Managing mental load: Tips for sharing the burden of a household
Are you carrying the mental load for your family or relationship?
‘Mental load’ means the mental and emotional effort or burden of being responsible for thinking about, planning and organising all the parts of life, for us but also for our children, partner and other family members.
It can include things like planning meals, buying groceries, doing chores, paying bills, making appointments, organising presents for birthdays and holidays, and managing a household calendar. For parents, it can also include responsibilities related to vaccinations, school and childcare, extracurricular activities and kids’ clothes. While each of these tasks may be small, they can quickly become overwhelming when they build up.
Often within couples and families, one person carries more of the mental load. This can negatively affect their mental health, and lead to resentment and relationship conflict, especially if the other partner doesn’t recognise or acknowledge the imbalance in responsibilities.
Although uneven mental load can affect everyone, it most commonly impacts women, especially in families in which women have more responsibility for care of children, and men are employed outside of the home. It’s also more common in heterosexual relationships than it is in same-sex or gender-diverse relationships.
On average across Australia, women do 10 more hours of unpaid work each week than men and 70% of primary carers of children are women.
While work responsibilities can sometimes present challenges to taking on some household or parenting tasks, there are many ways that partners can lighten the mental load within families.
We’ve developed some tips of things to do and not to do, to help couples talk about and share the mental load, and we have a range of tip sheets and booklets on topics like healthy relationships and good communication.
You can also visit our Support for Fathers project website for information on how workplaces can encourage gender equality, and create a supportive and flexible environment for dads, father-figures and families.
10 tips for sharing the mental load
- Make time to talk about your needs in clear, honest and respectful ways.
- Practice empathy: Consider your partner’s experiences and the different burdens that they might be carrying.
- Listen without getting defensive.
- Be kind and patient with each other and acknowledge the things you appreciate about your partner.
- Talk about which tasks best suit your individual strengths and weaknesses.
- Take the initiative to do tasks without needing to be asked.
- Decide how you’re going to divide your household and family responsibilities. It can help to make a list or schedule, and have a weekly check-in.
- Talk about how you’d like tasks to be done, but also be understanding if you both do things in slightly different ways.
- If one of you is the primary carer for your children, and the other is doing paid work, talk about how you can both share responsibility for caregiving and household tasks outside of business hours.
- Be realistic about what you can both achieve. Every relationship is different, and you might not share every task 50-50. The most important thing is that both people feel like the relationship is fair, and you both feel heard, supported and respected.
- Don’t assume that your partner knows how you’re feeling or what you’re thinking about.
- Don’t demean your partner or accuse them of ‘nagging’ or ‘hassling’ you if they ask for help.
- Don’t get defensive, mad or ‘guilt trip’ each other.
- Don’t expect your partner to plan for, or do, everything alone.
- Don’t avoid a task because you think that your partner is better at it than you. This creates extra mental load for your partner.
- Don’t wait for your partner to ask you to help with things relating to children or the house.
- Don’t expect your partner to micro-manage you or tell you what needs to be done.
- Don’t expect your partner to always do things perfectly or do things the same as you would.
- Don’t expect the parent who is the primary caregiver to do 100% of the caregiving and household tasks.
- Don’t hold grudges after a conversation has been resolved.
Resources for workplaces
Dads in the Workplace: Programs for employers and employees
Relationships Australia Victoria’s program for employers and workplaces helps you to create a supportive work environment for dads and father-figures, promote gender equality, and enable dads to identify their work and family needs.
Delivered through our Support for Fathers project, we provide interactive, evidence-based workshops and peer sessions for dads and father-figures. We tailor each program to meet the needs of your business, organisation and employees.
Fair Work Act 2009: Workplace flexibility
People who are parents or have responsibility for the care of, a child who is school age or younger, can request flexible working arrangements under the Fair Work Act 2009.
Many organisations also have staff enterprise agreements which provide conditions for employees, including flexible work and leave arrangements.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has developed an online course to help organisations incorporate flexible working arrangements and improve productivity.
- 17th Annual Statistical Report of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey, (2022), University of Melbourne, 2022
- Gender equality and caring, (Accessed February 2023) Workplace Gender Equality Agency
- Unpaid Work and Care During COVID-19: Subjective Experiences of Same-Sex Couples and Single Mothers in Australia (2021, March 19), Craig L & Churchill B
This blog post should not be considered professional advice. It is for informational purposes only.