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My problem seems menial, one might say it’s “a first world problem”. My husband no longer gives me gifts. I’m not talking about the “just because” types of gifts. It has become birthdays, Mother’s Day, and even Christmas one year. This has been going on for the past three or four years. In all fairness, he will occasionally take me out to dinner for such occasions. Prior to this he was an amazing giver. I honestly never even expect him to spend money. Some of the best gifts I received in the beginning of our marriage cost him nothing, but they were always my favorite because it showed he cared about me and spent time thinking about me. Last year my children and I were out of town over my birthday and Mother’s Day. I thought he might have a card or some flowers waiting when I got home, but there was nothing. When I tried to express to him that it made me feel badly he turned it back on me and said “Sorry I’m not living up to your expectations!” I know it seems selfish of me, as it really isn’t the gifts that matter. It’s the thought. Now that it’s gone it has me wondering if he really cares for me anymore. Is there any way for me to bring it up? I’m tired of feeling like no one cares about me on special days; my children are too young to help me celebrate. Thank you for any advice you can give.
I understand why you feel silly caring about the lack of gifts. On the surface, it seems like a superficial thing to fuss about. Indeed, it would be silly if your main focus centered on getting certain types of gifts. However, you’re looking for some evidence that you mean something to your husband. As you pointed out, it truly is the thought that matters.
Because humans are pair bonders, we are wired to look to only one special person to show us that we matter. It’s true that, as adults, we need to have the ability to know we matter regardless of what anyone else says (or doesn’t say). And, of course, it’s essential to receive validation of our worth and value from our Heavenly Father. However, it is an inescapable fact that we find great comfort and security in our primary attachment bond to our spouse.
Adam was commanded to “leave his mother and father, and…cleave unto his wife”[i]. When we are born, our physical and emotional security comes from the loving care we receive from our parents. As we mature, we go from a one-sided attachment where we depend on someone to take care of our needs to a reciprocal two-way attachment where we both depend and allow someone to depend on us for security and comfort. When husbands and wives offer this type of security to one another, they truly become “one flesh”[ii]
Even God himself promises a reciprocal attachment bond in our relationship with him. He says to us, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”[iii] We are promised that we can count on a certain level of reciprocity, which is what provides security and reassurance that we are seen, known, and valued.
When primary attachment relationship to our spouse lacks that reciprocal quality, we naturally begin to question whether we matter to the other person. In fact, because we’ve given ourselves fully to this other person, we’re quite defenseless against the reality that the other person isn’t responding. Sure, we can work to discipline our minds to not care or ignore the reality of a one-sided relationship, but it simply hurts. When a stranger doesn’t reciprocate, we move on and aren’t affected. When our spouse doesn’t reciprocate, we can’t just move on and act like it doesn’t bother us. It causes us to question our worth and value.
This is why it’s important for you to stay with this conversation with your husband. Yes, he became snappy and defensive with you. He obviously knows that he blew it because he’s understood the importance of giving and receiving love through thoughtful acts and gifts. You’re not selfish for wanting to know that you matter to him. You have a right to know if you matter to your spouse. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be much of a marriage, but rather a roommate arrangement. And, roommates are a dime a dozen.
Even though it hurts, you don’t need to play games with your husband to get him to respond. Bring this up to him at a time that is far removed from a traditional gift-giving occasion. Don’t start by talking about the lack of gifts. It’s not about the gifts. This is all about what you mean to him. Let him know that you need reassurance that you matter to him. Tell him that you don’t have scripted expectations of how that should look, but that you simply want to know that you’re special and different from everyone else in his life. Tell him how important he is to you and that you want him to know the same.
It’s common for young parents to get so overwhelmed with the needs of children, career, church service, and other commitments to let the marriage fall by the wayside. It’s easier to spoil your spouse when it’s only the two of you. When you add competing attachments and commitments, sometimes we get sloppy and take our spouse for granted. Make sure you understand what helps him feel important and special to you as well. Both of you need that reassurance. You can both commit to nurture your special bond and regularly reassure one another of how important you are to each other. Stay with this conversation for as long as it takes so you can both receive the ongoing reassurance that you matter.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] Genesis 2:24
[ii] Gensis 2:24
[iii] D&C 88:63