Are You Serving (Emotional) Leftovers?

It's summer, my kids are often home, and I'm an introvert. As a family, we've endured intense grief recently with the loss of my grandmother and Craig's mom. My youngest daughter is trying out for dance company this year, so there is heightened anxiety in her. My friend's husband is dying and another friend's marriage is in crisis.

Daily, I feel my emotional capacity flows out of me and I long for space to recharge. Don't hear me wrong: I love helping my daughters process through hard things. I love helping my friends as well. But sometimes, when there is intense need with my girls and my friends, I can easily overdo. I can give more than I have and I end up living life out of some form of manufactured capacity.

Yesterday, Craig had a disappointing day at work. When he texted me that he was on his way home, I called him so he could process. His response? Can we talk about this when I get home?

I wanted to reply, No! I want to talk about it now so that I can be done talking for the day.

All I had left to give Craig were my emotional leftovers.

The great thing is that there's grace. We're going to have bad days. We're going to give more than we receive. We're going to be physically tired or sick or overwhelmed with life. This isn't about carefully measuring out your capacity daily so you have the same exact amount left for your spouse each day.

But it is something of which, I believe, we can be mindful. There are busy seasons often in our lives where our spouse may get the shaft now and again, but this cannot become a habit. We have to figure out how to practice intention with our spouse, even when life is chaotic and full. Marriages will not thrive (and sometimes not even survive) on menu full of emotional leftovers forever. 

In her book, Free to Lean: Making Peace with Your Lopsided LifeJocelyn Green gives some fabulous ideas on how to keep emotional leftovers off the menu. Here are some of my favorite that I've taken from the book (with permission):

  1. If something newsworthy or exciting happens during the day, think twice about telling the story several times to your friends or coworkers before you see your spouse again. With each retelling, you may lose a degree of enthusiasm—and you want to give more than an abbreviated, watered-down account to your spouse.
  2. Look for one thing every day that can make your spouse laugh, and share it in the evening.
  3. 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 time together.
  4. Be careful about using Facebook or Twitter to instantly poll friends about a decision you need to make. Instead, take a moment to ask yourself if this is something to talk about with your spouse.
  5. Recognize when your spouse needs a night for her/himself. Virtually always, if you give your spouse the freedom to do whatever s/he wants one night (whether that's watch a movie with friends, read a book in a coffee shop, or simply go to bed early), s/he will be able to replenish the emotional reserves tank and want to spend time with you again soon.
  6. Ask how you can pray for one another. 
  7. If you are perpetually serving emotional leftovers, be courageous enough, for the health of your marriage, to ask yourself if a lifestyle change is in order. Take a hard look at the stress factors and decide which ones you can decrease or eliminate.

The two of us are putting some of these ideas into practice. Craig's scheduled a movie night with his men's group. That same night, my kids are going to be away at a sleepover (thank you, dear friends!) and I can be in my house alone (glorious!) for a few hours. When Craig gets home, we'll have a little time before bed to reconnect and give each other our bests.

What about y'all? Do you have other ideas you could share with us about how to not serve emotional leftovers to your spouse? We'd love to hear how you keep your marriage, well, fresh! BONUS: If you leave a comment, you're automatically entered to win a free copy of Jocelyn's book!


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Note: Jocelyn's book is not a marriage book, but if you struggle with the concept of balance, this is a great book that kind of turns the notion of a "balanced life" on it's head. She expresses the idea of leaning into the season you're in instead of constantly fighting against it. She interviewed me for this book and it was a joy to contribute to! I hope you'll check it out.