If You Don’t Fix These Common (Yet, Invisible) Marriage Problems, Your Relationship May Be Doomed

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Marriage problems like emotional labor and mental load can wreak havoc on a relationship but through more intimacy and communication, you can stop it. Here's how.

Not all marriage problems are easy to see. Some of them, even common marriage issues, can slip under the radar, slowly wreaking havoc on your relationship. Problems like an unfair split in emotional labor or mental load often go unseen, but can do serious damage. But, through intimacy and communication these issues can be solved.

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Do any of these complaints sound familiar?

I asked my husband to change the baby’s nappy in the morning before he goes to work. I don’t ask him for much, just a nappy change to help me out. He spends an extra ten minutes in the bathroom trimming his beard and says he doesn’t have time!

We had a really intense time away with his parents. I spent most of the drive on the way home from the weekend crying. He didn’t even ask me if I was okay! He just kept everything light and breezy.

My husband agreed to take our child to the doctors so I could stay at home and rest. He rang me 3 times. Once to ask where the doctors office was, second to ask what her date of birth was and the third time to ask about her symptoms.

Marital satisfaction has a ripple effect on other facets of life- metal health, positive parenting, wellbeing and work productivity. It’s only natural then to assume paying attention to the satisfaction or lack thereof, will benefit couples in multiple ways. If that’s the case, why are so many couples finding it difficult to get along with great success and little conflict?

Some of the most common culprits blamed for marital dissatisfaction centre around the division of household chores and emotional intimacy.

Often couples enter into marriage with the assumption that their beliefs around roles are aligned. That is, who will do the grocery shopping, cooking, laundry? Who will be the primary carer, who will be the home contact for day-care/school/ extra-curricular activities? Who makes the financial decisions? Without engaging in an open discussion about the equality of labour the balance can quickly turn.

As one person releases the responsibility, the other naturally picks it up. The more responsibility one person holds, the more resentful they feel and the more hopeless and not needed the other feels.

There are a couple of important distinctions that are needed to be focused on when discussing the idea of “getting along with great success and little conflict”. They are, emotional presence and its shadow emotional absence and mental load. Also, the difference between emotional labor and emotional presence/absence

The term “Emotional Labor” was coined by American sociologist Arlie Hochschild. In her book, The Managed Heart, Hochschild described emotional labor as having to “induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others”. Pretty much like how you’re expected to act at work.

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But what happens when we start acting the same way in the home? When we start suppressing our emotions for the sake of keeping the perception of peace, we become emotionally cut off from each other and ourselves. We dim the joy and love as well as the anger and resentment.

Emotional Presence in the home centres around a “holding environment”, a space that is given for the emotions of the family. A sense of being “met” or “seen” by someone else. Not judged, criticised, abandoned, not lectured or overpowered by the others needs. It’s where people turn towards the other, no matter their emotional state because they are needed.

Unlike Emotional Labor in the truest form, Emotional Presence does not allow for sweeping things under the carpet and walking away from disagreements without repairing the hurt in the hopes to keep a certain equilibrium.

Want to improve the Emotional Presence in the relationship, start “tuning in” to it like you’re tuning into a new radio station. You’ve got to keep tweaking your words until you find the right frequency.

“Honey, you look sad/mad/glad. Everything okay?” is a good place to start.

On the flip side is the mental load, that is all the planning, list making, all the functional day-to-day stuff that keeps your life and the life of those dependant on you running. It’s something that we all do and the degree of success varies from person-to-person. However, where things get burdensome is when this labour becomes unequal.

Many studies have pointed to the increase in both the mother's and father’s well-being and emotional satisfaction when there is a more egalitarian division of household and parenting duties.

More than just “tell me what to do and I’ll do it” mentality. Satisfaction comes from taking responsibility for parts of the house and family that make it function. Knowing who the family doctor is, knowing what the symptoms are and of course knowing the date of birth of your children means you are investing responsibility in the family functioning. Which also impacts the emotional presence of the family.

It communicates “I am your partner in this. We’re a team. I’m tuned in to the family frequency. I’ve got this”.

When partners are able to discuss their roles in the relationship and the feelings associated with those roles. The better the understanding of what is needed to get along with greater success and little conflict.

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Julia Nowland is a relationship therapist and founder of Whole Heart Relationships. She specializes in helping couples with young children prioritize their relationship, create a sense of emotional equality, and fall back in love.