What is the 'mental load' as new app allows partners to split chores equally

Women are more likely to carry the mental load in relationships compared to men. (Getty Images)
Women are more likely to carry the mental load in relationships compared to men. (Getty Images)

Despite most couples going into a relationship aiming to split responsibilities equally, this rarely happens. It’s a phenomenon called the 'mental load', and it’s predominantly affecting women.

A new app introduced by Starling Bank has now launched with the aim to address the mental load, and allow partners to share the load of household chores equally.

The Share the Load tool on Starling Bank’s app asks couples to each enter the amount of time they spend on chores before calculating how much of the load is currently shared. The tool was created after research from the bank found that 72% of British women think they do the majority of household chores.

This tool is similar to an app launched in Spain earlier this year by the Spanish government with the hope that it would encourage men to do more at home.

Spain’s secretary of state for equality, Ángela Rodríguez, said at the time that the creation of the app was to highlight the extent of the mental load carried by women.

What is the mental load?

The mental load – also known as the hidden load, emotional load, or invisible labour – refers to the tasks involved in managing a household and family, such as being the person who has to keep a running to-do list of items that need to be managed in your head, remembering what needs to be done and when, and being in charge of delegating tasks.

Woman packing school lunches
Mothers take on a large amount of the mental load. (Getty Images)

"Imagine a web of thoughts, constantly buzzing in the background," explains psychologist Barbara Santini. "Keeping track of social engagements, managing household chores, remembering the little details that keep life running smoothly. This is the mental load, an often unseen and endless stream of planning and organising that can weigh heavily on one's psyche."

Impact of mental load on relationships

Santini says the mental load can act like a "silent current beneath the surface" of a relationship and can potentially lead to tension between partners, as well as relationship fatigue.

"When one partner is left to manage this load largely alone, it can lead to a deep-seated imbalance, fostering resentment and a sense of being overwhelmed that can push couples apart rather than bring them together," she adds.

Why mental load mainly affects women

Studies have found that the mental load disproportionately affects women, and mothers in particular, as household chores, sorting out kid’s schedules, thinking of grocery lists and other invisible labour so often falls to women in heterosexual relationships.

"Society's script has long cast women in the lead role of the domestic sphere, with expectations set out like stage directions for a play written generations ago," Santini explains.

"Women are often socialised from a young age to tune into the needs of others, making them more likely to automatically take on the management of the home and relationships."

Of course, not all couples follow this 'script', but it helps explain why it can be more likely to skew this way.

How to split the mental load equally

If you feel like you are carrying more of the mental load in your relationship, the first thing to do is to have a conversation with your partner about it.

A beautiful couple sit on a rattan seat in an outdoor area against a pink wall. The man turns in towards his partner, and looks at her. She sits with her legs up on the seat, against him, and looks back.
Have a conversation with your partner if you feel you are carrying more of the mental load. (Getty Images)

"Approach this talk not as a complaint session but as an intimate heart-to-heart," Santini advises.

"Frame the conversation around the desire for a deeper connection and the vision of a partnership where both feel supported. Use 'I' statements to express your feelings and encourage your partner to share theirs.

"It's about creating an alliance where the mental load is not a wedge but a bridge that brings you closer."

One way to do this is to think of the mental load like a backpack filled with rocks, with each rock representing a task or a responsibility.

“To share this weight, partners need to first lay out all the rocks and then choose which ones they will carry together,” Santini says.

"This requires intentional conversations, explicit acknowledgment of each task, and a mutual commitment to regularly re-evaluate this division to keep the load balanced."

She adds that engaging with the idea of the mental load is not about finger pointing, but a chance to forge a deeper relationship. "It's a journey that, when navigated with care, can lead to a more balanced and fulfilling relationship."

Mental health: Read more