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Want to Be a Better Husband? Easy. Help With the Emotional Labor

Chances are, your wife handles the brunt of the 'emotional labor' in your relationship. Here's how to help carry the burden.

The notion of the wife being the de facto manager of the household has become something of a cliché in modern culture. Who doesn’t know that husband who tosses off comments like, “Let me check with the boss,” before scheduling an event? But here’s the thing: The majority of women do bear the weight of planning. And this includes managing the daily tasks as well as their feelings and their partner’s in order to accomplish everything. This is often referred to as “emotional labor,” or the invisible work necessary to run a household. Constant overseeing of their families’ needs can take a major toll. If this burden goes unrecognized, it can have a very bad effect on your marriage.

According to Rachel Lamson, a premarital counselor with For Keeps LLC, it’s keeping tabs on the emotional burden that takes the largest toll. “When there’s tension in the house, it tends to fall a lot of one spouse to keep track of. ‘Okay, we haven’t had any alone time together,’ or ‘We’re not really connecting emotionally’,” she says. “It falls on one partner to ask ‘How was your day?’ if the other one forgets.” Lamson says that she and her husband, like many couples, fell into a similar emotional gulf where she was tackling much of this invisible work. “Because I always keep track of it,” she says, “it just became something that I was supposed to do.” To overcome it, she says, she and her husband sat down and “realized that these things were happening and for him to pick tasks back up again.”

So, if you feel as though this might be an encroaching, or even evident, issue in your relationship, here are some things you can do to help shoulder the load.

Come Up With a Plan

This can just be a plan of what both people want to get out of their relationship and what matters to each of them. If both partner’s goals are clearly outlined, it can be much harder for things to fall by the wayside. “As far as lessening emotional labor on a wife,” says Phillip Young, who founded Better Together Breakthroughs with his wife Brittney, “a husband can always refer back to this — hopefully in a weekly family meeting — to check-in with his wife on how they are living this shared creation.”

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Express Gratitude

Mike, a husband and father in Putnam County, New York, recalls that his wife had asked him if he’d clean the bathrooms at least once a week. If Sunday rolled around and the bathrooms still weren’t done, his wife would bring it up again. Initially, Mike would respond with irritation and statements like, “I’ll get to it later!” But eventually, he shifted gears and, when asked about the bathrooms, he’d say, “Right, let me get on it. Thanks for reminding me!” That simple change in response made all the difference and showed his wife that what was important to her was also important to him. “Many men tend to view their partner reminding them as nagging,” says Lamson, “but try instead to recognize that it means your partner is keeping track of your things on top of theirs and just say thank you.”

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Know When Your Partner Needs a Break

After Young’s son was born he was trying to be the best father and husband he could be. “I would have snacks ready 24/7 for my wife’s healing. I would burp our son, do any errand, run to the store any amount of times during the day,” he says. But after three-and-a-half weeks, he was getting burnt out and his wife knew it. “One day she told me to get out. Not leave the marriage, but get outside and go running.” Young says the fact that his wife had the emotional space to say this to him, and he had the emotional space to hear it and not be offended is a blueprint for how to recognize and share this invisible work.

Define “Clean” Together

Different people have different ideas of what “clean” actually means. One person’s idea of picking up the place might not mesh well with the other’s. So, one simple trick to sharing the burden is to sit down and talk about — and arrive at a conclusion for — what clean means.  “It’s wonderful to be willing to pick up a few chores but if it looks only half done to your partner, it just adds to the frustration,” says Lamson. “Sit down and define what clean looks like for each area of the house. And then clean it to that standard.”

Figure Out Your Values

It’s key for couples to know what it is that they value, and to make sure that their actions are in line with those values, Young says. He and his wife, for instance, give the couples that they work with something that they call a 5-day Core Values Kick-Starter Kit. “This allows both the husband and the wife to examine what they share as values, what they are doing weekly to live those, and who they spend time with,” he says. “If a couple can know their values and align their actions to it, there is an emotional match of satisfaction, and fulfillment that trickles down.”

Touch Base Every Day

The most important thing in any marriage is communication. And, when it comes to sharing the emotional labor, this skill becomes more crucial than ever. If you and your wife can do a brief “state of the union” on the events of the day, you can both make sure that there’s nothing that’s either lingering of left unsaid. “Ask what went well during the day, what didn’t go so well, and what are the plans for tomorrow,” says Lamson. “Better yet, suggest plans for tomorrow.” Young and his wife say that do this as well each night. “One we have been doing recently is taking turns saying two statements, three times,” he says. “So I would say, ‘I appreciate myself for, fill in the blank, today,’ and then, ‘I appreciate you for, fill in the blank, today.’ I think it’s a way to really create a connection.”