“I wish I had a husband who was more involved and gave me as much time for my interests as his own. He pretty much does what he wants & just expects things from me like making 2 dinners every night (since our picky kid won’t ever eat what I make).”
“I want less of the household workload—a more equal share with my husband.”
Over 2,500 parents, mostly Moms (97%) who are married (81%) or cohabiting (7%) have shared their stories in our pandemic study. And they’ve faced extreme tests. Like grief, isolation, lack of childcare, job losses and illness. So, the normal coupled challenges, like who does the dishes or drop off, are only amplified.
Almost half (49%) feel like they’re doing ‘terribly’ or ‘not as well as usual’ as partners. And have shared how the loss of date nights, privacy and time to connect, continues to add pressure. Many marriages have ended under the strain. Yet others are emerging stronger. So, what conditions make the difference between domestic bliss and discord?
Many Couples are Slow to Adapt
“My spouse is the breadwinner of our house. He works a 60+ hour a week job and I have been the stay at home and work from home parent since our kids were born. I’d like to see him take more responsibility with the kids since they are no longer toddlers. And I would like to see him manage the schedule a little bit instead of me reminding him all the time of what needs to be done.”
“I wish I had a more supportive spouse.”
Everyone continues to do more of everything. Yet few coupled Mothers say their partners are doing more childcare (35%) children’s activities (29%) or housework (33%) than pre-pandemic. Almost half (45%) of surveyed Moms cite that their partners are doing ‘about the same’ amount. And 15% shared their partners are doing ‘less.’
Although the gendered divide, for Moms partnered with Dads, isn’t new. Pandemic living is. So, why are so few couples adjusting responsibilities at home?
Because Change is Hard
We’re all susceptible to the ingrained gender roles in our society. Even when life’s circumstances beg for a new approach, most humans resist change. And after navigating pivots everywhere — from work to the grocery store — who wants to make more tweaks?
Revisiting whether the household roles are fair, doesn’t happen in a lot of families. Which tends to penalize Mothers, who still own most of the unpaid work and mental load, when partnered with Dads. Most surveyed Moms are desperate to reclaim their time and make positive lifestyle changes.
But Crisis Living Begs for a Crisis Response
But how do you find that time for what you value most? It typically means you have to reprioritize, redistribute, or reduce your workload. Which leads us back to the dilemma many face. The pandemic is an all-hands-on-deck situation. So, when partnered Moms feel like they’re alone in rowing the boat, it’s devastating.
And Systems That Don’t Change, Don’t Survive
Systems that don’t evolve generally don’t persist. Not in nature, business or it turns out, households. We’re always changing. And our children’s needs constantly evolve. Yet when it comes to shifting the household infrastructure, most feel stuck. But some couples are emerging stronger and more confident in their bond. How?
They’ve made changes. They’re either sharing the childcare, household and planning more. Or they are receiving increased support in another way (often from grandparents, local family or paid support.) There are excellent models for improving cooperation in the home. But before that can happen, there must be alignment. So, how do you create a partnership that’s more responsive to change?
So, Create a More Adaptive Marriage
Dr. Carita Anderson, Psychologist and Couples Therapist said, “Shared expectations of what it takes to run a household are really key. And then, partners being able to understand each other’s perspective.” She explained that a lack of cooperation doesn’t always mean what you might think. She said, “If your partner isn’t doing stuff. And you say, ‘Oh my God. you want me to do all this stuff in the house and you’re not even helping.’ It’s not about you. Something’s going on with them. So, let’s talk about that and understand it.” How can you begin to bridge these chasms in understanding?
Stop Reacting to Assumptions
Carita said “There are a lot of assumptions. And if the management of reactivity is lacking, you can’t even have the hard conversations that help you get to the point where stuff makes sense.” Sigh. Communication is often abandoned when we’re overwhelmed and life gets busier.
She added, that the most ancient and reactive part of the brain gets in the way when we communicate. “This part of the brain is old and doesn’t know what year it is. And so it could be reacting to something that happened to you as a 7-year-old. And you’re interpreting that as if it’s happening now when you’re 52. So, I spend a lot of time educating parents about how the brain works. And how not all of the assumptions the brain makes are helpful.”
Pause the Story You Tell Yourself About Your Partner
Many Moms in our study expressed that they feel “hurt,” “resentful,” or “disrespected.” Often because they’re unable to reach agreement with their partners about sharing the household. Carita said, “Partners often have all of these stories about what it must be like for the other party. Which aren’t valid. But they don’t know how to talk to be able to understand and make sense of it. Not to agree but just to make sense of it. To see, ‘oh that makes sense given where you’re coming from, your history and what you think about the world.’ People don’t have a lot of good ways to understand each other.” How can we change it?
And Learn to Sit with Discomfort
Carita said, “Recognize what’s happening in your body. And recognize when you’re not actually listening. Is your partner actually asking you for help? Are they asking for suggestions or are they asking to just be listened to? People often don’t pay attention and just jump in wanting to fix it.” Yes. She added, “There isn’t necessarily a problem be fixed. But a situation to be understood. And people have a really hard time with that. And sitting with the discomfort of not knowing. If they see their partner in distress, they want it to stop. Rather than trying to find out what their partner is looking for.”
It’s Probably Not About You
She explained that people are dealing with a lot. And often struggle in ways that we can’t see. Carita said, “And sometimes, because they haven’t stopped to recognize what’s going on for themselves, they don’t even know. If you don’t quite know what’s going on for you, how are you supposed to share that with your partner?” Right.
In the study, many parents are also struggling to support their children’s mental health. Carita said, “And then if you can’t soothe your kid, that leaves you feeling incredibly helpless. Which some people manage by getting angry. When you feel angry or see your partner being angry, I want your first ‘go to’ to be, ‘wow how’s my partner feeling hurt? What’s the flavor of vulnerability that they may be experiencing right now?’ You need to be listening. And open to understanding.”
Anger = Vulnerability
Carita said, “Anger is a very quick emotion. However, it’s always a response to some flavor of vulnerability. And we are all vulnerable at this point. There are so many areas in which we feel powerless. So, people are always struggling to get through the day feeling okay about themselves.” Right. She added, “So, keep that in mind. Get curious when you see your partner reacting a certain way. Or not doing something or doing something weird. Think, ‘how is that helping them get through the day?’ Not so you can solve it. Get curious about it so, that you know that it’s not necessarily about you.”
So, rethink the friction in your partnership. Could it be difficulty with change? It was hard to feel understood and connected even before the global crisis. So, think about how to bring change management into your relationship.
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Carita Anderson! Follow her great adventure on the website for her practice,
Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
About Dr. Carita Anderson, PhD.
Dr. Anderson is the Founder of he Boston Center for Couples and Sexuality. uses a combination of cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal, and psychodynamic therapy to help you understand what’s working for you, what isn’t, and what you can do to change, cope, and move comfortably through the world.
As a Licensed Psychologist and AASECT Certified Sex Therapist, she works to help you understand your emotions & behaviors and how they relate to the intricate web of relationships life weaves.
She is dedicated to providing a space for people of all sexualities, races, genders, and backgrounds to be vulnerable and safe exploring their identities and relationships. Her practice is dedicated to practicing anti-racism, LGBTQ+ informed counseling, and offering a safe space for monogamous, non-monogamous, and polyamorous couplings.
She provides help & guidance for couples, individuals, and groups struggling with:
- Depression & anxiety disorders
- Sexual pain (physical & emotional)
- Relationship issues
- Life transitions (divorce, death, job loss, etc)
- Sexual functioning & sexual education
- Compulsive sexual behavior
- Sex-positive parenting
- And more
Tags: couples communication, equal marriages, healthy marriages, strong couples