The Difference Between Emotional Labor and Mental Load

It's almost Labor Day, a holiday the U.S. Department of Labor calls an annual celebration of American workers' economic and social achievements. However, it is a good idea to use this opportunity to reflect on all the invisible labor that people do, which doesn't come with a salary and often goes unnoticed.

Invisible labor can be described as the work that one member of a household does to maintain it running. However, their partner or family members are blissfully unaware that these chores exist. They might not be aware of the fact that they need to do them, which is another issue.

However, this is not the only form of invisible labor. There are also mental loads and emotional labor. Although these terms are often interchangeable, there are some differences. This article will help you understand the differences between mental load and emotional labor, and how to talk about them with your partner.

What is emotional labor?

According to Penn States Weld Lab, the term emotional labor was first used by Dr. Arlie Hochschild, a sociologe, to describe managing or regulating emotions with others in one's professional role.

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Since then, this definition has extended to personal relationships beyond the workplace. It now includes romantic relationships and family members. Do you know someone who is always there to help you with your problems or just to complain, but never takes the time to do the same for you? If that is the case, you are performing emotional labor.

What is the mental load?

Mental load is a different matter. It encompasses all the non-tangible and invisible tasks that are required to run a household. Healthline has more information.


Your partner might not think of doing the laundry every now and again, but they can feel/feel/smell clean clothes. This should give them a clue as to what needs to happen to make those clothes come out.

One type of invisible labor is the task of doing laundry. It is a mental task that requires a lot of planning and thought, including remembering to do the laundry. You can find many more examples in the Healthline post.


How to talk about emotional labor and mental load in a relationship

This isn't something you should do on your own, regardless of the type of invisible labor that you are a victim of (or all of them). This conversation is not easy to have with a partner for many reasons.


Perhaps you've brought it up before and your partner retorted with: I said I would be happy to help, but you have to tell me what you need to do or I do X,Y,Z every day!

Here are some tips that Dr. Melissa Estavillo shared with Healthline to help you approach the topic. She is a licensed psychologist in Phoenix and specializes in couples counseling.

You can use I statements to frame the situation based on your feelings and experiences.

Tell your partner in advance that you would like to have a conversation. You should make sure you set aside some time for the conversation and choose a location that is free of distractions.

You can mention that you know your partner is committed towards equality in your relationship and continue to go from there. This could be something like "I know you value equal contribution to our relationship. But I don't realize that I have additional responsibilities."


It may take several conversations to make the conversation stick. In some cases, one partner may not be willing to give up their privileges in the relationship. In these cases, another conversation is necessary. If you feel your partner is honest and in a good place, it may be a good idea to bring this up with them (in a kind manner).