This week was one of those weeks – the kind of week where I really was too tired to be a good wife. Little Brother was going through his sixth week of not sleeping through the night. (He has cut six teeth in five weeks while simultaneously figuring out hands-and-knees crawling AND pulling up – “wonder week” would be an understatement.) I also started a highly restrictive diet for managing my food allergies and IBS. After my third day of anger, frustration, and irritability, I finally realized that perhaps I was going through sugar withdrawal.
Sleep deprivation is its own kind of torture. For real. Over these last six weeks, I haven’t been much good at anything. It’s been pretty much the bare minimum for me: clean clothes, dry diapers, everyone fed. If you’re happy, that’s a plus.
If I could have checked myself into a hotel for a few days and not had to look at, talk to, or take care of anyone I would’ve been completely and utterly thrilled. But I couldn’t do that.
So this week, things sort of came to a head between myself and my husband. While he understood that I was sleep deprived, he was also getting really annoyed at my irritability. But honestly, I didn’t much care.
I sent him a text message this week that said this:
“Thank you for being so patient with me these last few days. I would like to say that I’m trying, but honestly I’ve been too tired to try. These last few weeks of not sleeping more than 4 hours at a time have put me into survival mode.”
This morning, we saw our marriage counselor. Somehow we got to talking about how we demonstrate love to each other. He asked me this: “Of all the things you do to show me you love me, what’s the easiest? What’s the bare minimum sort of things that you are able to do?”
The question sort of stopped me in my tracks because my response was this:
“Honestly? Right now nothing feels easy about loving anyone. I’m just too tired and overwhelmed.”
He went on to talk about how he often – and by often I mean almost always – does the dishes, and that’s sort of his bare minimum way of showing me that he loves me. Even when he doesn’t feel like showing love, if I’m being irritable or unpleasant to be around, or if he’s upset or tired or angry – he can always fall back on doing the dishes. He referenced the movie The Princess Bride and how Wesley would get a water for Buttercup. Finally Buttercup realized that when he was saying, “As you wish,” what he was really saying was, “I love you.” That’s him and the dishes.
This was good to hear. Because what I thought he was saying when he did the dishes was, “You’re a horrible wife. Why didn’t you get anything done today? You’re so lazy.”
Russ also referred to the “love bank” illustration – how we often have empty “love banks.” But, even when we are too tired to fill each other’s love banks, we can still throw each other “love pennies” – tiny little tokens of affection. The bare minimum things that come easy and we can do for each other to say, “I’m still in this with you – even though things are hard and I’m really too tired to care right now. “
So over the rest of our session we talked about these “love pennies” that we can give to each other, asking ourselves and each other these questions:
- What are the “love pennies” that I could be giving to my spouse that wouldn’t take very much effort on my part to show him/her that I still care?
- What are the “love pennies” that I’m currently giving to my spouse that he/she might not realize are tokens of my affection?
- What are the bare minimum “love pennies” that I need to receive to feel loved by my spouse?
You see, marriage isn’t always 50%-50%. And people who blog about marriage will usually say cliché things like “It’s 100%-100%!” – that you have to give all of yourself and then some, without worrying about equality. That’s probably well and good and true.
But sometimes you can’t give 100%. You can’t even give 50%. You can barely give 1%. Sometimes you are just too tired to be a good wife.
I’m submitting to you that even in those moments when you are at your weakest, your most empty, those dark places where you are hardly able to give or care about being a good wife at all – that the 1% matters a whole lot. And that it can sustain more than you think it can.
We talked about our 1%, our “love pennies,” for the last fifteen minutes or so of our session. We continued the discussion on the way home. What resulted was beautiful reconnection after a long and difficult week of tension between us. Now, we are making an effort – the tiniest of efforts – to connect, to communicate, and to love.
Marriages aren’t sustained by grand, romantic gestures. In those times when you have nothing left to give, it’s the one percent percent that keeps you going.
So today, if too tired to be a good wife, ask yourself how you can make that 1% count. Communicate to your husband the 1% “love pennies” that you are already giving that he might not be noticing – those things you are doing that say, “I’m too tired to be a good wife right now, but I still love you.” Ask your spouse what’s the bare minimum that they need from you for your love to be sustained through these difficult (or just plain exhausting) days.