My husband has low standards—for cooking, that is. As a bachelor, he often ate whatever he could prepare using a Mr. Coffee: Ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese, and his all-time favorite, Stove-Top stuffing, just to name a few of his specialties. His favorite food? “Leftovers.”
Since we’ve been married, I’m proud to say he’s never eaten out of a coffee pot again, but he is still an enthusiastic supporter of leftovers, much to my relief. I serve them faithfully, at least once a week. I admit it. I am unashamed.
But I have a bigger confession to make, and this one I’m not so proud of: the leftovers I serve don’t just come in the form of microwaved meatloaf or reheated rigatoni. More often than I care to admit, I give him my emotional leftovers, too. By the time he is done working for the day, I give him what’s left of me—and between household chores, raising two preschoolers, and trying to meet writing deadlines in between, that isn’t much.
It hasn’t always been this way. When we were dating and in the early years of our marriage, we saved more energy for each other. I stored up stories to share with Rob at the end of the day. I made an effort to be ready for him when he got home from work.
Maybe this is the stage you are in right now, and can’t imagine it being any other way. But there will come a time when both you and your spouse pour yourselves into your day apart from each other so much that the evening hours are more of an afterthought than the highlight of your day. Watch out. Emotional leftovers are on the menu. And if they are the main staple of your marital diet, you will end up feeling more like roommates than soulmates.
Now hang on a minute—before we go any further, I’d like to issue a disclaimer. One of the great things about being married is that you don’t have to put on a happy face and turn on your charm every time you’re around your spouse. We all have bad days, or quiet days, and that’s OK. If your spouse is having one of these times, try not to take it personally. Give a little space, and extend a little grace. When the bottom of the emotional barrel is truly empty, love each other anyway. Remember, it’s a choice, a commitment, not a feeling.
However, having said that, we do want to guard against spending all our emotional energy on other people other than our spouse as our modus operandi.
So what can we do about it?
Try these suggestions to keep emotional leftovers off the menu:
- If something newsworthy or exciting happens during the day, think twice about telling and retelling the story several times to your friends or co-workers before you see your spouse again. With each retelling, you may lose a degree of enthusiasm—you will want to give more than a super-abbreviated, watered-down account to your spouse.
- Look for one thing every day that can make your spouse laugh, and share it with each other in the evening.
- If you have any control over your schedule, try not to do the most stressful tasks at the end of the day, right before you see your spouse again. That stress will easily spill over into your dinner time.
- When you are truly spent at the end of the day, tell your spouse. Then tell them what you need. For example, “Work was really stressful today, and I just need twenty minutes to myself to decompress. Then we can talk.” Or, as I often say to Rob, “I used up all my words on the kids today, so I’m sorry I don’t feel like saying much right now, but I would love to just listen to you share about your day.”
- If making dinner would really put you over the edge on a given day, pull out a frozen pizza or get carry-out instead. Some days it is worth the money to preserve your sanity so you can be emotionally present with your spouse.
- Using Facebook or Twitter to instantly poll friends when making a decision is extremely easy and gratifying. But before you do, take a moment to ask yourself if this would be something to talk about with your spouse instead.
- Surprise your spouse every once in a while with flowers, a favorite meal, or an impromptu date night.
- Recognize when your spouse needs a night for herself/himself. Virtually always, if you give your spouse the freedom to do whatever he/she wants one night (whether that’s watch a movie with friends, read a book in a coffee shop or simply go to bed early), your spouse will be able to replenish the emotional reserves tank and want to spend time with you again soon.
- Ask how you can pray for one another before going to bed each night.
- If you are perpetually serving emotional leftovers, be courageous enough to ask yourself if a lifestyle change is in order for the health of your marriage. Take a hard look at the stress factors and decide which ones you can decrease or eliminate.
We all have days that completely drain us, so it’s inevitable that we will serve emotional leftovers to our spouses from time to time. But with a little intentionality to save some energy for the most important ones in our lives, we can keep our marriages fresh and satisfying.