Even if you haven’t defined the roles, every relationship has one partner who takes the lead in decision-making and one who’s happier to go with the flow.
It’s a dynamic that we’ve seen on screen countless times – from Lois and Hal in Malcolm in the Middle to Monica and Chandler in Friends – and while it may work for these fictional couples, it can be pretty exasperating in real life.
Father and husband Justin posted a TikTok this week talking about how he’d typically respond when his wife asked him everyday questions like what do you want for dinner or what do you want to do today.
‘So often, I would think that I’m being the kind, respectful person and I’d say, “whatever you want, I want to do what you want to do,”‘ Jason recalled. ‘And she’s like “I just need you do decide. I am done answering questions, I’m done making decisions.”‘
It’s a pitfall many have fallen victim to, trying to be considerate but adding yet another task to your partner’s pile, when all they really wanted was a straight answer.
One commenter on Justin’s video replied: ‘Do you know how sick and tired I am of figuring out what to make for dinner every damn day and getting no input from anyone.’
‘I am exhausted with doing all the organising that I have now given up,’ said another, while a later comment read: ‘I don’t think my husband has ever given me a suggestion.’
There’s a name for this: decision fatigue.
Nicola Hemmings, Head of Workplace Psychology at Koa Health, describes this as ‘a person’s deteriorating ability or capacity to make decisions’ in the wake of having to do so constantly.
‘You might feel that you are experiencing decision fatigue if previously simple decisions are taking up more time and mental energy than usual,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.
‘You might also experience brain fog or “candy floss brain” and feel confused and overwhelmed with multiple options, or you might find yourself reading and marking messages as “unread” until you feel like you can better deal with them.’
This is frustrating for both sides, but it’s an issue that goes far deeper than the decision at hand.
The mental load refers to the unseen ‘cognitive labour’ involved in managing a household, defined by the American Sociological Review as ‘anticipating needs, identifying options for filling them, making decisions, and monitoring progress.’
In the average relationship, it might encompass things like knowing when the bins are collected or or scheduling appointments and events. Even if the tasks themselves are equally shared, one person has the responsibility of overseeing what gets done, when and by whom.
There’s a gendered aspect to it too. Studies show that women typically take on the lion’s share of this work, and that these imbalances in labour division can be linked to a reduction in ‘satisfaction with life’ and ‘partner satisfaction,’ as well as ‘feelings of emptiness, and experiencing role overload.’
You Should Have Asked, a comic by French illustrator Emma, explains how families suffer when men leave decision-making up to their partner, essentially placing them in the the default position of ‘manager’.
While each relationship is different, there’s every chance that when your partner asks you to make a choice it’s less about what you choose than the fact you’ve taken deciding off their plate.
So, in these situations, Justin advises: ‘Never say “I don’t know” or “I don’t care”. Give them an answer – and then if they don’t like that answer they can push back.’
Some couples find it helpful to offer up three to five suggestions to speed up your resolution time. You can then narrow down the options or veto suggestions, meaning you’ll both have input on whatever you end up going with.
Planning ahead can also help combat decision fatigue, as can a policy of ‘don’t sweat the small stuff.’
‘Decide on things at the start of the day or just after lunch when mental acuity is at its highest,’ recommends Nicola. ‘For example, decide on where to go for date night at a time with higher mental energy resources. Save that valuable energy for bigger decisions.’
Whether there’s an underlying problem with division of household duties or you’re just stuck on what to eat for tea, there’s a reason why ‘whatever you fancy’ inspires eye rolls over appreciation.
To you it might be the difference between pasta and stir fry, but to them it’s one more decision to add to an ever-growing list.
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Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.
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