Doing the emotional labor in a relationship is exhausting — and you might not even realize you're doing it. Basically, emotional labor is the time and energy that you spend. It can be in any setting — at work, with family, with friends, or in a romantic relationship. In a relationship it may involve processing your own feelings, keeping your partner up to date on where you're at, and remembering that work deadline they have and forgiving them for being stressed. It's realizing that you need more toilet paper, even when you're anxious and running late and writing out their mother's birthday card.
In heterosexual relationships, it's often thought that women do the lion's share of the emotional labor. "I think that women are often the ones doing the emotional labor in a relationship," relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW tells Bustle. "This can be very draining on women and isn’t good for the men either. Men need to learn to be more responsible for their emotional life and women need to learn to be less responsible for their emotional lives!"
But it doesn't matter what your orientation or your gender is. There's always the chance that one of you ends up doing more of the emotional labor than the other. And it's not fair on either of you, so if you think that you're doing more than your fair share, try to talk to them about it.
"If your partner walks around angry and brooding, [it's] up to them to be a grown up, identify their feelings, and share them with you," Hartsein says. "Often, if you stop the work of coaxing [feelings] out of them, they be more likely to have to do the work of identifying and sharing. You can also point out this dynamic to them in the moment. Ask why it took eight times for them to share with you what’s on their mind and why they didn’t think to just open up and talk when something came up for them."
The thing is, women are so frequently given emotional labor to do — or we take it on ourselves — that we might not even realize it's happening. Here are the signs your partner isn't pulling their weight emotionally in your relationship.
1. They Resist "Talks"
"Some of the signs are that you are always the one wanting to have 'a talk' and that your partner is often annoyed or resistant," Hartstein says. If they avoid talking about a subject, like addressing a fight you had the day before, even when it's important, they're showing they're not willing to put the effort in. Instead, they're letting the discomfort hang in the air for you to deal with.
2. They Brood
Even though someone doesn't want to deal with their emotions or problems, they still feel them, so they'll often process them in an immature way. "Emotional labor often refers to pulling out the feelings of your partner," Harstein says. "They may walk around brooding or sulking or upset." They make their feelings your problem, encouraging you try to guess what you can do to make it better, without actually communicating.
3. You Feel Exhausted
If your partner is having a rough time, you may end up feeling their feelings for them. "Women tend to be a bit absorbent so they feel this emotional energy and instinctively (or are trained culturally) to then pull it out of their partner," Hartstein says. And that can be emotionally exhausting.
4. They Aren't Open To Solutions
If your partner pouts, gives you the silent treatment, or just takes a bad mood out on you, then they should at least be open to you trying to help them. But if they just put down all of your suggestions and refuse to look for solutions, they have no interest in processing their emotions — and just want to take them out on you.
5. They Minimize Your Feelings
6. You Find Yourself Venting — Constantly
Talking to a friend about relationship problems is totally normal. But it's important to be talking to your partner about these things, too. If your partner is constantly venting to their friends about what's going on with them or your relationship, it may be a sign that they aren't willing to pull their emotional weight in the relationship, so they're looking for a release elsewhere.
7. You're Making Too Many Excuses
If you tell yourself (or other people) that your partner is just stressed or tired or grumpy once in a while, it's probably true. But if you're always making excuses for your partner, that's a bigger problem. It may be a sign that there's a more fundamental issue with how they approach the relationship and your feelings, but you're not ready to admit it yet.
Emotional labor can come in a lot of different forms. It can involve remembering the 28 things on your to do list while balancing work and friends and a relationship, but sometimes the more exhausting part of it is taking on the burden of processing your partner's emotions as well as your own — but you don't need to do that. If you realize your partner is taking their feelings out on you, bring it up to them. If it's a strong relationship, they'll want to find a way to tackle it together.