This Is The Problem With Saying 'It’s Up To You' For Mental Labor

Why We Need To Stop Saying This To Our Spouses

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We were shopping for new carpet. Mel showed me a sample, asked my opinion, and I said, “It’s up to you. I don’t really care. Get what you want.”

Our three wild kids were running around the flooring store. I was keeping half my mind on them, and the other half on picking out carpet. Well, that’s not 100% accurate. I was keeping 50% on them, 40% on my phone, and 10% on the carpet. Which basically means I wasn’t paying much attention at all to the carpet. I’m going to sound like a typical husband here, but I didn’t really care what kind of carpet we got. Honestly and truly. I just wanted to make sure it was in our budget. I had every intention of paying more attention once we started discussing the price.

“But I want your opinion,” she said. I let out a long breath, looked up at the ceiling, put my phone in my pocket, and said, “That stuff in your hand looks nice. Get that.”

Her lips went flat, eyes fixed on mine, and I could tell that I’d crossed a line somewhere, but I didn’t know where. She was mad.

“What?” I said, hands open, face irritated. “I honestly don’t care what we get. I just want you to be happy with it.”

In my husband mind, I was assumed that by letting Mel get what she wanted, I was being a good husband, right? I was allowing her to turn the house we bought a month earlier into the home she wanted.

Mel pulled into a small cove in the corner of the store that was lined with hardwood flooring samples, away from all the salespeople, and our children who actually were being civil for a moment. She leaned in close to me, and in a forceful whisper said, “When I said that I want your opinion, what I means is, ‘I want you to care because sometimes it feels like I make all the decisions.’”

I don’t know if it was the stress of moving, but something broke loose in her. She went on, listing all the decisions she made around our house, everything from what our kids get for holidays to what we get at the grocery store. She went on for quite some time. Then she got quiet, and I’ll admit, I was angry at first. I honestly didn’t get it, but the longer she stared at me, the longer I thought, and suddenly I realized that perhaps I’d been missing something pretty important.

I thought back to our move. She told me where to put the furniture, and beds, and pictures on the walls. She told me how she wanted the kitchen. Outside of negotiating the price of the house, renting a moving truck, and arranging for friends to come help haul a few heavy things, all I’d really done was manual labor. I moved boxes. I pulled out the old carpet. I hauled in the furniture. And naturally, Mel had also been on the other end of the sofa and mattresses, and moved half the boxes herself.

In the four months it took for us to put our old house up for sale, pack it up, and move into the new house, I thought a lot about all the manual labor it was going to take. But I never once thought about the mental labor.

I consider myself a champion of marriage as a partnership, but it goes much deeper than who does the laundry, gets up with the kids, and pays the bills. And for the first time, in that flooring store, I realized that marriage needs to be equal on all fronts, and that includes when decisions need to be made, even if they are as simple as buying carpet.

I know there are folks who will read this post and roll their eyes, coming back with something like, “What about when you give your opinion and she doesn’t like it?” Well, just because she asked for an opinion, doesn’t mean she has to accept it. Marriage is about compromise and ideas, and sharing the whole load, every bit of it, even the mental labor. Every time you don’t pitch in when making a decision you are actually adding one more thing to a mother’s already very full plate.

So I let out a breath, turned to Mel, and said, “I’m sorry. Let’s figure this out together.”

We went back to the carpet, and looked at the samples. I asked questions. I read descriptions. I put in my two cents, and Mel put in hers, and together we picked something out that worked for our family.