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Effects of Mental Load on Relationships: Are Mothers More Burdened?

Expertly reviewed by Jessica Espanto, LPT, MA, RPsy · Psychology · In Touch Community Services

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Updated Jul 28, 2022

Effects of Mental Load on Relationships: Are Mothers More Burdened?

You may have seen it before, an illustration of a woman swamped with an endless to-do list while her partner merely responds with a dismissive, “You should have asked.” This burden is called mental load and, unfortunately, is a common phenomenon in many households. The effects of mental load on relationships are often silent but deadly. Learn more about mental load and how to manage it here.

The Invisible Burden

effects of mental load

Firstly, while the term “mental load” may be recent, the concept has been around for centuries. More often than not, mothers are the captains of their ships, tasked to command their family and keep everything running smoothly. In the past, women were expected to stay home and dedicate themselves to domestic duties full-time. 

However, times have changed and many women are now working alongside their partners or as the sole breadwinner. While this is definitely a great leap toward gender equality, many women who work are still carrying the majority of the mental load in their relationships. Emotional labor is often interchanged with mental load or labor, but these are slightly different concepts. Mental load may include other areas of life such as cognitive aside from the emotional load.

The Effects of Mental Load


Like an invisible backpack, the mental load can feel heavy on both the mind and body. Having to remember and do all the household chores, take care of the kids, cook, and still take care of yourself day in and day out is stressful.

You may keep yourself up at night thinking about what wasn’t done and what needs to be done the next day. Lack of sleep coupled with physically demanding activities is a recipe for tiredness, slower recovery, mental fogginess, and a weakened immune system. All of these can affect your performance at home and work, which can make matters worse.

Pent up anger

how anger affects your brain and body

A nagging wife or mother is often depicted in the media and, undoubtedly, many of us have experienced it at home. While this stereotype or trope can be exaggerated at times, the reason behind a mother’s nagging is often justified when we consider their mental load.

For women bearing a heavy mental load, she can develop frustration, resentment or anger when others in the household don’t pitch in. Oftentimes, one partner is forced to stay at home to tend to chores and children instead of pursuing their own career or interests. This can create feelings of resentment and discontent.

Feelings of emptiness

Sometimes, house chores can become mind-numbingly boring and tedious. For some, these tasks become second nature and they feel like they are on autopilot at times. While domestic chores are important to keep a home running smoothly, they are not exactly fun. In addition, these take up time and effort away from hobbies or career work. For the partner that carries a heavier mental load, they can feel unfulfilled or hollow at some point.

Relationship trouble

At first, many couples go through a honeymoon phase. Everything is well and good for the first few months, but as the dust settles, troublesome habits may become tolerated and normalized. In the beginning, partners may have been more active sharing the mental burden, but as children are added to the equation and work becomes more important, the weight becomes imbalanced. More often than not, the woman is stuck with the short end of the stick in this situation.

As the other effects of mental load take their toll, the relationship will suffer. Husbands or partners may feel tired upon returning home and expect to relax. The last thing they want to hear is their partner “nagging” them to do more work. In addition, because women are often too busy with chores and their own jobs, they may not keep up their appearances as much as they used to. In some relationships, this lack of self-care may be unattractive or they have “let themselves go.”

These are points of friction in a relationship that can spark arguments and resentment. The partner carrying the heavier load may try to avoid more stress by keeping quiet about their feelings but this only leads to worsening of the previously mentioned effects of mental load. Additionally, arguing in front of children can affect their development and create additional problems.

Ways to Lighten Mental Load

Talk about it

Firstly, mental load doesn’t get any lighter if you keep holding onto it. However, it’s not really possible to just drop all of the responsibilities suddenly. Instead, try to unload by expressing your feelings and experience to your partner and family members. Keeping your feelings inside creates a pressure cooker of thoughts and emotions that may overflow or blow up later on, so it’s best to address it early on.

Involve the whole family

why it is important to share responsibilities at home

Another way to reduce the effects of mental load at home is to distribute it. Indeed, mental load would not be an issue if everyone could pitch in. Create a list of things that need to be done each day. There is no golden rule when it comes to dividing responsibilities, so it will depend on each person and household. 

Ideally, family members should have their roles to distribute the mental load. This helps lessen the load each person has, and sharing tasks makes taking care of the household much easier.

For safety, young children should not cook on the stove or clean a bathroom. Instead, they can be in charge of putting away their toys and school supplies after each use. Sticking to typical gender roles is not necessary. For example, if a man enjoys cooking, he can do that while his partner takes care of keeping track of bills.

Avoid picking up the slack

After dividing tasks it may take time for everyone to get used to their new roles. For a mother that always cleans up a mess when she sees one, it may be hard to undo this behavior. If another person is in charge of washing dishes or sweeping, resist the urge to do it for them. At times, they may claim that they aren’t as good at the task and leave it up to the person who usually takes care of it. This “learned helplessness” is a mechanism that some people do to avoid their responsibilities.

Avoid reinforcing this behavior by doing the task for another person, unless there is an agreement or exchange of tasks. Taking on other people’s responsibilities just because they don’t want to do it will only add to your mental load. Address concerns directly without being passive-aggressive or judgmental.

Additionally, adjusting to these new tasks may take time, and it’s normal to have a period of adjusting to these changes.

Key Takeaways

In summary, the effects of mental load can negatively affect relationships at home. More often than not, mothers are the ones who bear the most of the mental load. Adjusting stale dynamics at home by redistributing the load can make families build stronger and healthier relationships. If you are experiencing issues with your relationships, talking to a counselor, therapist, or support group can help.

Learn more about Healthy Relationships here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Expertly reviewed by

Jessica Espanto, LPT, MA, RPsy

Psychology · In Touch Community Services

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Updated Jul 28, 2022

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