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How Do I Stop Adding To My Wife’s Emotional Labor?

One Husband Asks

Q: I’m a guy and I’m doing my best to understand and to take on more of the emotional labor in our relationship. I realized one of the ways I’m adding to her amount of emotional labor is how I’ll often check in with her and talk to her about if something I’m doing is helping, or looking for advice about how to best help. I want to find a way to better take on more of the emotional labor in our relationship, without putting it all on her to explain to me what I need to improve.

Do you have any advice or recommendations?

—Anonymous

A:

Dear Anonymous,

Sure. Just start doing stuff.

Every relationship requires communication. Communication isn’t bad. And, every time your relationship grows in a specific direction, makes progress, takes a step, it’s going to take a bunch more discussion at the outset as you guys find your groove. That goes with anything. So, you’re trying to chip in more. As you get used to helping out in ways you haven’t before, it’s normal that you’ll need to check in and chat about it. But plan on weaning off of that. And do that by just doing stuff without the check-ins.

Before you ask your partner something, think to yourself, “Is this something I should already know? Is this something I can figure out for myself? Hell, can I Google this? And if I screw this up, will it be a big deal?”

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Because what I need you to remember is this: your partner has gotten used to doing these things, but likely, she’s no better equipped for them than you are. She’s used to carrying a lot around in her brain. So, find a way to carry it around in yours. I’ll guess that you’ll tell me you have trouble remembering stuff (just based on what men often say). How do you remember stuff at work? Use those same methods, whether calendar notifications, sticky note to-do lists, notes in your phone, or whatever. You are every bit as capable as she is. When she gets to the grocery store, sometimes she, also, forgets exactly what kind of noodle she needed to buy. I promise! So she’ll Google the recipe, and if she can’t find it, she grabs whatever is on the shelf. You, also, can try to figure it out for yourself, and if you can’t, weigh whether it’s a big deal or not if you get it wrong.

You mention asking her how you can help. It’s a great question! The only thing more ideal would be for you to look around, be aware of what needs to happen, and just do it. When we’re scrambling to get out the door, if my partner asks, “How can I help?” I mean, it’s helpful and appreciated. But then I have to try to run through my mental list and pick out what things I can delegate, and it’s honestly just easier to keep trudging through it myself. The question itself is relying on me to carry that mental list. It’s a little easier when he already knows what needs to be done and can offer to do it, like, “Should I pack the diaper bag?” But the very best, the ideal option, is when he can just go check that task and see if it’s done, and if not, do it. See if the diaper bag is packed. Assess the weather and grab mittens for the kids. Make sure the cat has plenty of food and water.

The more you get used to being aware of the logistics that keep life running smoothly, the better you’ll get at noticing what needs to be done, and maybe just habitually doing it. This is what your partner has already done, you know? But, it will take time. So, while you keep plodding ahead, don’t get too frustrated that it’s a process. You’ll need to communicate up front, ask her these questions, get a little coaching. Any kind of forward progress in a relationship needs that. Just… eventually stop.

—Liz Moorhead

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