I’ve been thinking about my clients lately, and some of the reasons they cite for not wanting relationships. It’s not actually that they don’t want relationships, it’s that they don’t want to do a bunch of shit they don’t want to do. You don’t want the relationship to be more work than reward. That seems fair enough.
And, because you’ve likely had a relationship that was more work than reward, it might be difficult for you to see that it’s possible to have it any other way.
This week, I’ve seen a lot of activity on social media pertaining to the concept of “emotional labor.” This is the idea that women carry the vast majority of the unseen work in sharing a household – mentally carrying grocery lists, remembering where Tommy left his soccer cleats, etc – all while the man sits back and says, “I’m happy to help, just tell me what you want me to do.” (Articles are here and here, if you haven’t seen them yet.)
Women are fired up about this apparent injustice in relationships. Rightly so that they are pissed off, but they aren’t angry for the right reasons. (Did anybody else just hear the needle on the record screech to a halt?)
You handle your own emotional labor. Who says you have to handle his?
When you’re single, you handle all these tasks on your own, day in and day out. No problem. And somewhere in the dating and relationship phase with a partner, you likely also start to take on managing his stuff.
Lots of reasons. For example:
- You’ve learned that this is what “good women” do in relationships, so you march forward blindly without considering if you really want that.
- You’ve also maybe witnessed your mom mothering your dad. (This has been a huge influence in my relationship dynamics, but dang, I don’t want to be my guy’s mom.)
- You really like him and you want to do nice things for him, so you take over things like picking up his dry cleaning and making him dinner to make his life a little easier.
- You don’t fully trust his ability to do it the way you want it, so you hold on tightly to everything so you can do it the way you want it, only to get pissed off later that he doesn’t do anything unless you ask.
- You don’t set up clear agreements in advance about what roles you want to play in your household and in your relationship, and then you don’t speak up when the assumed expectations start to play out.
Someone has to do it.
Yep, someone has to remember that it’s trash day.
Someone has to schedule the car maintenance and then arrange for getting to work.
Someone has to think about what’s for dinner, gather the ingredients, and cook it.
This list is endless.
You can shrug your shoulders and accept that that’s just the way it is. You can keep being mad at men for being lazy and inconsiderate, or avoid being in relationship with them altogether so you don’t have to deal with them at all.
You can blame the unreasonable demands being placed on the modern woman.
Or, you can break the cycle.
This is rather simply a boundary issue. You are being asked or expected to do things you don’t want to do, and you’re not saying no. When I talk boundaries with my clients, I teach them that not saying yes isn’t enough. You actually have to say no. No, I don’t want to do that. No, I’m not willing to do that. No, that’s not my responsibility.
When someone “does something to you” it is only because you’ve allowed it. No one can make you carry the mental load of emotional labor unless you decide to pick it up and carry it.
But, wait! That’s hard!
Yep. Yes, it can be difficult. Saying no means you have to sit in the discomfort of what you feel next:
- Feeling like you’re good enough to say you don’t want to
- Needing to people please
- Wanting to be liked
- Wanting to feel important/valued
- Feeling like people don’t want to help you
- Letting your partner off the hook from being responsible for themselves
- Not being able to receive other people doing things for you
Because the outcomes might be:
- Potential conflict
- Nobody wanting to do it
- A breakup
- A dirty house
- Missed appointments
- Hungry kids
But other potential outcomes might be:
- You not having to do shit that you don’t want to do!
- You having a partner that shows up and handles things without being asked!
- You deciding that some of the things you’ve been walking around thinking are supremely important maybe just aren’t that important.
- You get to have more fun because your mind isn’t so laden with mental chores all the time!
The Good News
You can start fresh at any moment. Be aware of what you want to do and don’t want to do in terms of emotional labor is a great place to start. Then create clear agreements so that you and your partner both agree to those things.
You also don’t have to wait around for a partner to start practicing. In fact, I’d recommend that you don’t. Find something that you’ve been doing around your house or at work that you really don’t want to be doing. Communicate to whomever needs to know that you will no longer be doing that thing. Stop doing that thing. Ta-da! Getting the muscle built now means it will be much stronger when you do start a relationship, and it will be easier to build boundaries around the difficult things.
The most challenging part is drawing the boundary and then letting the chips fall where they may. I used to manage my ex-husband a lot. Before he’d return our kiddo to me at the end of the weekend, I’d send texts about which vitamins he needed, which jacket I wanted him wearing, and the shoes to send back (all in the interest of having our kid appropriately dressed for the week, etc.)
It was fucking exhausting. Somewhere in there I decided that I would rather have my sanity than be in control. So I stopped. And then I had to re-train my ex that I wasn’t going to do it anymore.
The kicker? I had to stick to it. Even when he forgot stuff. Even when he did it differently than I would have.
Guess what? Everyone is still alive. And now I spend a lot less energy on that, so I can spend my Sundays doing things that feel good to me, like playing outside and seeing friends. Life is literally too short to be consumed by that mental to-do list.
Tell me in the comments one thing that you feel like you’ve “gotten stuck with” that you don’t want to do anymore! (And then go do it!)