outline steps to better handle the invisible work our family requires to be successful. I suppose my initiative can serve as a personal example of emotional labor when we start digging into what it looks like in our relationship.

I, for one, am so thankful Hartley crafted such an amazing conversation starter. Even more, I’m giddy that more is to come. Hartley didn't say exactly, but it's apparent that she has just begun her crusade to empower couples.

"My hope is that (future work) will move couples past having the same old fights and frustrations, so we can all move forward and experience fuller, better lives and partnerships," she said.

Amen to that!

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