What is Emotional Labour in Marriage and Divorce?

Sep 07, 2020   ·   5 minute read
What is Emotional Labour in Marriage and Divorce?

The Sunday Times recently ran a piece on ‘emotional labour’ and here at Evolve Family Law that sparked a debate about what emotional labour is and to what extent it plays a part in UK divorce proceedings. If you aren’t sure what emotional labour is and how it could affect your divorce proceedings then read on.​

What is Emotional Labour?

Apparently the term ’emotional labour’ first began to be used back in 1983 to describe repressed feelings and emotions at work. Whilst we may not have head of the term we have all bitten back a sharp comment or retort to a work colleague at one point or other, knowing that a sarcastic reply won’t help with the need to work together. Fast forward to 2020, and the term emotional labour is now being used in the home environment. I am sure all of you will have suppressed your first thoughts and replies when asked about whether you want the bins taken out, the dishwasher emptied or what time the meal will be ready for as your other half has plans for the evening (that don’t include you).


Emotional labour isn’t just about suppressing your first response to your partner when asked if you want the dishwasher emptied when there are no clean cups or plates in the cupboard and you have just come off a ten hour shift with your other half and the children looking expectantly for their evening meal. It is also about all the other things in a relationship that can quietly drive you crazy as you feel obliged to hide your true feelings for the sake of your partner’s feelings and/or the children’s feelings. Examples include:

  • Having to have the mother in law to Sunday dinner each week when she clearly can’t stand you and never reciprocates with an invitation back
  • Always having to select the children’s birthday presents but not say anything when the children assume that the present was chosen jointly
  • Taking sole responsibility for taking the children to rugby practice when you can’t stand sport or the biting wind, and would also much prefer a Sunday lie in (like your partner) having worked hard all week and not being the parent who’d encouraged the child to try for a place in the rugby team in the first place.


Do any of those examples ring true in your relationship? Our Manchester divorce solicitors say that it is often only when the decision to separate has been made that either a husband or wife will realise and acknowledge that they are doing the work of two people in the relationship.

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Does Emotional Labour Lead to Divorce Proceedings?

Whilst you don’t currently hear husband or wife’s saying that they are getting divorced because of ‘emotional labour’, it is undoubtedly the case that emotional labour is behind some marriage breakdowns and the commencement of divorce proceedings based on the unreasonable behaviour of either a husband or wife.


Can anything be done to stop emotional labour and the breakdown of a marriage? Divorce lawyers are positive that in the right scenario there is help available such as:

  • Family or couple therapy to discuss how you feel and the need for change
  • Individual therapy to help you accept your husband or wife’s behaviour and the fact that they aren’t likely to change
  • Professional help to ease the load on one partner in the relationship, whether that is a housekeeper, cleaner or au-pair.


If you can’t stop the emotional labour (and can’t live with it) then it may prompt divorce proceedings. The divorce proceedings could be based on your partner’s unreasonable behaviour as, in 2020, it is clear that a relationship needs to be if not an equal division of work and home labour then at least a fair one so one partner doesn’t feel they are hard done by and has to suppress emotional labour as that isn’t healthy for the individual and will eventually lead to the start of divorce proceedings unless the problem can be acknowledged and change occurs.


At Evolve Family Law we are grateful to the Sunday Times for giving a name to ‘emotional labour’, something that we are all aware of and with an understanding of just how pernicious the problem can be when you are caught up in a long standing relationship where one partner’s feelings and emotions just don’t count.

Online and Manchester and Cheshire Divorce Solicitors

Manchester and Cheshire based Evolve Family Law solicitors specialise in family law and divorce proceedings. If you need legal help with family law, from divorce to your financial settlement or childcare arrangements, call Evolve Family Law or complete our online enquiry form to set up a meeting, video conference or telephone appointment.