What To Do The Moment You Realize You’re Not So Special To Your Partner

We long to be loved unconditionally, to be the most special person to our partners. But grown-up love isn't like that.

woman sitting alone on a foggy hill Aleshyn Andrei via Canva 

There comes a moment in every relationship when you realize you're just not that special. At leaset, not more special than almost anyone else. 

So, what was yours? Was it when he qualified a statement about love with, “Love has its limits”? Or was it when he stared with such keen interest at the leggy thirty-something that your eyes widened, and you did a double take?

Or perhaps it was the slip-of-the-tongue reference to an ex; a wistful vacation memory, a fondness for their friends and a life so foreign you couldn't replicate if you tried. But here you are, realizing that your someone at this moment is anywhere but here with you. A sweep of loneliness tinged with sadness settles into you, but you can't brush it away — because it has a ring of familiarity. You have felt this way before. 


In his book, Getting The Love You WantHarville Hendricks, a thoughtful analyst of humans in a relationship and couples therapist himself, says no matter how often we fall in love, and no matter what logic and practicality say, we still look for “The One” for whom we will be “The Number One”. He shares that the person inside each one of us wants someone to see and hear us as unique, defying comparison and unconditionally loved.

The day that this inside person faces the reality they aren’t that special, there is sorrow and internal shattering of awful proportions. You aren't the center of your partner's universe. You aren't going to be loved unconditionally the same way a child would be. But this revelation can also be freeing.


To mourn the death of hope isn’t self-centered or fragile, so don’t quiet or shame them, and definitely don’t say “It’s okay”. You might first want comfort your inner child by calling them tender nickname, like the one I gave mine, Little Re-Ta.  

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Three ways to heal and move on after realizing you're not as special as you thought

1. Mourn what you believed and reassure yourself.

When it dawns on you that you are not that special, that you may be a placeholder or exchangeable, dismiss the instinct to be stoic and pull yourself up by your bootstraps. There may be a need for that later but not now. As long as your stomach is hollow, and your heart is an empty room, turn inwardly and comfort the little one. Rock them, hug them, soothe them, and be patient with any downpour of honest grief.  She had hoped to be loved unconditionally.  

That little one inside needs latitude and unbridled love, not logic. Tell them you see them and know and that you were there at the beginning when they first felt lost and unloved and when someone tarnished their brilliant shine. That you will be there at the end and your love is unconditional. 


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2. Provide self-compassion.  

When sharp hurt dulls to a quiet ache, don’t forget your Little Re-ta or whatever sweet name you have given your inner child. They need to trust and know that your love is unconditional, that love can’t disappoint, not today, not ever. Partners and friends can come and go, but you are there for little you — on bad hair days and good. When failures and frowns are all around, you say, “You’re doing so well. You’ll get through this”.  

Just so we are clear, all those years ago the little one who asked Mommy to watch her dance, or the five-year-old that twirled elephants and rainbows on a stick or was called a nuisance when crying for connection didn’t disappear because they were ignored or silenced. They simply grew taller while unconsciously waiting for "The One" who would look and see, listen, and hear.  

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3. Heal together.

Everyone leaves childhood (or almost everyone) with painful experiences, including tears, shame, hurt and guilt. Like when your friend told everyone at school that your Dad was leaving, you silently said, “I am never going to trust anyone again”, and you break that rule when you meet “The One”. You believe this time, this person will love you and when you recognize your error, every ounce of shame, hurt and disappointment of your past floods your heart. 

Nothing heals hurt like loving self-talk, self-compassion, and radical acceptance of reality. As you become a good parent, true friend, and unreserved champion of your inner child— as you coddle and cuddle them, they become mushy, cushy and bendy, and have fewer irritations and frustrations, overreactions, instances of immaturity, and complaints. There is less fear of abandonment or commitment and more evidence of maturity, growing self-esteem, and healthy boundaries.

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Reta Faye Walker is a therapist who specializes in healing relationships. She offers one-on-one sessions, couples retreats, and courses to help couples get back on track.