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Making Molehills Out of  Mountains/Reclaiming Your Personal
Power in Your Relationships

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By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

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Getting to Know You

If I accept you where you’re at,
you’ll become who you are capable of being.

-Stanley Phillips

“That cinches it,” I thought to myself. “Enough is enough,” I muttered under my breath as my foot pushed harder on the accelerator.

Karen and I were out for a Sunday evening drive. The top was down, it was a breezy summer evening. This was our time to be with each other, away from all the hustle and bustle that awaited us every Monday. I brought her favorite tapes along. We loved cranking up the stereo as we sang along with our favorite tunes.

However, this Sunday something was different. Karen had been quiet, somewhat withdrawn. I asked on four different occasions if anything was wrong, but she wasn’t talking. In fact, she had been that way for at least a week now. Her flavor of the week charity dinner--she canceled out on me. That was definitely not like her. Thursday and Friday when I called to say good-night, all I got was the answering machine. My messages went unreturned. Something was definitely up, only she wasn’t talking.

But there was no denying this. I turned the volume up as Carly Simon began singing  “I haven’t got time for the pain. I haven’t the room for the pain. I haven’t the need for the pain.” Karen would always, always, sing along with Carly, almost as if the two of them were having their own private celebration about the emotional exorcisms they had undergone. But she was just sitting there, arms crossed against her chest, blankly staring off into the distance.

“Come on Kare’, there’s gotta be something bothering you. What is it?” I pleaded with her. “You never, ever miss a chance to sing this song.”

“Yea, well I’m not singing anymore,” she sneered at me.

“Whataya mean, you’re not singing anymore?” I asked somewhat confused. “You love to sing. How can you just decide not to sing?”

“Let me be more specific then. I’m never, ever going to sing in front of you, Einstein,” she said, each word dripping with sarcasm.

“Oh, why are you honoring me as the one person who you’ll never, ever sing in front of?”

She turned towards me, glared and said, “Because!”

"Because why?”

“Because of what you said to me last week.”

Ah, now the pieces were starting to come together. The canceled dinner. The unreturned phone calls. The silent treatment. I could see I was being punished, but I hadn’t a clue as to what for.

“You have an advantage over me. I don’t remember all that I said to you last week.”

“Think hard, buddy. I have no problem remembering. Do you remember anything you said about me ‘breaking a stereotype?’”

I could feel my face turn red. I sank a little in the seat as that particular conversation came flooding back to me. But I had a position to maintain here and, by god, I was sticking to it. “Honey, honestly, I don't remember. Let’s just forget about it. I’m sure it’s water under the bridge by now,” I said, feeling somewhat satisfied that I had come up with a solution that would put an end to all of this nonsense.

But that wasn’t working, because now she was ready to talk about it. “Listen, Kreskin, all of a sudden your memory doesn’t work? I don’t buy that. Let’s see if I can refresh it for you.”

I wasn’t expecting her next move, she actually went into her purse and pulled out a piece of paper.

“Does this ring a bell?” she asked as she began to read from the paper. “You said, ‘Karen, you’ve broken a stereotype that I have about all women being able to sing, because you sure can’t sing.’” With that said, she balled the paper up and threw it out the window.

I knew I had to think fast. How could I spin this just a little to my advantage? Why with any luck, I might be able to get her to apologize to me for overreacting. “Okay, here goes nothing,” I thought to myself.

“What’s so bad about that? Up until last week, I believed that all women could sing. Is that so disparaging against you and your sisters? Come on, let’s just drop it.” I looked out of the corner of my eye to see how that was playing. She wasn’t buying it.

“I think you’re missing the point, as usual. Why do I always have to spell things out for you? You inferred that I can’t sing.”

“Okay, time for a tactical switch here,” I thought to myself. If I couldn’t go around her I was going to go over her. I tried to give her an easy way out, but she was making me do it her way.

“Karen, now that’s where you have it all wrong. I didn’t infer that you couldn’t sing. I’m telling you right now to your face. You cannot sing. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. You ain’t no Streisand, kid!”

“Ah ha!” she shouted.

“Ah ha, what?” I replied. “Is that such a crime to say to you? What’s the big deal?”

I had her back-pedaling now, so I thought this was the perfect time to do what I do best, turn the tables on her, make her out to be the bad guy, show her how I’m the victim, how dare she try and make me wrong for just speaking my mind about how tone-deaf she was.

“You’ve been punishing me all week because I was kind enough to tell you the truth, how dare you! I’ll tell you what, I will graciously accept your apology and we won’t talk about this any more.” I leaned over to kiss her, but she pulled away as she pushed me back to my side of the car.”

“Not so quick, buster. This isn’t about you. It’s about how your comment made me feel.”

“What do you mean made you feel? You can’t sing! How do you think that makes me feel?”

“Steven, can we get off the singing for a moment? This isn’t about my singing. It’s about how your insensitive comment hurt my feelings.”

“Why are your feelings hurt? I’m right about this. You cannot, I repeat, not, no how, in any way, sing.”

“Forget the G.D. singing! Will you focus on me? Can you quit defending yourself long enough to hear what I’m saying? You hurt my feelings. I felt judged by you. When I feel like you’re judging me, it makes it unsafe for me to be around you. I know in my head that you love me, but I feel in my heart that you don’t accept me. When I feel like you don’t accept me, it makes it hard for me to want to be with you.”

“All of that because you can’t sing?” I feigned bewilderment.

“Steven, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt here. You’re too smart to think that this is all because you believe that I can’t sing.

“I need to feel accepted by you. People who love each other don’t judge each other. I feel safest with you when I feel like you’re on my side. I don’t need to be teased by you, or belittled by you. I need to know that you accept me with all my quirks. I don’t want to have to be worrying about every little thing I do and say. Should I always have to question whether you’re judging me, that you’re going to make fun of me? I need to know that I can just be myself around you without giving you material for your standup routine.”

“Ohhh, so that’s why you’ve been so angry with me all week.”

I knew I had no way out of this. I could see that it was about time for me to punt. Sometimes it’s better to retreat in order to live to fight another day. I’m nothing if not a gracious loser. So I did what any man would do when he’s backed into a corner with nowhere else to go. I pulled the car over to the side of the road. I gave her a hug, kissed her on the cheek and said, “You are right. I am sorry. It will never happen again.”

The look on each of our faces said it best, “Yea right, it will never happen again.”

Man. Woman. Child. Adult. Doesn’t matter your station in life. Competent. Incompetent. Bright. Not-so bright. Aloof. Sociable. Kind. Self-centered. Self-denying. Underneath all the exteriors a person can don, we’re all sensitive, oftentimes frail. What we’re sensitive about may vary from person to person. But make no mistake about it, we all desperately want to feel accepted by the people in our lives.

We share together the need to feel accepted. Don’t buy into the assertion that there are fundamental differences between people. We are all from planet Earth. There are fundamental truisms about human nature that apply to each and everyone of us alike. Your ability to create a harmonious relationship is dependent upon embracing one simple truism. Not operating from this space in your heart will handicap your best intentions. Overlooking this simple truism will keep you running round and round in circles with your partner, never getting to the heart of the matter. 

This next sentence needs to be underlined, place an asterisk by it, write it fifty times on a blackboard. We are much more similar than we are different. I want to repeat that. There are profound implications for this sentence. Do not be seduced by the simplicity of this statement. We are much more similar than we are different.

You get it? We’re all wired the same. The only difference is that some of us choose to insulate ourselves to a greater or lesser extent from all the ways we hurt, from daring to want and need. Make sense to you? You have your own level of comfort with feeling vulnerable, so you insulate yourself from the discomfort that accompanies feeling vulnerable. That, my friend, is the only difference.

Any of this sound familiar? “I don’t care what anybody thinks about me?” “I’m my own person, I don’t need you or anyone else.” Nay. Nay. Don’t believe it about yourself or anybody else.

The need for acceptance bubbles underneath the surface of any interaction you have with another human being. You may feign indifference. Or you may have made acceptance the lord of your existence. Or perhaps you have found some middle ground. But it’s there. Getting stepped on. Being titillated. Spreading warmth throughout our being.

You know what it feels like, all that fear when confronted with all the firsts in your life--first day on a new job, a first date, all those first days at school. New worlds, new people, new arenas where you have to make your way. All the questioning, self-doubts. Do I belong here? Will I be liked? Will I be noticed?

You long for a kind word, a knowing nod. Remember those times someone placed a comforting hand on your shoulder? The gentle touch, a thoughtful comment, someone’s willingness to go out of their way to acknowledge you and your discomfort. Fear melts away as we feel safe and accepted.

And when we don’t feel safe and accepted, there are going to be hurt feelings. Not feeling accepted coats us with a thin film of alienation. Insensitive comments, myopic behavior that insures our well-being at the expense of our partner creates layer and layer of hurt, resentment, and mistrust.

I’d be willing to bet if you took the time to step back from the devices you and your partner use to hurt each other, you would learn a thing or two. If you peel back the layers to your discord, perhaps you’ll discover what you and your partner are truly feuding over. The significance of how well you can sing, or dance, or make love? Perhaps that’s the circumstance, but I’d be willing to bet that someone is not feeling accepted. Might this be true?

Perhaps there’s a place in you that is aching from the accumulation of slights, innuendo, accusations, omissions of recognition, sarcastic observations, and more. Has your need to feel accepted by your partner been frustrated to the point that your hurt has been twisted into anger and resentment?

This is really very simple. No sophisticated psychology is needed. I’m talking about the tenderness of the human condition, the soft underbelly of the hard exteriors we create. When that underbelly is pierced, we hurt and we don’t forget--it’s just one more incident added to a long list. When our tenderness is honored, we don’t forget that either. A little more of who we are is able to come out, delivering kindness to our partner, thereby expanding the presence of love and respect between two people.

I have no fancy techniques to offer you, only encouragement. The solution itself is seemingly easy. Stop focusing on the circumstances. Don’t settle for believing that how well somebody sings is at the heart of what is troubling the two of you. Pull back and go deeper. Pull back from the battle. Go to a deeper layer and focus on the underlying hurt you’re experiencing.

This is the path to a deeper appreciation of your partner. A deeper appreciation of your partner is the path to a less conflictual relationship. Less conflict needing to be resolved frees up more energy to invest in the well-being of your partner and, ultimately, the nourishment of your relationship. Afterall, isn’t that why we all want to learn how to make molehills out of mountains?



Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


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