Family,  Marriage,  Motherhood,  Mothering Through Fatigue,  Special Needs Parenting

When you’re too tired to be a good wife

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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.”

When you're too tired to be a good wife: Sometimes you can't give 100% in your marriage. You can't even give 50%. You can barely give 1%. Sometimes you are just too tired to be a good wife. Here's how to cope.

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.


  • Amanda Kendall

    Thank you so much for this. I shared it with my hubby and it started a great conversation about what has been going on in our home recently. Thank you for giving us a way to start discussing OUR “1%”.

  • Ruth

    I have four kiddos. 7yr old, 4, 2, and 6 month old. It takes great effort and a whole lot of logistic planning for me to leave the house on my own. My husband is in the Marine Corp and works a crazy amount of hours. My oldest has Aspergers, and I homeschool her. I don’t think I have gotten more than 3 or 4 hours of interrupted sleep in 7years! I surely thought I should be dead or in a insane asylum. Somehow I still get up every morning (barely), I still mother my children (I basically just keep them alive). All this to say, that the “pennies” are what are barely holding us together. I have been giving only 1% for a long time. How long do you think a marriage can last on this arrangement? How about the quality of life for the kids when mom is not giving 100%? The mommy guilt overwhelms me.
    I can’t get enough of your blog. Your honesty and openness are a blessing to me right now. Thank you.

    • Aprille

      “How long do you think a marriage can last on this arrangement?”

      With pennies, probably not for long. BUT… I think if you scatter some nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars in there along with the pennies, somehow, it keeps going. Those extra special things – the occassional date night, a night away every few years, something you know he really likes in the bedroom every once in a blue moon, and just the day-in day-out fight to keep things going.

      I hope you stick around here. Check out my marriage and my motherhood archives (at the top) as well as my Mothering Through Fatigue
      series. I think you will be encouraaged! I’ve been running on empty for at least 5 years now but finding beauty in it all!

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