Sheila here!

Today I’m turning the blog over to Joanna, my awesome co-author with The Great Sex Rescue, and our resident statistician and super smart person. She’s responsible for all the data that we derive from our surveys, and for running all of the numbers.

She’s also an American who married a Canadian lawyer, and when we started The Great Sex Rescue project she lived in the same town as me. Now she literally lives in the Arctic, where her husband works for the government of Nunavut (one of our territories).

She and Josiah have had to find solutions to avoid the nagging situation we talked about yesterday–where you’re constantly reminding someone of something–because they’re both rather disorganized when it comes to household stuff.

I thought their story may be a useful one today, showing how sometimes just getting systems in place can  help the whole dynamic of your marriage. And sometimes even good marriages struggle with these sorts of dynamics!

So here’s Joanna:

Sheila talks a lot on the blog about mental load and emotional labor and I am so grateful for those discussions.

They’ve honestly been a huge help to me and my husband… except about 6 months ago when we STILL found ourselves struggling.

So what if you’re both on board with dealing with mental load friction in your marriage and you’re doing your best… but it’s still leading to conflict, things aren’t getting done, and something isn’t working?

The background (aka the inciting incident(s))

Early in the pandemic, my husband lost his job because of COVID. But that job loss turned out to be a blessing in disguise – his being home allowed me to finish doing the statistics for the Great Sex Rescue, he got 5 months off work to spend with our daughter, and he got his dream job. The downside of said dream job is that it is located in the Canadian arctic, far from our support networks and from the amenities of the south (aka the rest of Canada).

Coping with marriage in the Arctic

We found ourselves moving to one of Canada’s arctic islands (Baffin) with a newborn and a toddler. We are very thankful to be in staff housing but due to the high construction costs, housing size is based on occupancy and as a family of four we were allocated an 850 square foot two bedroom apartment, a far cry from our 2000 square foot three bedroom townhouse in Belleville.

Our community is accessible by plane or by boat (occasionally), not by car, truck, or train, which means that groceries and housewares are complicated to get. We rely on a network of different solutions to get what we need and while we enjoy northern living, it’s not uncomplicated.

Coping with marriage in the Arctic

The transition to the north happened in the midst of the push to get edits in for The Great Sex Rescue and in the time since we moved we’ve launched one book, run two more surveys, and have been working away at writing a follow up book (Sheila is writing several). My husband’s work is wonderful but not easy. And our kids? They are wonderful but very very busy.

Coping with marriage in the Arctic

Needless to say, it’s been hectic. And all of the transitions (new job, new city, new house, new baby, etc etc etc) have come with a LOT of mental load tasks.

We’d done the basic stuff in the past like splitting up tasks by owner, but in the chaos of the many, many tasks we had going on, things were still slipping through the cracks.

1. Work with YOURSELVES (Understand your limitations)

My husband and I are trash at getting groceries off of a paper list. It just will not happen. We’ll forget the list or we’ll forget the pen to cross off the items on the list or we’ll forget to get three things written at the top. Or if we try to text the list it will get buried and then we’ll forget that the list got texted and we’ll try to rely on memory and it will be a horror show. Again.

Six months ago we could NOT figure out how to deal with the untenable situation of the grocery lists when we had a eureka moment: we are never going to be paper grocery list people. It’s just not happening. It’s not that we’re unintelligent, it’s that we’re both absent minded and that we’ve got a LOT on our plates. So we knew we needed a solution other than the paper list.

2. Think outside the traditional solution for getting things done

Instead of just dedicating ourselves to doing paper lists better, we decided to try something different. We found an app (picniic) that allows us to input a grocery list. Their digital lists include options to note which aisle to look in and check items off while we shop. We can even ping the other person to let them know we’re at the store and issue a last call for items to be purchased. Organizing our list this way has meant that we don’t forget the list (we always bring our phones) and that we don’t forget items (it’s easy to check items off as we go).

3. Make a to-do list for your partner (if you have to)

The most stressful part of the mental load tasks was the items that one of us had to do but that the other one kept remembering. Only my husband could submit receipts for moving expenses as he was the only one with an employee email… but I kept remembering and reminding him. Because we were both dealing with SO MANY tasks, it was understandable that it kept being forgotten… but I found it increasingly frustrating.

We eventually used the same app to create honey-do lists for each other so that we don’t have the angst of trying desperately to remember 50,000 things, reminding the other person to do their list, only to have it forgotten. Being able to send reminders and add to each other’s lists has removed a lot of the friction. (Admittedly, not being in the middle of what felt like 6000 simultaneous transitions has also helped.)

4. Remove the word “nag” from your vocabulary and talk openly about reminders and how the situation is making you feel.

When there are a lot of mental load tasks, it’s really easy for one person to start issuing reminders. And sometimes that’s fair. Other times, it’s not. We found that getting away from the word “nagging” was really helpful. Instead, we talked about what was working and what wasn’t. We talked about how having to issue reminders made us feel (or that being reminded all the time felt like being micromanaged). Using direct communication, being honest about our limitations, and making developing a family culture of “enough” with time to do things right have been keys to our success.

So there you have it – the solutions we’ve used recently to help us deal with mental load conflicts in our marriages. Have you tried similar solutions? Did they work? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, Joanna! 

And Joanna is working so hard right now to get a number of peer-reviewed articles placed. She’s also been working with a pelvic floor physiotherapist professor, who is partnering with us on some of our vaginismus research! We want to get our stats from The Great Sex Rescue to a wider audience.

When you support us on Patreon, you support Joanna as she works up in the Arctic with two toddlers publish our research, and you support Rebecca as she tries to get our stats into new hands of people who haven’t heard of it before. Plus you get access to  unfiltered podcasts, a super active Facebook group, and more! 

What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the messages that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these toxic teachings?

It's time for a Great Sex Rescue.

4 Ways to Deal with Nagging

What do you think? Have you ever found practical solutions that help you get around this dynamic? Let’s talk in the comments!

Joanna Sawatsky

Joanna Sawatsky

Blog Contributor & Co-Author on The Great Sex Rescue!

Joanna Daigle Sawatsky holds a Master of Public Health degree and is a trained microbiologist, epidemiologist, and statistician. After a year and a half of infertility, she and her husband, Josiah, welcomed Mariana Grace into their lives just 72 hours after she defended her thesis. A Pittsburgh native who somehow ended up in the Arctic with her husband and two little girls. ENFJ, 1

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