Tips For Balancing Out The Emotional Labor In A Relationship

Relationships take work to succeed. And sometimes, one partner may be putting in a little more work than the other — especially emotionally. That's the idea behind emotional labor. The term was first coined in the 1980s by sociologist Arlie Hochschild to describe the way employees must manage their emotions at work (per The Atlantic). These days, however, emotional labor has evolved to include the invisible mental load that takes place in romantic relationships.


"[Emotional labor] usually refers to the amount of emotional energy expended to keep a relationship going. This can mean managing your own emotions as well as trying to manage your partner's, and making sure everyone is 'happy,'" therapist and author Lesli Doares told Well+Good. Additionally, emotional labor can involve organizing appointments, planning dates, and managing other household and relationship-related tasks.

When one person handles far more emotional labor than their significant other, the consequences can include resentment, anxiety, anger, and exhaustion. Those toxic feelings may, over time, destroy the love needed to keep a relationship thriving. If lopsided labor is getting between you and your partner, find balance with these tips.


Assess the situation honestly

Unbalanced emotional labor may have been silently building in your relationship since you and your other half first started dating, but that doesn't mean it has to continue that way. The first step to redistributing work is by noticing the issue and how it plays out between you and your partner.


Marriage notes that emotional labor is often invisible, making it hard to spot when there's an imbalance. However, it can be identified through a few common signs. For example, the person doing more emotional labor will often be the one to finish (or delegate) household chores, soothe the other person whenever they need it, and compromise their desires in the relationship.

Clinical social worker Alena Gerst explained to MindBodyGreen, "Many people, women, in particular, don't even realize they are carrying a heavier total load and, therefore, bearing the burden of emotional labor." While it might be frustrating to realize one person has been doing more than their share, the only way to find balance is by recognizing that an imbalance exists in the first place.


Talk about emotional labor with your partner

Once you've realized that emotional labor is unbalanced in your relationship, it's time to talk about it. Often, one person's needs are neglected when emotional labor is lopsided. If you're the one carrying the heavier load, consider any unmet needs you have and discuss them with your partner using "I" statements, which helps make the point that this is about you, not about hurting them. Focus on your emotions, not on assigning blame. Then, make a request (such as, "I'd like to take turns planning dates") that clearly expresses where change is needed.


Talking about emotional labor isn't a one-and-done process. Kate Mangino, an author and expert on improving gender equality, told Romper, "I think you have to have a series [of conversations] — and when I say a series, I pretty much mean for the rest of your life." She suggests keeping the dialogue going by scheduling regular chats about emotional and household labor.

List emotional labor tasks

The concept of emotional labor might be fuzzy until you identify concrete examples of it within your relationship. Making a list of tasks that you or your partner are responsible for can help you visualize who's really suffering a bigger emotional toll and what areas need rebalancing.


Coupleness, an app for couples, offers a free quiz on their website to find out who's responsible for some common forms of invisible labor. Use this as a jumping-off point when crafting your list. Couples who live together and/or who parent together can also use the Fair Play card system to divide up tasks.

Once you have a list of emotional labor duties, discuss which tasks you can alternate and where you can compromise. Also, decide which tasks can be let go of. For example, you may resent having to remind your partner to vacuum. To ease the burden, you could relinquish the responsibility of overseeing housework, even if it means your partner vacuums a day or two later than you'd prefer.

Own your part

If you're the one doing more emotional labor, you may assume your partner is at fault — but unbalanced relationship dynamics require two people to uphold them. Healthline explains that one-sided relationships may be caused by certain attachment styles, differing expectations, and personal relationship history. For instance, you may perform a lot of emotional labor to try to strengthen the relationship and keep your significant other attached. However, doing so may only deplete you of energy and contribute to not-so-healthy relationship patterns.


Consider your role in the imbalance and the motives behind your actions. "Get clear about any behavior that is driven by fear," Lesli Doares told Well+Good. "Decide what you are willing to take on moving forward without resentment or your partner doing anything differently. Identify and address any feelings about letting go of the rest."

Take note of the thoughts you have when you perform more than your fair share of emotional labor. Are you managing certain tasks because they align with what you were taught about gender roles? Are you taking on so much because you're worried your relationship would crumble if you didn't?

Getting to the root of your behaviors makes it easier to change those behaviors where needed, whether or not your partner changes too.


Don't expect perfection

When it comes to balancing out emotional labor in a relationship, strive for progress — not perfection. Keep checking in regularly to discuss positive changes, as well as what still needs work. Focus on collaboration, not competition. Keeping score by mentally tallying who's doing more can hurt your relationship in the long run. On that note, accept that emotional labor may never be evenly split between you and your significant other. Authors Nate and Kaley Klemp developed the "80/80 Marriage" model for relationships, where partners each give 80% to a relationship rather than 50%. They propose that relationships thrive on generosity, not perfect fairness.


No matter what model you prefer, be realistic and allow room for imperfections when dividing emotional labor. If you still struggle to find balance, speak up and set boundaries when necessary. And if nothing seems to work, seek help from a therapist or couples' counselor who can offer a new perspective and practical solutions.