But the thing is, studies find that we're probably not giving our partners enough credit for their contributions. There's a psychological process called unconscious overclaiming that sheds new light on how we perceive our contributions relative to others. And, it doesn't just happen at home - it applies to any teamwork situation, so it's relevant in work and social situations as well.
When I first learned about unconscious overclaiming, it totally changed the way I saw my husband's contributions to our household and gave me a tool to quickly neutralize (or at least dampen) resentment around distribution of labor as soon as it comes up. In the hopes that it'll have the same impact on you, I'm sharing this eye-opener just in time for Father's Day (coming up this Sunday, in case you forgot).
So, here's how unconscious overclaiming works: When we compare our contribution to that of the other members of our team, our minds tend to unconsciously overestimate the magnitude and importance of our own contribution while underestimating that of others.
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, explains it like this:
In one study, for example, when students in a work group each estimated their contribution to the team, the total was 139 percent. This makes sense, because we’re far more aware of what we do than what other people do. I complain about the time I spend paying bills, but I overlook the time my husband spends dealing with our car. Also, we tend to concentrate our efforts in the areas that we think are important, so we think our contributions are the more valuable. You might think that getting the weekly reports finished on time is very important while your co-worker emphasizes prepping for a presentation.
And, because I'm all about putting concepts into action, I've come up with a handy-dandy mental tool to do just that.
The Unconscious Overclaiming Reality Check
Next time you find yourself thinking, "Why do I have to do this again?" or "Am I the only one who does anything around here?", take a minute to go through this quick and easy reality check to get some perspective on what's really going on.
- Stop what you're doing and clear your mind. Multitasking during this exercise will greatly dilute its power. If the idea of pressing the pause button makes you nervous that time will run away from you, I recommend setting a timer (two or three minutes is all you'll need for this whole exercise) to give yourself the clear brain space to focus on your thoughts. For me, it helps to turn away from what I'm doing, close my eyes, and take a deep breath. For you, it may be something different. Just do whatever works for you to clear your slate for a moment.
- Try to clear the scoreboard. Sometimes, the mind-clearing from Step 1 will be all it takes to reveal a true belief that everything evens out in the end. If you can trust in this belief, there may be no need to keep score or focus on who's doing what at any given time. But, if any resentment residue remains, move on to Step 3 to take it to the next level.
- Focus on what you don't do. Think about all the tasks in your situation that are handled by other people on your team. For example, if you're frustrated that you have to rush home to cook dinner every night, remind yourself of the contributions your spouse/partner makes to your household in other areas. It could be getting the kids ready for bed at night, handling car maintenance, taking out the trash, working long hours to contribute financially, or instilling a sense of playfulness in your kids. Or all of the above. Or something else entirely. Just mentally recognize as many of these things as possible.
- Do a gut check. After a minute or two of reflection, check in with yourself about how you're feeling, contribution-wise. If your frustration has subsided...right on! You may have just nipped unconscious overclaiming in the bud. But, if you're still feeling significant resentment, it may be time to go deeper. This may involve discussing your feelings with your partner or team members and/or making lists of the things that you do and the things that others do (sometimes it helps to see them written down). Or, if your resentment is stemming from feelings of being underappreciated, it may be as simple as asking your partner or teammates for some extra recognition of your contributions.
Of course, there are times when this exercise will make it clear that you can't do it all on your own. In these cases, the unbiased perspective of a manager, mediator, relationship coach, or couples therapist may work wonders.
And, speaking of...
The person who blew my mind with the unconscious overclaiming concept years ago was my friend, Beth Anstandig Killough, an amazing couples therapist based in Los Gatos, California (yes, I do have awesome friends). I asked Beth to weigh in on the topic here and I think she summed it up beautifully:
I've found that when I start keeping score in my marriage, it isn't long before my husband begins to look like an opponent instead of a teammate. What I know to be true is that it all balances out eventually. If I overvalue my contributions, I miss the finite opportunity to feel loving and peaceful in my marriage. The antidote is gratitude, focusing on all of the good stuff my man brings to our life.
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