Relationships can often involve a ton of work. Beyond just getting to the point of where you’re committed and exclusive to someone, there’s effort involved in seeing the person, coordinating schedules, comforting them, and showing that person you care. Turns out, there’s a saying for this: emotional labor. So what is emotional labor in relationships? I spoke to Doctor of Psychology and licensed clinical social worker Danielle Forshee to get the full run-down of the phrase.
"Emotional labor is exerting mental, emotional and psychological effort into your partner and the relationship," Forshee tells Elite Daily. "In relationships it is normal to exert emotional labor. However, cautions should be taken when emotional labor is not reciprocated equally by your partner at the same amount as you."
Examples you exerting more emotional labor could be constantly helping them study for a subject or with homework, but they don’t offer to help you with something they excel in. Or maybe you create weekly playlists for them and send articles you think they’ll enjoy, but they don’t seem to be sending you things that make them think of you.
The inequality of effort doesn’t feel so great. "It will start to affect your mood as well as make you feel negatively when you are doing things for yourself and not with your partner," she says. "You also know it is too much if you are having a hard time focusing in general, start to feel alone, and begin building up resentment because your partner isn’t reciprocating."
And that resentment could lead to much worse — like seeking that balance through emotionally cheating or potentially breaking up — down the road, making you not even want to be in the relationship at all. Which, if you’re committed, is likely something you would want to prevent.
Clearly, this imbalance of emotional labor isn’t good for your relationship or for your life outside of your relationship. It just creates more trouble down the line for you. So, how do you fix it?
Forshee recommends talking to your partner, in order to seek a solution for your emotional labor discrepancies.
"You need to bring it up," she says. "Communication is key in relationships. It is possible that your partner may not realize how you are feeling or what they’re not doing enough of."
So if there’s a misunderstanding between why you’re putting in more effort than your counterpart in your relationship, a conversation about that could alleviate the issue.
"When you do bring this up, you should point out the situation (a specific example) where you perceived that you have been exerting more emotional labor and that they have not reciprocated," she says. "Let them know how it makes you feel and what you prefer from them moving forward. Ask them if there is anything they need from you."
After having a conversation addressing it, see how your partner responds and go from there. If it’s a continual issue moving forward, you may want to seek couple’s counseling for more advice specific to you both. And if it still is an issue after that, maybe it’s clear the relationship doesn’t work.
And hey – if you aren’t getting everything out of a relationship that you’re putting into it, maybe it’s not the right one for you. You deserve to have your love reciprocated back to you, especially if it’s draining you to not receive enough in return.
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