Episode 8: How a married couple shares the mental load

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We are continuing to focus on this vital aspect of personal and relational health: the “mental load.” In this podcast, the second of three on the topic, Dr. John and Dr. Morgan sat down with Charity and Ted to explore how they deal with their mental loads. They have been married 20 years and are in the hectic season of raising four kids, ages 9-16. Although no one is perfect, they are a wonderful couple who were encouraged by friends and family to write a book about their marriage (Staying I Do) because their relationship modeled what a loving marriage should look like… mutual admiration and support, especially in this key area of the mental load. 

couple shares the mental load

The main takeaways from this episode include:

1.Attack the mental load as a team

The mental load is most often presented as a women’s invisible running list of responsibilities, tasks, and concerns because the wife/mother almost always has a much more extensive and overwhelming mental load than her husband, literally expanding every detail of family and home life. However, successful marriages acknowledge both mental loads in ways that blur some of these individual differences with a greater sense of support and ownership. You could say that a couple creates a third, “corporate” mental load in their marriage that they both share, even though the specifics are still being managed by each partner.

This begins with an attitude of mutual caretaking in a marriage relationship. Couples must cultivate this genuine interest in each other, with an openness to step into the mental load of their partner.

Here are some questions to check out your attitude.

  • How often am I thinking about what my partner is dealing with?
  • Do I take sufficient time to attempt to reconstruct in my mind the mental load of my partner? 
  • How does my partner view my attitude toward their mental load and all the tasks they are managing?
  • How accurately could I explain my partner’s mental load?
  • How responsible do I feel for the tasks and concerns that are in my partner’s mental load?
  • Can I honestly say that I have an attitude of “servitude”—where I happily try and serve my partner and my family?

2. Practice collecting data from your marriage and family

Women tend to be the ultimate data collectors.  They know all the things, where it’s kept, who likes what, and who needs what. So this is a challenge that is mostly for their partners.

Think of engaging in tasks and activities that both reduce your partner’s mental load while also expanding your understanding of your family.

For example, Ted was able to drive his four kids to school several days a week and used that time to collect intel on what each one was dealing with that in their schoolwork, friendships, and extra-curricular activities. This was a way he could step into his wife’s mental load about their children without depending on Charity to explain all the details.

He took the initiative to learn and then acted on what he learned by becoming more involved with his kids!

Here are some ideas:

  • Pay attention to all the “little things” your partner does to run the home and take care of the kids? This includes straightening up things like the pillows on the couch, the dishes throughout the house, the clothes, shoes, papers, and other belongings that need to be put back in their proper “homes”—add up how many times your partner attends to these things and various needs of the kids.
  • Imagine that your partner had to deploy for a month and be absent from your home. What details would you have to take on that you typically do not worry about?
  • Engage with members of your family like a detective looking for clues. Search and find the repeating needs and wants they seem to have, and then make a plan for how you can help meet them.

3. Balance taking steps of informed initiative with making requests for support

A common sore point with many women is when they hear their partner say, “If you want me to help, just ask.”

Although that partner believes he is being approachable and willing to help, there is the subtle message that he has NO responsibilities except those that his partner explicitly delegates. It assumes that everything is her job until she solicits his involvement. This often pushes the buttons of frustration and leads to arguments that do not fix the division of responsibilities between partners.

However, when the first two suggestions (attack the mental load as a team and practice data collection) are being implemented, then approaching your partner to request support feels much better because it is within the context of that partner frequently initiating involvement based on their own observations and loving interest.

Here are some ways to build a better balance of initiating with requesting.

  • Know that your partner is not a mind reader, and if they are open to helping, focus on their willingness to help.
  • Talk together as a couple about how you would like to be approached for support, and how you would like to request involvement from your partner.
  • Regularly express your appreciation for both what you partner does and how they support you in your mental load.
  • Have frequent check-ins about what is on your mind… what you are covering that day and what tasks are relevant to both partners.
  • Be willing to quickly forgive and let go of any misunderstandings or hurt feelings, and get back to being a team, working to out-do each other in support and love.

What else is there?

To learn more, and hear about what may be necessary to maintain a relationship with someone you “agree to disagree” with make sure to listen to the full episode.

We hope you listen, subscribe, and review the podcast.  If you want to apply to be a guest on the podcast, we’d love to hear from you.

Check out Charity and Ted’s book, Staying I Do.

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