Dr Ruppanner says husbands don’t have it easy either.
“Men today are more interested in caring for children, sharing the housework and being equal in all dimensions of family life. But the structure of work still requires long hours and complete devotion to succeed. This means men often feel trapped between institutions that demand their all and their desires to be more connected and present in their family lives,” she says.
Dr Ruppanner says the resentment caused by the inequality in the division of duties in a relationship can have long standing consequences for families.
“The challenge for many modern families is that everyone is tired. The mental load and the domestic duties associated with children are incessant. What is more, the demands of work are also never-ending. And, if these duties remain deeply gendered, it means women continue to carry more of the mental load, housework and childcare. For many women, especially those balancing a job and a family, these demands are untenable. Add a lack of sleep and complete exhaustion on top and people are just emotionally burnt out,” Dr Ruppanner says.
Australia’s most recent divorce statistics show that 48,517 divorces were granted in 2015.
Couples with children account for almost half of the divorce rate, with 47.5% of all divorces in 2015 involving children. That represents a total of 42,303 children. While approximately 1 in 3 marriages ended in a divorce, fewer people are actually getting married so the true indication of modern relationship breakdown isn’t available without considering the separation rates of people in committed relationships and this is much harder to quantify.
Dr Ruppanner says there are ways to cut back on mental load.
“By identifying the mental load in our lives and its impact on our mood, relationships and productivity we can reduce its impact,” she says.
Dr Ruppanner says it’s up to women to recognise the impact of the mental load on their lives and take a break. The goal of the break is to feel your mental load and for others to see the gaps so the mental load can be identified, reduced and redistributed.
She says it’s also important to reduce your expectations and accept that you don’t need to have a perfect house and perfect children. If you stop judging yourself and others, you can reduce pressure around the need to feel that your home is not tidy enough, your family’s clothes are not impeccable and your meals are not gourmet.
Dr Ruppanner’s final advice is that it’s okay to delegate tasks. You don’t need to be responsible for everything. Family members will learn from their mistakes. Simply allocate tasks and don’t judge if it doesn’t quite work out the way you hoped.