How to Spot and Address Inequalities at Home

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Is the dynamic you share with your partner really equal?

Inequality impacts relationships, negatively affecting both partners. Despite this, it is extremely common and tends to focus on the division of domestic responsibilities, childcare, and emotional labor. The latter refers to the intrapsychic burden that a partner often experiences, where thinking and feelings are affected, as well as behavior. For example, a partner may be aware that their child will need to register for school a year or two before they are due to start, or notice that dinner has to be taken up for the evening. When these things aren’t happening with the other partner, you can start to feel like you’re on different pages.

Relationships that lack this kind of fairness can lead to stress, guilt, and dissatisfaction for both partners. It may be obvious that the partner who does most of the work is underrecipient and prone to resentment, but research has also shown that the overrecipient partner is often also dissatisfied; feel pity, guilt and shame.

Sound familiar? Here, we explore how to spot and address household inequalities.

1. If you stop, the chores stop

This is where most people are likely to give in and do the task. But in doing so, you remove responsibility from your partner and reinforce inequality. It can be very helpful to think about you and your partner together, dealing with the issue of inequality, rather than “me versus you”. It redistributes power and responsibility between you and diffuses tension and conflict. You might actively discuss this with your partner or make suggestions such as, “I’m going to start cooking in half an hour, could you unload the dishwasher first?” Then we will have more time to be together after eating.

2. Pay attention to the language

When we are feeling frustrated, we are likely to use language that blames our partner for what they are not doing, and makes us feel like a victim. However, rather than achieving the equality we seek, it usually puts both partners in a defensive position that triggers arguments. Take ownership of your feelings and ask directly for what you need. It might sound like, “I feel really stressed and need a moment to regain my energy. Do you want to watch the kids for an hour while I take a bath? »

Using language that doesn’t infantilize your partner is also helpful, for example: “Do you want to do X?” Or, “When can you do X?” Rather than “Can you?” Or, “Would you be able to…?”

Take ownership of your feelings and ask directly for what you need

3. Spot Militarized Incompetence

Pretending we don’t know how to do something only to not do it is a common game that permeates national inequalities. Sitting down and dividing up the responsibilities that each partner feels capable of doing is a clear way to approach this problem. If your partner says they don’t know how to do something you really need help with (like tying your daughter’s hair up before soccer club), ask them what will allow them to do it . If they don’t know, rather than getting angry and doing it yourself, suggest a neutral way to solve their own problem, such as following a YouTube tutorial.

If weaponized incompetence becomes a regular feature of your relationship, seek couples therapy to help you deal with it before it becomes passive-aggressive.

4. Consider your own role in inequality

It can be hard to think about, but the game of inequality has two players. If you’ve both talked about how to achieve domestic equality or you’ve designated household chores, you need to give your partner the chance to do them their way. You might wish they did it differently, or maybe you could do it better yourself, but denying them the chance to change can lead to learned helplessness – where one partner stops doing things because ‘it is often undermined by the other partner who precedes it, or to do it again out of impatience.

You can also check your own internalized stereotypes here – are you a female partner who takes more because you think that’s what you should do as a good wife or mother?

5. Assess your mental load

Rather than tit-for-tat, it’s about creating a sense of long-term fairness. One of you may be having a stressful month at work, so the other is doing a bit more at home during that time, and he’s okay with that. Regularly assessing your own capacity during the week can help with this process: how much energy do you have left for the day and where do you want to spend it? Being honest with yourself and your partner will give them a better chance of sympathizing with you and wanting to help you. If you can do the same when they need to, you’re less likely to fall into the trap of keeping score.

Hannah Beckett-Pratt is a relationship transactional analysis consultant.


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