Why You Really Need to Consider Emotional Labour in Your Marriage


Manage episode 246151111 series 1423957
By Caleb & Verlynda Simonyi-Gindele and Verlynda Simonyi-Gindele. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.
Emotional labour is a significant part of a couple’s relationship. Emotional labour was first coined by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild in her book, The Managed Heart (1983)[1]. She defined it as the work of managing your own emotions, but the term has been expanded to looking at the overall burden of managing or carrying emotions in a marriage and/or family context. You’ll probably be aware in your own marriage, one spouse often takes most of the responsibility for worrying about a particular issue: a struggling child, or financial issues, etc. That is part of their emotional labour that they are carrying in the marriage. Emotional Labour is not Distributed Equally Often, the burden of emotional labour is not borne equally by both partners in a marriage. According to a 2011 study by Ellison et al., women take on the majority of emotional labour bearing in marriage[2]. Women may be socialized or programmed to be more nurturing than men, and they typically take on not only their own feelings and concerns, but also those of their husband in order to accomplish daily tasks. Morris and Feldman (1996) reported that nearly 2/3 of both men and women report that women tend to remind their spouse more often about things that need to be done like going to the grocery store or taking out the trash[3]. In addition, husbands don’t experience societal pressure to take charge of family to-do lists the same way wives do. Men are more likely to issue reminders about things from which they personally benefit. For example, making sure your wife remembers to buy you a new suit jacket for a work party. Women’s reminders, on the other hand, are more selfless and oriented towards others: organizing a child’s birthday party, picking up the family dry cleaning, taking the dog to the groomer, and so on. The problem with the difference between men and women’s agendas comes back to the idea of emotional labour. In this case, the greater burden is on the wife. This can lead to burnout as she has to keep a happy face on but carry most of the emotional labour. Emotional Labour Involves Mental Work Emotional labour involves more than just who does what items on the to-do list. Morris and Feldman (1996) also noticed that husbands frequently don’t take responsibility to think beyond the task nor do we take initiative regarding the task[4]. For example: when a wife asks her husband to go to the grocery store, he may ask her to tell him what to buy. He may not put in the mental work of going to the kitchen and considering a meal plan and what’s in the pantry and fridge and figuring it out himself. So even though he goes to the grocery store and does the purchasing, which is helping out physically, he is not really helping with the emotional workload associated with the task. Spouses Should Agree Division of Emotional Labour Returning to the idea of fair division of labour: what matters in marriage is not that division of labour (emotional or physical) is exactly 50/50 but, rather, that the division is seen to be fair by both the husband and wife. How exactly emotional labour should be divided is something that needs to be worked out in your marriage between you and your spouse. It may be that in your marriage it is perfectly fine for the husband to be given a list and just get the groceries. But it’s important to think beyond the example to the concept behind it. By considering the overall emotional burden, you may be in a marriage where both spouses appear busy and working hard to contribute to the functioning of the household, but the way you have arranged it may leave a much greater emotional burden on one spouse versus the other. That may lead to burnout. It may feel unfair. It may create resentment: even though both spouses as busy in the physical sense of doing things. This is definitely something you want to talk to your spouse about. Because this subject is one that requires us to step back and reflect,

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