Dotty LaFou

Ask Dotty: How do I discuss emotional labour with my partner?

Dotty LaFou returns to address a particularly serious issue. How do you keep a relationship going when you’re doing all the labour?

 

 

Dear Dotty,

Both my spouse and I work full-time yet I do the lion’s share of housework and child-rearing. Am I a victim of “emotional labour”? What does that even mean? Please help.

Clara, Leipzig.

 

Clara mein leibling,

How wunderbar to receive a letter all the way from Leipzig. Gives me a chance to brush up on my German. When I read your anguished words, my first thought was of my daughter Clémence—being in labour with her was so emotional. But actually, that’s not what “emotional labour” means.

Oh yes, Clara darling, I’m on top of all the trends and buzzwords. That’s why my advice is so widely sought.

Emotional labour refers to the jobs where you must control your feelings so you don’t get fired, jobs (say in retail, nursing, hospitality etc) where people may treat you very rudely indeed and instead of putting them in their place you grin and bear it. It can be the same in relationships. My husband Edouardo, rest his soul, used to nod off in front of the television, often while holding his evening cup of chamomile tea which of course fell from his hand as his eyelids drooped, sending the pungent yellow liquid all over the carpet, which was a dreadful messy nuisance especially when it happened right as Father Brown was revealing who murdered the chorister in the belfry. Whenever I noticed Edouardo was about to have an unscheduled snooze, I’d tell him he was nodding off and could he please put his cup on the table. Well, dear readers, he’d be utterly furious! “I’m not nodding off Dotty, why don’t you just watch TV and mind your own business?” It was my business considering I was the one who had to clean up the spilt tea but he reacted as if I’d accused him of blue murder instead of the non-crime of falling asleep in front of the telly. To this day I don’t understand why he wouldn’t just admit he fell asleep occasionally. Much as I adored him, it was very wearing and even with my psychological training I found his outbursts difficult.


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Emotional labour covers all those unacknowledged tasks we do. At work it’s washing the mucky coffee cups your colleagues thoughtlessly leave on the sink waiting for the washing-up fairy to magic them clean again. It’s wiping the benches in the staff kitchen, collecting money for Gwen’s retirement gift. At home, it’s planning meals, paying bills, keeping track of when vaccinations are due, getting the cat declawed, taking Briony to ballet, Bruce to cricket, Brody to acting class. It’s all the detailed additional planning that goes beyond normal work and home duties.

My best friend Stacy-Marie says emotional labour is cleaning up the baby’s vomit while the toddler tosses the iPad over the balcony, the dog drags in a dead rat and your spouse is telling you exactly the same thing he’s already told you a hundred times but heaven forbid you remind him of that because if you do, he’ll storm off in a huff. It’s covering for your colleague because she drank too much the night before, and then her getting promoted although it was you who did all the actual work. When I was meter maiding on the Gold Coast, I was flabbergasted when wicked Sue Sauron was promoted over me. I ran rings around her, though she was a wizard with the accounts, I’ll give her that.

Clara my pet, now you know what emotional labour is. Dealing with it? Mmmm, I suggest you note down all the extra household and child-related things you do each day and present it to your spouse at week’s end as an invoice detailing time and energy expended. But baby steps, my angel. Keep smiling.

Use your finely-honed emotional labour skills to subconsciously charm him into sharing the load. It won’t be easy (more emotional labour I’m afraid) but hopefully—fingers crossed—the day will come when he’ll replace the toilet roll, write the Christmas cards, buy the wine for the neighbours’ party, remember his own mother’s birthday. If you do it right he might even finally learn—even though they’ve been in the same cupboard for twenty years—where the baking dishes actually go. It’s a slow-burn approach that I think is quite clever, but it’s purely experimental at this stage. Do let me know what happens. We could co-author an important ground-breaking paper on your findings—wouldn’t that be marvellous, darling? Oh yes indeed, the world of academia would be the richer for it. And we can sit back and enjoy a nice cup of tea. Anything but chamomile.

Glad to have been of help. Ta ta (or rather Auf Wiedersehen) for now.

 

Dotty LaFou

Dorotéa “Dotty” LaFou began her professional life as a meter maid in Surfers Paradise where she helped motorists top up their parking meters so they could avoid being fined. This marked the beginning of a life dedicated to helping others. An advice columnist extraordinaire, she cares deeply and personally about her darling readers and is here to assist you to sort out any problems you may have, no matter how teensy they might be. If you have a question for Dotty, email [email protected] and put “Ask Dotty” in the subject line.

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