busy mum with mental load burden

Tips for reducing mental load in relationships

To find out whether you might be experiencing mental load burden in your relationship, reflect on the following questions:

Are you the partner that keeps track of what groceries need to be purchased or what gifts need to be purchased for friends and family?

Are you the partner organising your children’s activities and playdates or keeping track of when they are due for their next medical follow up appointment?

Do you keep long lists of ‘to do’ items in your diary, in the notes app in your phone or in your head?

Is it your responsibility to remember ‘to do’ tasks, to delegate these tasks and also keep track of and follow up whether these tasks are completed?

Lastly, does the responsibility of managing such tasks contribute to your stress levels or tend to become a point of conflict in your relationship?

Developing an understanding of mental load, openly communicating about it and implementing some simple strategies can help couples reduce the burden of mental load often placed on one partner. When mental load starts to rebalance in a relationship, it can lead to reduced stress, increased appreciation for one another, and strengthen the couples’ identity as a ‘team’.

What is mental load?

Mental load refers to the invisible labour in managing a household or a family. It is the ‘thinking work’ involved around the overseeing of tasks. Progress has been made in modern relationships in terms of attempts to share domestic chores and the physical care of children. However, studies have shown that in heterosexual relationships – especially those with children – women tend to bear the responsibilities around anticipating needs, identifying options for filling them, making decisions and monitoring progress. Given the ‘invisible’ nature of mental load, the other partner is often unaware of the burden until their loved one starts to experience exhaustion, burnout or resentment, which can trigger tension or conflict in a relationship.

How do we start communicating about mental load?

  • Find an appropriate time and space, free of distractions to start the conversation.
  • Share your relationship values, and reflect upon your values around equality in the relationship.
  • Express if you have observed that there are areas in which you take more responsibility, which have gone unnoticed.
  • Perhaps review the questions at the start of this blog and discuss the areas which apply to you and disclose others which may not be included on the list.
  • Express how you feel using an “I feel…” statement e.g. “I feel empty, I feel exhausted, I feel stressed, I feel alone”. Express the ways that mental load burden is impacting your quality of life e.g. “I find it hard to switch off, it’s affecting my sleep, it’s hard to find the space to focus on my own needs”.
  • Together, identify potential areas for change and set some action plans around them.
  • Follow up after a reasonable time frame, e.g. a month, evaluate how the changes are going and then refine or set new goals.

woman busy on computer

Tips for the partner with higher mental load burden:

  • Your partner can’t read your mind and be aware of all the mental load tasks that you carry. Writing your ‘to do’ tasks down, showing them your diary or your ‘to do’ list in your notes app can be helpful to demonstrate all the ‘invisible tasks’ that you feel responsible for.
  • Your partner might not find that taking initiative and being organised comes naturally, so it may take some time to see changes.
  • It may be tempting to do tasks allocated to your partner yourself as you may want to do things quicker or in the way that you want. Try to let go of this urge and remember that this will not meet your needs in the long run.
  • Some useful questions to ask yourself to start reducing your mental load include:
    • Does this task need to be done?
    • Does this task need to be done in the way I want it to be done?
    • Am I the only one who can do it?
  • Express appreciation to your partner when you can see them trying to take on more mental load responsibilities.

Tips for the partner with lower mental load burden:

  • Try to mindfully listen to your partner if they are raising issues around mental load with you.
  • Focus on validating their feelings e.g. “it sounds like you have been overwhelmed, I can see that there is a lot on your ‘to do’ list”, “I’m hearing that you feel empty and that it is hard not finding time for your own self-care”.
  • Try to avoid problem solving statements such as “you should have asked, I would have done it” or “next time just tell me and I’ll do it”. While the intention behind these statements is usually to offer support, an overwhelmed partner can feel invalidated and feel even more pressure to take on a ‘project manager’ type role.
  • Attempts to reassure e.g. “don’t worry, it will get done”, can also be unhelpful when someone is under mental load burden and be perceived as dismissive.
  • Avoid defensiveness e.g. reminding your partner of the tasks that you already do.
  • When delegated a task, try to be prompt and responsive. Whilst the task may appear to be of low urgency or low importance to you, getting it done quickly means you are able to take on more tasks from your partner to reduce their burden.
  • Take initiative by asking to view your partner’s ‘to do’ list and volunteering to complete some tasks.
  • Try to express appreciation for your partner taking on mental load responsibilities.

woman busy on phone

Tackling mental load burden with technology:

Modern couples and families with busy lives can benefit from the use of technology to help manage mental load burden. There are numerous family organisation apps (often free), with various features to help each unique couple or family. You can find a list of some popular apps and compare their features here:


Our personal favourite is Cozi:


Even with the free version, there are numerous features to help manage mental load. Both partners need to download the app and create a shared account and both can input various information into a shared calendar and lists.

Useful features:

  • Shared calendar.
    • Both partners can see what events are coming up for them both, for them individually and for other family members.
    • A push notification can be sent to you or your partner every time a new event/reminder/task is input.
    • A push notification can be set to remind you or your partner of an event/reminder/task just before it occurs.
    • A copy of the upcoming day or week’s calendar can be emailed at whatever frequency you desire as a reminder.
  • Shared grocery lists and shared shopping lists.
  • Recipe lists.
  • Shared to do lists.
    • You can set up a shared ‘to do’ list or your own various ‘to do lists’.

Ways in which the app can help with mental load issues:

  • Increased awareness of mental load tasks being performed and appreciation of it.
  • Opportunities for the lower mental load burden partner to take initiative e.g. tackle some items on the ‘to do’ list, pick up all the required groceries instead of the few items they thought about and easy access to resources for meal planning.
  • Less frustration for the higher mental load burden partner around having to ‘project manage’, remind their partner frequently and follow up (let the app send push notifications instead), or be asked about what is happening on the weekend.


Increasing awareness of mental load burden, communicating about it and making some behavioural changes can help couples find balance in their relationship. It can alleviate stress for the higher mental load burden partner, reduce tension and conflict in the relationship and improve relationship satisfaction.

If you would like some support with building healthy relationships, managing stress, or adjustment to life changes, contact us at https://www.resiliencepsychology.com.au/contact/

We provide Clinical Psychology services in Adelaide for adult individuals and couples, and provide Telehealth services Australia-wide.

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