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One of the biggest challenges faced by couples is how they carry and express their “mental loads.” In this first of several podcasts on the topic, Dr. John and Dr. Morgan sat down with Jonathan to explore how he handles his own mental load, and the ways he and his wife work together to support each other’s mental loads as they raise their four kids, ages 7, 5, 3, and 1.
The main takeaways from this episode include:
1.Husbands are often out of touch with the mental load
The mental load is the invisible running list of responsibilities, tasks, and concerns that occurs in a person’s mind. This is a universal experience, even though some may have never labeled it, and others may be out of touch. So, the first step is awareness… taking inventory of your own mental load. This is a prerequisite to stepping into your partner’s world to understand and support them with their mental load.
Here are some questions to take inventory of your own mental load.
- What are the specific responsibilities are on my plate?
- What are the unfinished tasks that I feel responsible to complete?
- How important are each of these responsibilities and tasks (maybe use a 1-7 scale to weight the importance of your responsibilities and tasks).
- What are the categories of my tasks and responsibilities? For example, if I put my mental load in a pie chart, what percentage is work? Childcare? Home chores? Relationship issues?
- What additional concerns do I have that I feel some degree of responsibility to care for or act on?
- What is my rating of each of these additional concerns (1-7 scale)?
2. Engage in open and non-defensive conversations about your mental loads
The mental load, like many other areas, is often better understood by one partner than the other. This means that the person who has learned about the mental load ends up trying to explain it to their partner. This can be a slippery slope that ends up in a conflict. Therefore, it works best to first engage in a discussion about the concept of the mental load and what exactly it is before trying to share the specifics of your own load. Clarity of definition opens the doors of implementation… so with a growing understanding of the concept, you can then both share what your mental loads entail, which can lead to conversations about how you and your partner would like to be supported in your mental loads.
Here are some conversation starters.
Hey, I was reading about something called, the mental load—have you ever heard of it? If the answer is no, then you can ask: It made a ton of sense to me, and I think it explains a lot of what goes on in my head and probably yours too. Let me explain it and I’d love to talk about it together with you.
Here is a simple definition of a mental load: The mental load is the invisible running list of responsibilities, tasks, and concerns that occurs in a person’s mind.
So, what are the specific tasks, responsibilities, and concerns that are in your mental load?
Some individuals associate the mental load with weakness, like it is a “worry list.” Like one of the partner’s is just “making a bigger deal” out of it than the other. If this happens, then a conversation about how everyone has a mental load can help to normalize it and frame it as a normal thing rather than a weak thing.
3. It is vital to check in frequently about your partner’s mental load because it often changes, along with their desire for your engagement and support.
The idea that one conversation about the mental load is all that is needed is very unrealistic. Here are a few suggestions for how you can reduce your partner’s mental load stress while increasing feelings of support.
Develop subtle approaches to ask what your partner has on their mind.
- What is on your plate today?
- I know you have a to-do list… I’d love to hear it.
- You always take such good care of everything and everyone… what are you concerned about that needs attention?
Take the Initiative to support your partner.
What is something I can do that would help with your mental load? Know that some partners really appreciate this question while others may find it a trigger for frustration, because now delegating tasks to you is an additional item on their mental load. This partner often wants you to take initiative and not even ask—figure it out on your own.
Offer to tackle one or more items in your partner’s mental load.
Keep track of repeating tasks or responsibilities, or concerns that are on your partner’s mental load and take care of it before your partner does.
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.