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  • Olive Von Topp

No Wonder You’re So Fucking Tired: The (Not So) Hidden Costs of Emotional Labour

I work with a lot of women and non-binary folks who feel overwhelmed and underwhelmed

with their lives.


They often come to work with me feeling tired, stressed and uninterested in sex or unable to access pleasure. And more often than not, they assume the problem is them.


If they could just do more, work harder, take better care of themselves, manage their time better, maybe they wouldn’t feel this way.


However, once we start peeling back the layers we find a lot of contributing factors.

One major one being, where we are spending so much of our energy.


Which of course, is often highly influenced by the way we are likely socialized to be caretakers and put others’ needs before our own. Which can contribute to an uneven distribution of labour, which I will refer to as emotional labour.


The term "emotional labor" was coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in 1983 in her book The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling and was meant to refer to workplace situations.


However, over the years it has grown to mean the unpaid, often invisible work done

to support and meet the needs of others, particularly in the domestic realm. When we take inventory, the emotional labour my clients (and likely many of you) do is huge.


Of course they are exhausted. Of course they are stressed. Of course they don’t feel turned on or interested in sex.


One of the benefits of knowing where so much of your energy is going is, it not only allows you

to have more compassion for yourself and your situation, it also allows you to communicate it

(and your needs) to your supports in your life, including your partner(s).


Here are some examples of what I call the ‘emotional labour’ I see women and non-binary folks engaging in that contributes to their overwhelm and lack of desire:



1. Mental Load


This refers to the amount of brain space and energy one expends, often being the ‘household

manager’. This is often the mental labour that goes into running a household and/or anticipating and planning for loved ones needs.


This can include, but is not limited to things like:


  • Planning & Scheduling: Coordinating family schedules, pick ups and drop offs, events, outings, lessons, planning parties and social events, packing lunches, packing and prepping for vacation, meal planning, making medical appointments, rides, pet care, finances and budget, etc.

  • Remembering important dates including birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc. This may also include buying cards or gifts.

  • Knowing what chores, projects and repairs need to get done around the house.

  • Managing and organizing the home for efficiency.

  • Knowing where things are kept.

  • Keeping a running (mental) list of the quantities of supplies, knowing when things need to be replaced.


2. Managing their partners


Not only do women and non-binary folks often have to carry the majority of the mental load,

they also often have to ASK that these things get done.


Many folks I work with feel like they have to manage the lists of things that need to be done AND manage their partner to do the thing.


They have to write lists, or get all the groceries so their partner can make dinner, or remind them, or set reminders, or ask over and over. I have many clients who report feeling like they have to ‘nag’ their partner to do the things that need to get done.


Not only do they express frustration that their partner doesn’t notice what needs to be done on their own and just do it, but they have to ask their partner to do it repeatedly. And when their partner doesn’t do the thing and they keep asking, they get accused of being a nag.


So not surprisingly, many would rather just do it themselves.


In addition to this, many report the burden of having to manage their partners’ emotions.


Whether it be trying to be in a good mood when their partner is grumpy (especially if they have

kids), trying to uplift their partner, or feeling personally responsible for their emotions (these

are all beyond emotional labour), many report feeling exhausted by it.


Add in that many women and non-binary folks I work with feel like they are always the one to initiate conversations regarding emotions, needs, or the relationship. It is no wonder they’re tired.



3. Rallying their partners


Along the lines of managing their partners’ emotions, many of my clients often report feeling

like they need to ‘rally’ their partners to do basic tasks required of running a household, being a

partner or a parent, such as ‘amping’ them up to do housework, or go to their kids baseball

game, or even visit their own family.



4. Uneven distribution of household tasks, including childcare


It’s probably not surprising to many that there continues to be a uneven divide of domestic

labour in the household, even when both partners work full time. This can look like one partner

who not only does most of the household management, but also the household labour, such as

cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, etc.


This uneven distribution can also look like one partner who is always called and expected to

soothe an upset child, help with homework and school projects, or communicate with teachers.

One partner may be more invested in their children’s development and learning and spend a lot

of time and energy researching ways to provide positive growth experiences for the children.



5. Weaponized incompetence


Perhaps you’ve heard the term “weaponized incompetence” before or maybe you are just

hearing it for the first time.


This is where one person pretends to be bad at doing something in order to get out of doing it/have someone else do it for them.


This can look like intentionally fucking up their task/the task they were asked to do or doing a subpar job of it, or saying things like “you just do it better” as a way to get out of doing said task. This obviously adds to the other partner’s emotional labour, as they either need to try and ‘teach’ (and babysit) that partner or just do it themselves.



6. Asking for information


I think continually being asked for information that could be easily be googled is a form of

emotional labour.


Racialized and other equity deserving groups experience this often, but it can occur in relationships too. One partner may continually ask the other partner how to do things, where things are, what time things are open to, etc. that they could easily look up themselves.


Answering these kinds of questions takes from one’s emotion reserve as well.


Okay so, now what?


Some Tips on How to Deal with Emotional Labour & Work Towards (More) Equal Distribution



1. Write out a list


The first step in finding a solution is knowing what you’re working with. Write out all the ways

you expend emotional time and energy. We’ll come back to this.



2. Recognize systemic factors


Remember that a lot of this is socialized/learned behaviours, so we can also unlearn it.

Pay attention to where you might have learned to feel responsible for other people and put their

needs first, and if you have children, pay attention to where they might be learning the same

lessons.


What messages did you get that tell you you’re responsible for everyone else?

Where do old beliefs show up that you should act a certain way or your house should look a certain way, etc? How are these beliefs driving the bus?



3. Let go of Perfection


Similarly, are there places where you are trying to ‘do it all’ or be a Super Human? Are you unwilling to let other people help or do things differently than how you would do them? What is it costing you (your damn energy, for starters)?


Then think about how you can challenge these beliefs.

Are there new thoughts that you can practice that are more helpful?


If you’re looking for support on how to change your thoughts check out my blog on how "We Get to Choose What We Believe".



4. Make a plan


Show your partner the list. Have a discussion about it.


They may very well not be aware of all the energy you expend (or what emotional labour even is).


Tell them about how you’re feeling and the effect it is having on you, without being accusatory. Tell them why this is important to you and why having some things taken off ‘your’ list is important for your relationship.


Then can you make a plan together.


Are there items your partner can take on? Can you make a schedule or ‘chore chart’? Are there items you can delegate (hire someone, ask for help, etc)? Are there items that don’t actually have to be on there (cuz you don’t have to be a Super Human) that can be taken off?


Make a plan with your partner and continue to revisit/check-in on it.



5. Offer yourself self-compassion


Don’t beat yourself up for being tired or overwhelmed or uninterested in sex, etc.


Recognize you have a lot going on (often dictated by social expectations) and it is not a failing of YOU but of a system that places impossible standards on us.


Be gentle with yourself if change doesn’t happen right away or you fall back into old patterns.


It takes time. Unlearning and trying something new takes time and practice.


Be kind to yourself. Speak to yourself like you would a friend.


And remember that you deserve to feel better.