**Long and gushy—you’ve been warned.
On a recent family vacation, one of my children started watching the Lego movie loud enough that all of us were enjoying the snappy dialogue and “Everything is Awesome,” earworm. When Emmett was potentially identified as “The Special,” my mind wandered to how often that word comes up in therapy. In short, distress often develops when spouses don’t feel “special,” to their partners anymore.
Spouses Want to Feel Special
I have NEVER met a spouse in therapy who didn’t want to feel special to his or her partner in the classic definition of “unusual in a good way; better or more important than others; or especially important or loved.”
One of the best examples I know of someone who does this well is my husband. He could give lessons on it. I was reflecting on the specifics of how he has reinforced that for me, and how it has enhanced my marital satisfaction. This post will probably embarrass him, but he really is that good.
Don’t get me wrong—I know I can drive my husband absolutely crazy with some of my annoying qualities. He will tell you that I can be very sassy and difficult for starters. Despite our stepping on each other’s toes from time to time, I have never lost the sense that he thought I was “The Special.”
We Often Marry People to Whom we Feel Special
When I met my husband, I really liked him and went on a few casual dates with him, but I already had a long-distance boyfriend, so I had no interest in getting close. We had known each other for two weeks when he called and said he wanted to go on a walk and talk to me about something. My roommates started laughing that he wanted to go on a “DTR,” (define the relationship) walk and that I should prepare for a way to turn down the “marriage proposal.” Because I was wanting the opposite of a serious relationship, I could not wrap my head around the idea that he could possibly be feeling that way, so I protested their mockery.
It turns out, they were 100% right. He explained that he had dated a lot of girls and that he didn’t need to date anyone else because he knew I was the one for him. I awkwardly explained that I was in a serious relationship with someone who was away in a volunteer capacity in a different part of the country, and that while I thought he was a really nice guy, he really needed to move on because I was taken.
He was not happy. I shut the door behind him when he dropped me off at my apartment and exhaled a sigh of relief to be back home. I wasn’t very sympathetic to his moping because I just wasn’t interested.
For several months, he would show up and walk alongside me on my frequent outings to campus and ask me out on informal dates. It seemed like I ran into him everywhere. We got along well and seemed to think a lot alike. I felt entirely comfortable around him. I agreed to go with him places as friends, because his likability was irresistible, but I still didn’t want to get serious with him. I distinctly remember saying, “I don’t have any more ways to tell you that I’m not getting involved in a serious relationship. I’m being very straight forward with you. Date other people. I am.”
Repeatedly we would have a version of this conversation:
Me: Who did you take out this week?
Him: I told you I’m not asking anyone else out. I don’t want to date anyone else.
Me: Well, that’s ridiculous because I told you I’m taken. I’m dating people as friends, but I’m not getting serious with anyone. What about so-and-so? She’s cute, don’t you think?
Him: Meh. I don’t know. Sort of, I guess—cuter than most of the other girls.
Me: Why don’t you ask her out?
Him: She’s not you.
I would avoid him for a few days, he would pout, and eventually he would show back up. The thing is, he was incredibly safe and predictable. I could count on him for anything. He was a constant and continually sent the message that it was me he wanted, and no one else. After about 6 months, it occurred to me that despite my regular rejection, he must really like me because he was still hanging around.
When I was talking to my roommates one night about the fact that he seemed very sincere about loving me, I decided maybe it wasn’t a bad idea to consider building a life with someone I liked (loved, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself at the time) who seemed so sincere and constant. They responded that it was clear that, “Steve will always love you—even when you’re old and gross.” I realized that if this was something they viewed from the outside, maybe the sense I had that I would always be able to count on him was real.
My roommates were right. Despite all of our ups and downs, I can honestly say that I believe my husband still sees me as “The Special.” I have no idea why, but he has just always really liked me for me. Because of that, I am free to be myself and take risks with him. I can be playful, physically affectionate, and exploratory because I know he will accept me at a fundamental level. He can see who I am, even with my frailties, and still want me anyway. This is the core of “specialness.”
Here are some basic ways to help a spouse feel “special” in marriage:
- Watch for unique things your spouse likes and present them as gifts regularly. My husband knows I love blue flowers, so whenever he sees them, he brings me some. This is just one example of how I know he is thinking about me when I’m not around, and that he has paid attention to my unique preferences.
- Pay attention to what your spouse dislikes. My husband knows I despise melted cheese and mayonnaise, so if he ever orders food, he knows to check on this. This seems obvious, but it’s not. I have met with many couples where the fight is that “We have been married for how many years and you still don’t know that I don’t like that?” I read an article once in which Cindy Crawford used the example of her ex-husband Richard Gere trying to bring her a drink, and she realized he still didn’t know she didn’t like that drink after they had been married for so long. It influenced her decision to leave him.
- Generate a unique symbol with meaning for both of you. Once, my husband and I were looking up meanings of names. I knew that Lori came from the laurel tree and was a symbol of victory, because my mother had told me this repeatedly. Steve and I came across explanations of Steven meaning “victor,” and Lori meaning, “to the victor.” I gushed, “Look, honey—we were meant for each other.” Later, he bought me a ring with a laurel branch with 7 leaves (one for each of our children) and presented it to me as a reminder of this meaning. I adore this ring for the special symbolism.
- Have a secret language. If you were to scroll through my husband’s and my texts, you would see a regular and odd exchange of numbers we send to each other throughout the day. We started a habit of sending reflexive numbers (I like mathematical symmetry) at various time points almost daily. In short, it means, “I’m thinking about you right now.” It also means, “You’re special.”
- Have a special restaurant or treat. I have a foodie obsession, and my husband and I generally have a current favorite restaurant or food item. Earlier this week, my husband surprised me with a crème brûlée I discovered at Real Foods Market a few years ago. It’s a relatively out-of-the-way item, which makes it even more special that he remembered.
- Have a special song or music group you share together. When I was dating my husband, I watched him play a lot of basketball. I have a distinct memory of watching him play while Club Nouveau’s cover of “Lean on Me,” was playing, on several occasions. I heard it playing on the radio, recorded it with my phone and sent it to him. He also does a great job of playing songs for me that he hears that remind him of us. His most recent song dedication was a song by SafetySuit with lyrics declaring, “I will never get used to you.” He still plays this for me as an iPhone alarm right now.
- Think of a special way to present an act of service. My husband also knows I have a weird obsession with hearts. On countless occasions, he has brought me some kind of food in a heart bowl or drink in a heart-shaped cup.
- Verbal compliments. For years, my husband will be talking and will stop right in the middle of a sentence and say, “You’re so pretty.” Sometimes this would be in the morning and I would protest, “Oh stop…when you’re insincere, you cheapen it. I have no make-up on,” and he would say, “Right. That’s specifically one of the things I loved about you—you didn’t look very different without your makeup on, while some girls I dated looked totally different. You’re just pretty.” On countless occasions, he has said to one of my children, “Isn’t your mom gorgeous?” and they roll their eyes. I’m not, but I believe there is something he sees uniquely about me that he likes.
- Tell your spouse how and why they are special regularly. I have completely taken for granted the fact that my husband thinks I’m special, because he so often comes right out and says, “I am so lucky I am married to you. You’re_______ and_____and_______and______and I love that you’re__________. How did I get so lucky to marry my dream girl?” He’s specific, which makes it more believable.
My husband woke up a few months ago, rolled over and asked, “How did I get so lucky to land you? I landed you!” I answered, “Well…..you wouldn’t go away for one thing.” He laughed and added, “That’s right, I wouldn’t,” at which point I laughed along with him. “But I’m glad you didn’t,” I continued, “Because you have been the best husband. I’m lucky to have you.” I meant it.
I think most people would consider me to be very average, but I do believe my husband thinks I’m special–because the fact is that HE is “The Special.”
Life can be very scary. It is full of lots of rejection, misunderstanding and pain. However, for most of us, if there is one person out there who believes in us and treats us like we are special, EVERYTHING is indeed “Awesome.”
**I told you.
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