Recently my husband, Greg, announced that we weren’t going to eat out for a while because the budget wouldn’t allow for it. My immediate thought was, Easy for you to say because that means that I have to cook every night. I felt the invisible weight of the situation but didn’t communicate my frustration. Greg had no idea about my internal dialogue.
The next day I read a comic concerning the “mental load” a mom carries for her family. Without knowing fully what it was referring to, I read it because I have felt the mental load. I recognized that although I had never had a name for what I felt, the “no eating out” announcement triggered a mental burden in me.
In 25 years of marriage, Greg and I have learned not to play the game of comparing who is doing more or is more exhausted. It goes nowhere good. We both have our areas of responsibility, and with those duties comes mental stress. We have tried to be intentional about an equitable distribution of chores and functioning as teammates. Greg is wonderful, helping out around the house and being super involved with the kids. But sometimes, I’m not sure that he understands just how things affect me as the mom.
Most wives would say they feel greater stress than their husbands do in the areas of raising kids and managing the household. Research shows that even when a mom is working full time, she is often still doing more of the chores around the house than the dad. But we’re not just talking about the stress of executing the tasks but the stress of planning and organizing, as well.
Even with an amazingly helpful husband, sometimes my heart has been bitter and empty as a result of feeling like I was doing more than he was. If you feel that bitterness is silently building in your heart, you must address it. If you are like Greg and me, finding that this issue resurfaces again and again, here are a few suggestions to help you be the best teammates possible to accomplish all you have to do individually and as a couple:
Notice what your spouse does.
Wives can tend to focus on what their husband isn’t doing around the house. Greg says that he feels like he could have repainted the entire house but if he didn’t put his laundry away, I would notice the laundry and not the paint.
Keep a running list of what your husband does to contribute to household chores — instead of noticing only the undone tasks. It will help keep your frame of mind positive toward him.
Work as a team.
Regardless of who does what, keep your eyes open to the things that need to be done around the house. Much like a basketball player notices what is going on in his or her teammates’ corner even when it’s not his or her position, step in and do whatever you can. No matter who “owns” the laundry, when you walk by a pile of unfolded laundry, fold it, don’t ignore it.
Scripture is clear that we are to serve each another (Galatians 5:13). Imagine how amazing it would be if each day both people in a marriage focused on out-serving the other. It would definitely change the environment from competitive and bitter to one of love and gratefulness.
Support each other’s self-care.
One of the greatest gifts you can give each other is to support your spouse’s self-care efforts. Do all you can to encourage your spouse to go to the gym, take a day off to fish or spend time away on a girls’ trip. However, in those seasons when your spouse isn’t thinking about your needs, you are ultimately responsible to take care of yourself so that you can give to others out of abundance.
In seasons of trying to give out of emptiness, I would end up resentful toward Greg when it came to doing chores. I would be stewing: Do I have to make one more dinner? Why can’t he put his own laundry away? But when I’ve consistently had time with girlfriends and gone to the gym, I’m thrilled to serve my husband and family.
Fight the silo mentality.
Embrace the fact that you and your spouse are one — united in the covenant of marriage. Whenever you can, work together to accomplish all that needs to be done and to discover what works best in your marriage. You and your spouse are not alone.
We all have to work at this huge issue in marriage.
Erin Smalley is a co-author of The Wholehearted Wife. She serves as the Marriage Strategic Spokesperson for Focus on the Family’s marriage ministry and develops content for the marriage department.