A Steady Diet of Leftovers Can Cause Marital Hunger

Leftovers Marital Hunger - AdobeStock_106386258We just celebrated the “official” day of Thanksgiving in our country. (We say “official” because the nation may celebrate Thanksgiving every day but we are thankful every day of the year.) And although our celebration was quieter this year it was deeply meaningful. We have a lot to thank God for. And we never want to overlook that. We know that indeed, we are blessed! And the leftover food is enjoyable to eat, as well.

We hope you have leftovers that you’re able to feast on this holiday season. Left over food can be great to enjoy the next day, the next, and even the next. But the leftovers we’re writing about here concern left over time and energy we have available to give our spouse at the end of busy weeks, months, and/or busy years. This is concerning because:

“Busy people rarely give their best to the ones they love. They serve leftovers. We’re not talking about the kind that comes from your fridge. We’re talking about emotional and relational leftovers —the ones that remain after the prime energy and attention has already been given to others. This is sometimes known as sunset fatigue. This is when we’re too drained, too tired, or too preoccupied to be fully present with the one we love the most. They get what’s left over. And a marriage cannot survive on leftovers forever.” (Drs Les & Leslie Parrott)

There’s no doubt that giving our spouse a steady diet of leftover time and energy can cause marital hunger. And when our spouse is starving for a meaningful connection with us, this can definitely cause major marital problems.

Leftovers of a Different Kind

Relationship coach, Sharon Pope, tells the experience of one couple she was coaching. She relays that they were struggling in their relationship because their busy lives left them depleted. As a result they didn’t have much left emotionally to give each other. It was taking a toll on their marriage. She wrote, “Their relationship is — of course — suffering because it’s surviving on leftovers.” The wife’s “clients get her best.” The husband’s “business gets his best.” “Their kids get the best versions of both” of them.

“The relationship gets what is left over… which isn’t much. They’re not talking or connecting. Who has time for that? They sleep on opposite sides of the same bed, inches apart but feeling miles away from one another. After all, who has the energy for sex or even cuddling after a day like that? And they’re certainly not spending time alone or having fun together.

“So, here’s the question: Who is getting your best? Your boss? Your clients? Is it your kids? Your aging parents? Or your business?” (From Sharon Pope’s article, Is Your Marriage Surviving on Leftovers?)

Or perhaps it’s your phone or your Facebook friends. It may even be that you are spending the best part of your energy on “good” things. This can include volunteering to help others or working on ministry matters. And from your perspective, that may seem to be a good thing. You would think your spouse would understand the importance of what you’re doing. But your good works for others, may actually hurt your spouse. And if it’s hurting your spouse—how does that help your marriage relationship?

Most likely it’s killing it!

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Here’s something we have learned along the way in our marriage, which has helped both of us. And here it is: we look for ways to save a good part of ourselves to give to our each other. This takes intentionality. “Feeding” our spouse a steady diet of emotional leftovers can definitely cause marital hunger. We’ve been through this several times within our marriage. And we can tell you firsthand that this is definitely problematic.

Yes, sometimes, there are “seasons” of busyness. We all go through them. However, it’s important to make sure they are temporary seasons. And that takes a constant juggling act. But it’s a necessary one. Instead of investing so much in others, we need to save the best part of ourselves for each other.

It’s easy to fall into the false notion that our family “will understand” when we give so much to others. We think, “even though I can’t spend much time with them, they know I love them.” We can rationalize, “If there’s anyone who should understand all of this, it should be them.”

And yes, that may make perfect sense to us. And in a perfect world that would make sense. But we don’t live in a perfect world. How is this working for your marriage partner? What about your marriage relationship? Our spouse has wants and needs that require us to put him or her first sometimes. They hunger for it. They need our specialized attention. That’s part of the reason they married us. God knows this. Remember what God says in His Word, “It is not good for man to be alone.” That includes lonely feelings.

Giving a Steady Diet of Leftover Energy to Our Spouse

What we’re talking about here is cheating your spouse of the quality time they feel they need from you. They hunger for your attention and care. And unless you’re too out of touch with reality, deep inside, you know what’s realistic. If you don’t, ask God to show you.

Being a perpetual “Martha”—where you’re too busy too much of the time, is problematic (as pointed out in Luke 10:38-41). That’s me (Cindy)! I confess this to be true. I continually find an abundance of “good” things that need my attention… actually too many! But this is not good for our marriage relationship. If I was single—that would be a different matter. But when I pledged myself in marriage to Steve, I needed to change my priorities. God has shown me that the following is true:

“Your spouse needs to come to the top of your priority list—just a bubble behind Jesus. You need to give your spouse priority access to your time—instead of just the leftovers.” (Drs. Gary and Barb Rosberg)

I thank God, that He is teaching me to realign my priorities. I’ve been learning to say no when I should. God has been showing me that when I say yes to one thing, I’m saying no to another. And often, it is my husband that I have to say no to. So I am learning to find ways to cut down on my busyness. Just because I can do something, it doesn’t mean I should. I need to make sure my husband doesn’t get the short end of things. All of this takes intentionality. Plus it also takes awareness of what TRULY needs to be done above what I THINK needs to be done. Those can be two different realities.

As far as how we spend our time, it’s important that we:

“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. [Please note: we will give you 3 here, and you can read the rest, which we recommend, by clicking into the linked title below]:

1. 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.

2. Look for one thing every day that can make your spouse laugh. And then share it with each other 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 dinner time.” (Jocelyn Green, from her article—which we recommend you read: Are You Serving Emotional Leftovers?)

Additionally, as it pertains to giving your spouse leftover time and energy:

If you’re caught up in making your spouse settle for leftovers you need to do some serious praying. Talk to God about it. Ask Him to give you wisdom on how to work through this situation. (FYI: There is a related article to read and prayerfully consider before it’s too late. It is titled, Why Some Spouses Give Up.)

After praying, talk to your spouse about this matter. Sincerely apologize for not giving him or her the priority that they have needed. This is a humbling experience, but it’s a healing step in the right direction. Additionally, swallow your pride and ask your spouse for help to figure out how to give him or her more of your time. Your spouse most likely will have some suggestions. And that’s okay. Just make sure you’re open to truly hearing them. Again, this is another step in a healthy direction.

For the health of your relationship, this is too important of a situation to allow it to continue in an off-balanced way.

Your Marriage is Your First Mission

Lastly, remember, your first mission field is to your spouse. You promised your spouse before God and other witnesses to “love, honor, and cherish” him or her until you’re parted by death. That is a solemn promise that you need to take seriously. So, be pro-active in showing your spouse, with your actions, that you cherish him or her.

And most importantly, ask God to lead you in giving your spouse your best. I have done this numerous times. And it is amazing how faithful God is in showing how to cut back on unnecessary expenditures of time. After praying, God will nudge me to step back from things I thought I HAD to do. After I really looked at it, I realized I really didn’t need to do them. I just thought I did.

There is no doubt that God will show you how to save some of your best for your spouse. God is great that way! He wants your marriage to thrive, not just survive. So go with God.

Cindy and Steve Wright


To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:

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2 responses to “A Steady Diet of Leftovers Can Cause Marital Hunger

  1. Ok, you talked about this from the aspect of being the one giving the leftovers. What if I am the one on the receiving end of the leftovers?

    1. That’s a hard one because it can be different for every couple. We can all get caught up in giving each other leftovers sometimes. That’s because we go through busy seasons. This happens in every marriage. Things, people, and circumstances come into our lives where we go through a period of time where our main attention goes elsewhere. Sometimes this is necessary (like a sick family member, an extra busy time at work, etc…). That’s when we have to be careful to acknowledge that we’re going to try to get past that season as fast as we can.

      The problem is when one “season” overlaps other seasons and we never seem to get beyond them (or we get caught up in other things and/or people that we shouldn’t spend so much time with). If/when that happens the healthiest marriage partners try to figure out how to save a part of themselves so they aren’t giving their best to everyone and everything else and give their spouse their leftover time, energy, and priority attention. Sometimes it’s a matter of doing some juggling of schedules, job adjustments, family adjustments, etc. Other times it’s more difficult than that and the spouses need to figure it out so each of them feels fulfilled in their marital relationship.

      I don’t know if this is a “season” you’re going through that every married couple falls into. But even if it is, you both need to talk about it; acknowledge that this is necessary for now, but isn’t sustainable for the long run. Also, I don’t know your husband; so I don’t know his thought process on all of this. Plus, I don’t know what will open his eyes to see that somehow, some way he has to make a concerted effort to make you feel more cared about and loved. That’s why you married each other. It isn’t just to make life work for you, but to go through life as partners. Some spouses agree that giving each other less time is necessary (because of certain circumstances in their life together); but they are still able to give each other enough quality time where they both feel fulfilled in their marriage relationship. And they are in agreement that this works for them. But if they aren’t in agreement, then there are problems.

      So, I also don’t know if you have talked to your husband about this. If not, that’s important! And I don’t know the timing of your “talks.” That can be important too. If you try to talk at a H.A.L.T. Time (when either of you is Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired) then your talks might not go very well. I encourage you to go into the Communication and Conflict topic because we have several articles posted that could give you some good tips that may work for you as you pray, read, glean, and apply what you believe will work for you. Here’s a link to one article that may give you some insights: https://marriagemissions.com/ways-approach-spouse-talk/.

      It could also be that your husband needs a different type of explanation. Maybe using an Emotional Word Picture at a time when you both are talking together (not at a H.A.L.T. Time) could help you. Here’s an article that explains a bit about this: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/how-to-create-emotional-word-pictures/. I’ve used this method quite a few times in our marriage (and sometimes Steve has opened my eyes with emotional word pictures that I can relate to).

      Be creative Shelly. Ask God to show you how you can help your husband to see that you feel you are getting his leftover time and energy and attention, and that you need more. He might think you are just too demanding. He might think that you are trying to draw energy from him when he thinks you shouldn’t. So somehow you need to help him to understand that you need more than leftovers and that some things need readjusting. Ask God to reveal to you if you are asking for more than your husband can reasonably give. And ask for insight as to how you and your husband can resolve this so one (or both) of you don’t feel so neglected.

      Perhaps you can ask your husband (at a low key, non-combative time) how he would feel if you kept serving him leftovers night after night after night… into week after week after week–like a perpetual Thanksgiving dinner that goes on and on and on to ad nauseam. Again, be creative. God created us with keen minds to find those creative ways to communicate important matters in healthy ways. We just have to tap into that creativity. And sometimes we have spouses that are just plain clueless. Again, that’s when we have to be all the more creative.

      But if you’re feeling lonely in your marriage–you need to address that with your husband. Sometimes just cozying up to him at the right time and telling him you miss him works. I’ve had to do that sometimes. And it does work. Steve never really thought that I was lonely for him because I’m busy. But I’m not lonely for something to do–I’m lonely for his companionship. Of course, I’ve had to be reasonable about this. If his job was real demanding at that time (especially when he managed a Christian radio station), I had to compromise on this. But so did he. We worked on it together. But first I needed to convince him to find a way so he didn’t just give me leftovers all the time. Steve was pretty good about this when I found the key to unlocking an “ah ha moment” for him. (We have an article on this at: https://marriagemissions.com/we-pray-ah-ha-moments/.)

      I’m not sure if this will help you. I hope so. I know what it’s like to be lonely in marriage. Every spouse goes through these times. We just want to make sure that we are not perpetually going through these times. It’s hard to “cleave” to our spouse (as we’re told to do in the Bible) when they aren’t around physically and/or emotionally to do so. So again, pray, and be creative as God reveals to you some insights as to how to reach your husband on this matter. I pray you are successful.