You can’t be emotionally healthy if you don’t have downtime–time when you can relax, pursue passions, or care for yourself.
We’re finally here–at the conclusion of our mental load/emotional labor series for the month of June! We’ve talked about the problem of mental load and emotional labor; we’ve covered the Fair Play system that can help solve the problem; we’ve looked at how to decide what needs to be done; how to divide up the daily grind (and why you should); and how to stop nagging for good.
And today we’re going to end the series by talking about the ultimate aim: that everyone has some head space and free time to develop themselves, relax, and care for themselves.
In other words–that everybody gets to be emotionally healthy.
Before we get started on that, I want to do a shoutout for my Sheila’s Spotlight product of the day, an affiliate product that I love and use, where your support helps me eliminate ads from the blog. Can I point you to Passion4Dancing? This online ballroom dancing course breaks down all the different dances into very small steps, so that each video builds on itself. It’s how Keith and I learned to chacha, swing, rhumba, and more! I love it, and if you’ve been having a stressful time with COVID, here’s a way to inject some romance back into your marriage.
This month, as we’ve been talking about mental load, we’ve been focusing on the book Fair Play by Eve Rodsky. It’s not a Christian book, so there is some language, but she explains the issues so well, and she guides you through how to have conversations as a couple about this stuff.
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If I can sum up Rodsky’s system, it’s that:
- Everyone “owns” different tasks in their entirety–conception, planning, and execution.
- Everyone has to take at least 6 of the 30 daily grind tasks.
- Everyone should have roughly equal amounts of downtime, even though the household areas of responsibility don’t need to be shared equally.
Everyone needs downtime.
But in our families, we often act like one person’s time is more important than another person’s time. Why is it that one spouse may be able to make plans to see friends or go golfing or head out on Saturday without checking with the other? Because there’s an assumption that they are not responsible for what happens in the home. They act like their time is more valuable than their spouse’s time. They can take time off, because they don’t need to consider what their spouse may want to be doing.
And that’s just plain wrong.
Yes, one person may have a stressful career.
But having the chronic stress of carrying the load for all the details in the family is routinely rated as one of the most stressful jobs there is. In fact, stress levels of stay at home moms are higher than that of working moms, according to a Gallup poll of 60,000 women. That’s not to say you shouldn’t stay at home with the kids. It’s only to say that we need to realize that this is a very stressful job, largely because you are never “off”.
And pssstttt….this can be why we grow apart!
Not just that women feel taken for granted–which we often do. It’s also that we start forgetting what made us truly us.
Before you were married, what were your passions, your hobbies, your interests? What did you like to talk about? What subjects were you really interested in, and where you knew everything?
Chances are a few things come to mind. These are the things that made you uniquely you. These are the things that made you interesting, and that your spouse saw in you when you married.
And yet, for so many women, these things disappear when they take ownership of what goes on in the household.
Maybe she even used to always have her makeup done and she chose great clothes and her hair was always cut, but now she wears it super long with split ends always tied up in a messy bun because she simply doesn’t have time to go to the hairdresser.
And then the spark is gone from marriage, because she doesn’t even feel like a woman anymore. She simply feels like “Mommy.” He feels like he married a wonderful, vibrant woman, but soon they only ever talk about the kids.
You can’t expect to have a relationship based on interests, ideas, and activities if she has no space to cultivate these things in her life anymore.
That’s what Rodsky says in Fair Play:
When my husband and I started dating, I was an ambitious, dynamic woman who challenged the status quo, fought for the underdog, and always had eyes wide open to civil rights issues that shouldn’t be left for the next generation. I was engaged. I was passionate. I was interesting, damn it. But after kids rocked our world so completely, I lost some of my spark.
What Rodsky realized is that this lack of time to pursue who you were made to be is one of the biggest drivers of women’s stress, and also of marital distance.
In short, we should all be able to be interested in something, and to be interesting.
This is not to say that SAHMs aren’t interesting–not at all! And I’ve always said that I consider being home with my kids one of the highlights of my life. But unless we carve out time to make sure we stay who we were made to be, it’s easy to feel as if we’ve disappeared. And that’s very lonely.
And so Rodsky introduced what she calls “Unicorn Space”
It’s that time where you can pursue a passion or a calling that makes you feel more like “you”. For me, it’s a combination of working on this blog and writing and also knitting (I have the joy that my Unicorn Space and my job coincide). For Keith, his Unicorn Space is definitely birdwatching (and here’s something extra he saw on a walk just last Friday!)
I would add a Jesus component to this: He has prepared good works for us to do before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10), and these good works are not ONLY about our family. They’re about our unique giftings and talents and circumstances. Maybe it’s volunteering somewhere, or leading a Bible study. Maybe it’s getting politically involved. Maybe it’s helping refugees get settled, or tutoring some kids who live down your street. I don’t know. But we’re all uniquely equipped to help in some way, and we all need to feel as if we’re listening to God and following His leading.
Rodsky’s Happiness Trio
Adult friendships, Self-care, and Unicorn Space.
We all need to spend time on these areas every week–and this is the only area where 50/50 time split is absolutely encouraged.
“If you’re resenting the time your partner spends on the Happiness Trio, you’re likely not claiming or carving out equal time for yourself, inevitably triggering feelings of jealousy and creating even more contention within your marriage.”
How to Negotiate Time Off with Your Spouse
Maybe your home is just really busy, and you may only be able to garner a few hours by yourself each week. When my husband was working really hard in his pediatric office everyday, plus call at night, and I was homeschooling our girls when they were young, he ended up taking a half day off a week so that I could write. That was him honouring my “Unicorn Space”. He gave that to me so that I could start pursuing what I felt was my passion and calling, and it’s grown from there. I know other guys who take the kids Saturday mornings so their wives can head to a Starbucks and write for a few hours, or who do the bedtime routine and dinner routine one night a week so their wives can take a class.
And while Keith gave me Thursday afternoons to write, I gave him Tuesday nights to spend time with some friends in a historical war game club. So he had time to pursue something he loved, and I had time to pursue something I did.
1. If a spouse takes time off, they should not have to do more work when they get home
Don’t create the Sandra and Mark story from day one of our emotional labor series! If she gets time off, then he should do the chores that would normally get done during that time. If she gets three hours without the kids, but then comes home and has to cram three hours of housework into the next two hours, she isn’t going to feel rested or rejuvenated. So have a list of what needs to be done at that time, and make sure you both understand it!
2. Relaxation is important, in and of itself
We should not have to justify our time off. Everyone needs down time. If his downtime is fixing up a car that will never run and that will never be sold, and she would rather he be more productive, that judgment should stop. We all have certain ways we relax, and we all need to relax. It shouldn’t go on for hours upon hours, but we shouldn’t make judgments on how each person spends their time (unless it’s going to a bar or getting drunk or something!)
3. Down time works best if it’s regularly scheduled
Let’s say that he takes half an hour when he gets home to work to himself while she makes dinner, and then he does the bedtime routine with the kids while she takes time to herself. Plus she gets 3 hours on Saturday morning, and he gets Thursday evenings. When it’s regularly scheduled, then each spouse also knows that at other times, they’re expected to be pitching in and helping.
4. At all other times, if one spouse is working, both spouses should be working
If there is nothing to do and you’re all caught up, by all means take a rest and have some fun! But if one spouse is run off of their feet, and another is playing video games, that’s going to lead to a lot of resentment.
5. Just because you’re tired doesn’t mean you get to sit down
Here’s a tough one, where some grace is needed: sometimes someone has had a really bad day–way worse than usual. And they need to be by themselves. That’s valid, and please give it to them. Sometimes one spouse may have major health issues, or even just exhuastion from pregnancy, and they need to be able to sit and take care of themselves more than usual. Again, totally valid.
But if every single day one spouse comes home and says, “I’m tired, I’m just going to relax,” that’s not okay. If you are so tired that you absolutely cannot help around the house ever, or be engaged with the kids ever, then you likely need to get a different job. Everybody is tired. Everybody is stressed. Talk to your spouse about it and figure out how we can have a “down” evening, but you simply cannot justify playing video games all the time because “you’re tired”, and then making your wife the default for caring for the kids all the time and for cleaning up after you. Similarly, a woman can’t say, “I’m tired after looking after the kids all day,” and then have him make dinner most nights when he gets home, and have him put the kids to bed by himself most nights, while she does nothing.
You both need down time, and it isn’t right for one spouse to be put in the role of the servant of the other. That’s not teamwork or partnership. That’s using someone.
One of the most chronic stressors of women especially is seeing men have time to sit down while they are running around after everyone else
How many family events have you been to where the guys sit around talking and the women run around getting the food ready and clearing the table and washing the dishes? How many church potlucks have you been to where the women are busy setting everything up and taking everything down, while the men sit around and talk? How many nights has she put the kids in bed and made dinner and managed homework while he sits on the couch and stares at his phone or plays video games?
This is very disheartening to so many women. This is one of the biggest causes of stress and resentment in marriage. Many men have the luxury of sitting down and doing nothing, while many women don’t.
If we want marriages to be strong, and we want women to feel supported–and even if we want great sex lives–women simply can’t feel taken for granted anymore.
And the best way around this is to make sure that everyone has equal downtime, and that, outside of those times, if one person is working, they both are working.
This isn’t a lot to ask. This is simply fair and right. I have had such a deluge of emails from women thanking me this month for finally putting to words the exhaustion they’re feeling, and this, I believe is the final piece of the puzzle.
I hope we can work towards this–giving each other space to be both be interested in something, and to be interesting. To pursue God’s calling, and to take time to hear from God again. To feel as if we’re part of a partnership and part of a team, rather than a master-servant relationship.
That’s my heart for this. And now, I think, I’m done.
Posts in the Mental Load/Emotional Labor Series:
- How Emotional Labor Series: How Mental Load Affects Marriage
- The Fair Play Solution: Conception, Planning, Execution
- The Emotional Labor Series: How Do We Decide Our Standards?
- The Emotional Labor Series: How to Eliminate Nagging for Good
- Mental Load Example: The "Let's Go to the Beach" Saga
- The Emotional Labor Series: Why The Daily Grind Needs to Be Shared
- The Emotional Labor Series: Why Everyone Needs Time to Themselves
- PODCAST: What is Emotional Labor?
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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