did you get better at emotional labour? how?
April 12, 2018 7:03 AM   Subscribe

if you have been trying to improve your emotional labour / mental load skill set (or have already succeeded in doing so!!), i would love to hear some stories of what tangible tools worked for people.

i often refer to this thread when trying to take stock of how i am doing, or when i am struggling to find the words for something that is feeling amiss in my relationship. if you were similarly inspired by this thread, i'm wondering what concrete steps you took to improve your emotional labour / mental load skill set?

the lists are the "what" of emotional labour; i am wondering what your "how" was? if you are trying hard to do the "what"... what "how" actions does that translate into?

are there checklists you use (other than the one linked to), and where do you keep them / how often do you consult them? reminders on the fridge? lists on your arm? daily meditations on its value? the emotional labour of being reminded by your partner for these new behaviours to "stick?" reminders on your phone? (my personal fave)

basically -- what worked for you, so that these things are now habitual behaviour? thank you in advance for investing the emotional labour to answer this question!
posted by crawfo to Human Relations (17 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Are you asking from the perspective of someone who isn't doing enough or the person who is doing everything?

Someone wrote this awesome EL checklist here.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:36 AM on April 12, 2018

hi! asking from the perspective of someone who wants to be doing more of it. i do a lot and am always mindful of it; i know my partner is struggling with how to genuinely improve in a way that doesn't rely on me to do the labour of teaching them, if that makes sense. would love to hear what things have worked for others who are trying to do better / make it into a more habitual behaviour.

so not checklists (we have the amazing comprehensive one that i'd linked to)... more, how do you remember to do the breadth of things ON the checklist? i hope that makes sense!!
posted by crawfo at 7:44 AM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Checklist-maintainer here.

This is a very AskMe answer but from my own perspective the answer is therapy. Or perhaps deeply thinking about why the disparity in emotional labor occurs, which is possible but easier with a therapist.

Once the sources have been identified, it's easier to reason about how to remedy the disparity. Improvement is a continual process and it's useful (though asking EL from you) to have a partner willing to call out backsliding.

In short I don't think there's an easy answer to deprogram yourself from the patriarchy, but you can make progress with self-knowledge, intention, and support.
posted by Maecenas at 8:52 AM on April 12, 2018

I use an application (iPhone/Mac) called Things, and within it, I have recurring to-dos. For example, on the first of every month, I get a notification of all of the upcoming birthdays and holidays that need attention (it's important to include in laws, Mothers Day/Fathers Day, anniversaries). In the same app, I keep a list of gift ideas that I add to whenever a new possibility crosses my radar. My spouse would like the bedding changed more often than I would tend to do it, so that's another pop-up. (Also on the recurring list: reminders about trash/recycling, battery changing, water filter changing, air filter changing, plant fertilizing, bill paying, child checkups, adult physicals and recurring appointments...)

Recently we started doing a dinner meal plan (in conjunction with grocery shopping) and writing it on a whiteboard on the fridge. Now dinner thoughts don't need to take up any mental space, and whoever is on hand at dinner time can just look at the white board and start prepping.

When someone gives me or my child a gift, that goes on my daily (paper) to-do list, so that it gets done sooner. I also put it on my paper list when I get a text, because I forget to respond in a timely way, otherwise.
posted by xo at 9:21 AM on April 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

This isn’t meant to be flip, but start reading “women’s” magazines. Ones like Real Sinple and Family Circle (not cosmo). As you read you’ll find the information presented is largely about emotional labor (though not labeled that way). It’s stuff like “how to organize the pantry and what basics should always be there” and cleaning schedules and how to have a hostess or birthday gift always available at the last second and how to prepare thanksgiving for 20 people when 2 are gluten free, one is paleo and 3 don’t eat anything that’s red.

One of the few features I still really use fbook for is birthdays and being able to look a month ahead allows me to put “bday cards for x, y, and z” on my shopping list.
posted by raccoon409 at 9:31 AM on April 12, 2018 [21 favorites]

The women's magazines tip is brilliant!

I'm a woman who's pretty great at some parts of emotional labor (managing other people's feelings, running a household) and not so good at others (remembering occasions, cards & gifts). The ones I'm not good at are all scheduled using technology - I use a birthday/anniversary reminder app and as soon as those notifications pop up, I decide what I need to do (buy a card, buy a gift, whatever), and set a separate reminder in my phone for each step needed (buy, write message, get stamps, send).

But mostly it's practice. Once you've handled something a dozen times, you'll know how to do it, how often to do it, and what you need to prep in advance. One example, for years, I was the only person in my household who could successfully put the duvet cover on the comforter. Why? Because I'd been doing it since I was a kid and knew how. My husband didn't know how and did a terrible job when he "tried" - so if we wanted the bed to not look like it was trashed by weasels, I had to do it. Finally, it occurred to me to make the point that putting duvet covers on is a skill that children can acquire, so perhaps he could as well. We had a few weeks of weasel-bed, and when he got sick of that, he looked on youtube for a tutorial video, followed it, and now can put it on more neatly than I would generally bother to.

So, I'd encourage the partner who wants to do more emotional labor to think about what chores and tasks they avoid because they don't know how to do them well. Then try to learn. Can the person diffuse a tense situation? Make up after a fight? Clean the bathroom quickly? Do an economical meal plan for the week? Set up brunch with friends? If not, they should be in charge of the task until they're good at it. Then you can revisit how to divide it up fairly since both partners can now handle it.
posted by snaw at 9:50 AM on April 12, 2018 [10 favorites]

Not to be tautological but the key to figuring out how to better do emotional labor is to do more emotional labor.

Like this thing you're doing right now, you posting an askme for tips so that they can better do emotional labor is emotional labor. They need to start with doing this stuff.

A huge part of tackling the enormity of my deficiencies was/is working on a self improvement project of this magnitude without my partners help. Because that's more emotional labor for my partner! Most this stuff isn't that complicated but I think it's important to do as much of this alone as possible so you can understand the 1000 little ways EmoLab providers prop me up and make tasks like this easier or more rewarding for me. I, for one, needed to see all those gaps so that I could better plan on how to help fill them.
posted by French Fry at 10:23 AM on April 12, 2018 [13 favorites]

Regarding chores - ask your partner which chores they hate, and which they don't mind. Negotiate how to reduce the stress of the "hate" chores - that may mean you take them on; it may mean you trade off; those may not be possible, so maybe you are extra-helpful on that chore day - you serve dinner, or let the partner pick the TV show even if it's one you don't care for.

The chores you think are the hardest, most odious, most stressful may not be the ones your partner hates most. The issue isn't "help with the hardest chore;" it's "notice what's important to them."

Other EL checklist items:
* Look around the room. Does anyone seem stressed, angry, sad, or afraid? Repeat every hour, or every time the people in the room change.
* Are there any tasks/interests/wishes that someone used to mention a lot, and then stopped? Why did they stop? (Note: the answer is almost never, "because they don't care about that anymore.")
* What do you do that annoys your partner or friend? (If your answer is "nothing," you're not paying attention.) Why do they put up with it?
* In a public setting, ask yourself, "who is the most dangerous person here?" (Sometimes, the answer is likely to be, "I am.")
* In an interaction with anyone who's doing their job - barista, security guard, bus driver, bank agent, etc. - ask yourself, "what will happen to them if this conversation goes wrong?"

A lot of EL is just noticing other people's reactions, and extrapolating their potential reactions. That starts by dropping the assumption that "what I'm doing is fine, and will not make life worse for other people."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:32 AM on April 12, 2018 [11 favorites]

thank you everyone for these amazing replies!! i'm like on the edge of my seat reading, it's so helpful.

@frenchfry i am super curious about the tangible specifics of plans you have made to help fill those gaps, once you have identified them? that is sort of what i was trying to ask in my initial question! like, deficiencies identified -- how did you learn to auto-correct? what kinds of tools did you rely on to develop these habits, other than sheer will? (or maybe for some, sheer will is enough! idk!) i hope this makes sense! (also like, the irony of me posting about this was never lost on me, even before you pointed it out -- but the labour i'm doing to not chide you for mansplaining emotional labour to me is... a lot haha)
posted by crawfo at 11:04 AM on April 12, 2018

I didn't mean to explain emotional labor, my point was that there is now a wealth of information now available to those who seek to due more emotional labor. But it's easy to let other people seek this information out for you. People actively helping, at least in my experience, was counter productive.

So I now present male (I assume you saw my profile picture) and live a pretty traditionally male life but that hasn't always been the case, so my starting point may not be the same as other people in the bucket of "people who look like me."

I wasn't clueless about emotional labor, more resentful of it if I'm completely honest. So details: For me this started in earnest quite a ways back when my partner and I were thinking about becoming parents. I had a lot of baggage about gender, and tied up in that a lot of baggage about performative aspects of gender. Our daughter made me confront that shit head on, because I didn't want to model toxic behavior. This was well before the emotional labor articles and threads, so I didn't have such a useful term to wield. But I started were some have suggested in therapy. Even if my masculinity was ... complicated, It could still be every bit as toxic. So unpacking that shit in a space were my partner didn't have to help was key. My partner is literally a professional at emotional labor. They didn't need two jobs.

And I really needed to do this on my own, because If my partner had helped me, IE scheduling appointments or helping me find a therapist... I know I would have only gotten as far as they were willing to carry me. Because the independence of saying "this is my emotional well being and trauma and baggage I'm going to get help for myself" was a big part of it, in my opinion 90% of the failings of people opting out of emotional labor is the laziness of knowing someone else will catch us when we fall.

From there it was practical, I made lists of everything that needed to be done around the house, every bill that needed to be paid, every dr appointment, every special occasion, every party, every meal that needed to be made and every shopping run. From there it was just making sure I did at least half of it. I liked electric calendars, (computer back then, phone now) both with the thing, and a reminder out far enough ahead to remember the prep needed for said thing.

An example: Nana has a party on the 25th, she will be 88, that's one point on the calendar.
second point: two weeks ahead: buy nana a gift. buy a card. buy a thank you card as well because nana may give the kids gifts too.
third point: three weeks ahead, check if you have wrapping paper and tape, if not buy them for nana's gift.

and so on for everything until they became habits.

So that worked OK for a few years then the emotional labor thread comes along, and wow, there is so much more than just the gifts/chores/meals/child rearing that I could do as well. For me a lot of this had to do with work, at that point I ran a division of a company and had to take a hard look at how I was contributing to pushing emotional labor onto generally older, more female presenting people. Work birthdays, cleaning out the fridge, picking up after work lunches etc.

Again I made lists, rules, and calendars because even if these things became habits for me they wouldn't for everyone and I had the power to make people participate, so I did.

The interpersonal part of it is still a challenge for me, I'm pretty introverted and anxious and passively take a lot of advantage of how I look (white dood) and the space people make for me. I'm best at creating equality in my intimate relationships because I have the most practice there, I know both sides of the coin there. But in public, at work, making space for people's stories, points of view, lending myself to help their emotional well being is really hard for me.

So I make lists, make notes on my calendar. Like down to the detail of "Monday the 5th: ask Grace about her trip. Note: grace is afraid of flying, maybe work in a compliment about that if possible, try to catch her grand-kids names this time and write them down, you should know them by now" "Tuesday the 6th: introduce new person to finance team, keep it short, let them talk you tend to ramble French Fry"

I fully realize this may sound super weird. But the whole point, for me personally, is that these are little things that are easy to forget. I've spent most my life trying to not think about stuff like this, so being present and engaged in emotional labor isn't something I can just want to do. Because I know I will slide into letting others do it for me. It's something I have to treat like vital medication or critical work tasks, because otherwise I simply won't do it.
posted by French Fry at 12:12 PM on April 12, 2018 [14 favorites]

Also a secondary benefit of my sometimes insane calendar system; is how much fucking work it is because maintaining it reminds me how much fucking work this has always been for everyone else forever.
posted by French Fry at 12:33 PM on April 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

For me, women's magazines are most thought provoking when used as fuel for satire- (say, when gender pronouns are reversed). I'd recommend subscribing to @themanwhohasitall (Facebook and twitter), the feeds (and comments!) are wonderful takes on real world headlines, articles and mindsets.

NYPost: "With its tongue-in-cheek “advice” for “busy working dads” struggling to do it all, the account, whose owner has not yet identified himself (herself?), turns on its head all the often ridiculous advice that’s lobbed at working women, that unique mix of chocolate-laced guilt, “me time,” overachievement, bubble bath tips and domestic goddess how-tos that you often find in the pages of many women’s magazines."

If you're looking to 'check yourself'- there's nothing better than forgetting you have @themanthathasitall in your feed, accidentally reading a post, and watching your own wheels turn as the light dawns... the result? brilliant, on point, funny, lighthearted and empowering.
posted by iiniisfree at 12:41 PM on April 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

My husband is much better at EL than I am in many ways, and his main secret is using his phone calendar and reminders for So Many things, many of which most of us try to juggle in our heads. And it turns out that having a phone remember to check the heating oil and change the sheets and check in for flights and remember birthdays is brilliant, because it remembers far better than we humans do. For awhile I even tried a generic "ask friends to socialize?" reminder, because his system works so much better than mine.
posted by ldthomps at 1:03 PM on April 12, 2018

In case its not clear, I'd (referencing @themanwhohasitall above) intended to say that _both_ men and women can read satire to improve their critical thinking skills (re: implied responsibility and emotional labor). And, I was agreeing with prior posters that women's magazines happen to have a lot of emotional labor content (for better or for worse).
posted by iiniisfree at 1:17 PM on April 12, 2018

Also, as the partner of the person who needs to learn how to do more emotional labor -- let your partner fail and suffer the consequences. If you see them about to forget their mom's birthday, for example, wish their mom a happy birthday from you and let your partner forget. I know it sucks for their mom, but it sucks more to have remembering everything to be your job forevermore.

It's super unfair to you in a lot of ways to have to let your partner fail (you might get blamed for their failures, you have to live with bad housekeeping/cooking/feelings managing/whatever), but it's the only way through in the long run, as far as I know.
posted by snaw at 2:47 PM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

From noticing my own EL yesterday, here are a couple more:
- Keeping tabs on how to do things. E.g., there's a new tv remote setup, a new computer backup process, a new appliance... have whoever set it up give you a lesson on how to use it. Write it down and post it nearby if you're liable to forget processes.
- Keeping tabs on the local area. This habit is great for having restaurant suggestions ready, tie-in to the local community (tree workers, carpenters, preschools, coyote sightings), and fun things to do on the weekends. I do this via NextDoor and the "local moms" Facebook group.
- Cross the gender divide, and bring others with you, at parties where the women end up with children/in the kitchen while the men are in the living room/on the patio.
posted by xo at 7:50 AM on April 13, 2018

I was at couples therapy the other night and we were doing an exercise where we answer questions about our partner, and I got "What are your partner's hobbies?" and I was like, "Hang on, I have a list on my phone" and I pulled out my phone and read it off, and both the therapist (male) and my husband stared at me like I had two heads and finally the therapist asked, "Why do you have a list of his hobbies on your phone?" and I said, "I think the real question here is, Why doesn't HE have a list of MY hobbies on HIS phone?"

I've got a grocery list, a target list, a hardware store list, a pharmacy list. I've got a list of my husband's hobbies, a list of all his sizes in clothes, a list of all the kids' sizes in clothes, a list of all the minor home repairs that aren't worth calling the plumber/electrician/handyman for, but when I have to call them for a major thing I can also tell them all the minor things. I have gift lists (on amazon) for every member of the family so when I notice something I can add it to a list and remember it later for birthdays or Christmas. I've got every IEP document for our special needs child uploaded, tagged, and available on all my devices. When was his most recent occupational therapy evaluation and what did the evaluators find? Hang on, let me just click the "OT" tag.

I've got a calendar. It's extensive. It has all events/classes/etc., but it's also chock-full of reminders to pay bills, to clean things I forget to clean, to write to my grandmother monthly (she's given up e-mail), to call back friends, to check-in with people who aren't feeling well or are having a rough time.

My husband often says that he didn't remember X or he didn't know about Y. I don't remember those things either! That's why I keep fuckin' notes and lists and calendars on EVERYTHING. It's not magic that I do these things. It's plain and simple writing shit down.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:07 PM on April 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

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