Coined in 1983 by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, the term “Emotional Labor” originally referred to the emotional sacrifices employees were expected to make to keep their jobs and to manage their employer’s image.
Since then, the term has taken on an additional meaning with regards to interpersonal relationships and the unacknowledged work that certain parties—traditionally women—put into making sure that everyone is comfortable and cared for, especially on an emotional level.
Those of us in poly relationships are certainly familiar with this kind of work and this got me thinking about just how unbalanced the division of emotional labor can become.
4 Tips for Sharing Emotional Labor in Polycules
1. Include Birthdays and Anniversaries in a Shared Calendar
One common type of emotional labor involves keeping track of important dates. An effective way to do this without putting all the onus on certain members of your polycule is to enter your birthday and other special events in the shared calendar. That way, no one person needs to hold the information, or plan for special events.
Agree as a group that each member of your polycule will take responsibility for maintaining the calendar, and share the task of throwing parties or other events.
2. Exchange Contact Info Early On
Another way to keep things equal on the emotional labor front is to communicate directly with your metamour and other members of your polycule. Don’t expect a shared partner to relay information, especially if it pertains to feelings or expectations.
Get comfortable with confrontation, and don’t be afraid to get a little vulnerable. Venting to a shared partner is so easily done and feels far less risky than going to the source but doing so puts the emotional burden on them to smooth things over for you.
3. Keep a Shared List of Important Personal Information
Like important dates, details about food intolerances, allergies, religious observances, and special needs often go unnoticed in polycules, save for those few members who feel obliged to keep track.
Throw all that information on a shared list and revise it as needed. Yes, it takes some emotional labor to check the list before planning a shared meal or scheduling an event, but by making the document accessible to all, your group acknowledges that it’s everyone’s job to honor and keep updated on these important bits of information.
4. Be Open about Your Feelings
Perhaps the most ubiquitous form of emotional labor involves drawing out those who aren’t forthcoming about their feelings. We’ve all been there, faced with a partner who is clearly upset, yet unwilling to acknowledge it.
Do everyone a favor and skip the guessing game. Create a group dynamic that supports emotional expression and don’t take on the role of “feelings decoder.” When everyone takes responsibility for expressing their needs, things get far less one-sided in the emotional labor department.
Does your polycule share the burden of emotional labor equally or are there some ways in which you can all improve?