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How to Deal with Emotional Labor in Relationships with Rose Hackman

Jun 30, 2023


Emotional labor is a concept that has become a hot topic on social media recently. Many have taken to TikTok in particular to discuss ways in which they feel they take on a disproportionate amount of emotional labor than their romantic partners, family, and others they interact with. Emotional labor can be present in all kinds of relationships, but a common manifestation is the way it shows up in romantic relationships and the disconnect is resentment can create between partners.


On this episode of the Get Naked with Dr. Kate Podcast, Dr. Kate Balestrieri and author of the book Emotional Labor, Rose Hackman discuss the ways in which emotional labor shows up and what the underpinnings are of emotional labor in common relationship dynamics.


What Does Emotional Labor Look Like?


Emotional labor refers to non-physical labor one does in their interpersonal relationships. It can be supporting someone through a tough time, listening to someone vent, avoiding conflict to make others feel comfortable, dismissing your own needs/boundaries, and preserving the emotional comfortability and meeting the emotional needs of those around them.


The term emotional labor is often described as invisible work as it manifests differently than household chores or forms of physical labor that are more easily identifiable. Due to this form of labor being harder to recognize, it often is not held in the same regard as other forms of labor.


Those who carry the emotional labor for those around them tend to feel emotionally exhausted and without knowing about the burden of emotional labor, they may not even have the words to explain why they feel so tired and resentful.


Emotional Labor & Gender Roles


While anyone of any gender can do emotional labor, the amount of emotional labor usually is taken on more frequently by women. It’s theorized that women take on more emotional labor because they are often socialized to nurture and take care of the people (oftentimes the children and men) in their lives. In traditional gender roled societies, men are often the ones expected to provide the financial needs of the family via being the main breadwinner with women being responsible for the caretaking and domestic labor.


While some people might prefer specific relationship roles, many have become more critical of the gendered expectations that exist around certain types of labor and the rigidity some have towards more flexibility and equity within the division of labor.


Overtime, women have become more aware of the ways in which they have unconsciously stepped into emotionally laborious roles in order to make a (typically male) partner feel comfortable and happy in the relationship, at the expense of her own needs and desires.


It’s also not uncommon to experience emotional labor at work. In a gendered sense, many women have shared stories about ways in which they have had to silence their needs/voices in order to appear agreeable while their male counterparts have not had to make those same concessions. Women also typically have to strategically advocate for higher pay in ways that male counterparts don’t typically experience.


The fact that women often feel like they have to read the temperature of the room constantly to react in the most favorable way means that they are constantly thinking of the emotions and comfort of others over just simply existing the same way men do in the workplace. Of course, not every work culture/setting has these issues, but enough do that it’s an important conversation to bring attention to.


How to Talk to Your Partner About Emotional Labor


It’s hard to break habitual mannerisms such as taking on more emotional labor, especially if those mannerisms are what you saw in your own environment during childhood and unconsciously reenacted those roles in your adult relationships. It’s important to understand that it’s okay for your needs to change in a relationship and talking about those changes with a partner can be anxiety-inducing, especially because by refusing to take on disproportionate emotional labor, you are shifting the status quo. There are tips you might consider when starting these conversations.


Start the conversation with your partner


While you shouldn’t have to educate your partner entirely on the ins and outs of emotional labor, talking to them about the ways you notice that you’ve taken on more emotional labor than you’d like to bring the conversation to the forefront. You might ask your partner to read Rose Hackman’s book, Emotional Labor, or listen to this episode of the podcast so they can learn more about what you’re experiencing without making you do the exact emotional labor you’re trying to release yourself from.


Set boundaries


Addressing the disproportionate emotional labor in the relationship might require new boundaries to be established to ensure your not falling back into the same role. This could look like your partner checking in with you more to see if you feel things are improving or being able to tell your partner if/when you don’t have the bandwidth to show up emotionally. It likely will take discomfort and patience for both partners, but the end result can be a closer and less resentful relationship.


Work with a therapist


It can be challenging to unlearn behaviors and beliefs that have been present for a long time and it’s okay to need help. Working with a licensed clinical mental health professional or couples therapist can help navigate the challenges of disproportionate invisible labor in a safe and neutral environment.



In 2015, while working as a features writer for The Guardian in New York City, Rose wrote a widely-circulated article on emotional labor, which radically changed her way of understanding how power, gender and race affect the most intimate ways in which people relate to one another. Her research on emotional labor in the eight years since — as an invisible, devalued, feminized and yet essential form of work — has sought to drastically reframe our view of women, work and the nature of persistent inequality.

In 2013, she graduated with a master’s degree in Human Rights from Columbia University, where she focused on social and economic rights violations in the United States.

Rose’s first book, Emotional Labor, is out now.

This is the cover for the Modern Intimacy with Dr. Kate Balestrieri podcast.
Dr. Kate Balestrieri, host of Modern Intimacy, a licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist, helps people live more fulfilled lives by shattering stigma and erasing shame. Dr. Kate invites you to join her as she investigates the relationship between sex, mental health, relationships and modern society.


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