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By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

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Transforming Judgments In To Acceptance

In the sick room, ten cents’ worth
of human understanding equals
ten dollars worth of medical science.
-Martin H. Fischer


The path to accepting your partner is paved by the efforts you make to understand your partner.

What’s at the core of the act of acceptance? Think about this for a moment. Is your partner more likely to want to feel that you understand them or that you’re judging them? Understand or judge? What’s at the root of either of those two postures?

Judging someone is easy enough to do. You have your own standards for the way a person should act, think, or feel. You have your own sense of what’s right or wrong. Does your partner measure up to those standards? When your partner doesn’t meet those standards, how do you react to that? How do you reconcile the difference between who you believe your partner should be and who they are? Isn’t that really the essence of it?

Many of us try to fit our partner into a box. You know the saying about trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Often that’s what we do to the people in our lives. We don’t see them for who they are. We see them for who we want them to be. We don’t see the incredible richness that lives within them. We see them as projects in which we can mold them in a manner that makes us more comfortable with who they are.

Does that sound familiar at all? Molding. Shaping. Cajoling. All in the name of what? Wanting to transform our partner’s imperfections? Needing to appease our discomfort for what we can’t tolerate? A little of each perhaps?

But let’s look at it this way, at what cost does all of this take place? How does all of the energy you invest in trying to change your partner help your partner see the light; how does all of that effort play in your partner’s head?

You call it being helpful. Your partner calls it being intrusive, undermining, non-accepting. You call it wanting the best for your partner. Your partner calls it not accepting them for where they’re at. You call it taking an interest in your partner’s life. Your partner calls it not having faith in their ability to go it alone.

All the subtle digs: a jab here, a barb there. What does the accumulation of all of that noise, all the ways we damn somebody with faint praise, what does it add up to in any relationship?

“How are you being helpful to me?” Jan asked, as tears of frustration welled up in her eyes.

“I don’t know. But I don’t get how you can doubt my good intentions. All I really am doing is just trying to be helpful,” Alan protested.

“How does going behind me, second guessing everything I do, help me in any way, shape, or form?” Jan bitterly wondered outloud.

Alan’s face was genuinely bewildered.  “I’m not going behind your back. I’m merely offering an alternative for you to think about.”

Jan, having lost all her patience, excitedly shouted, “Who asked you for an alternative? I don’t need alternatives from you. I need your belief in me. I need your acknowledgment that you believe that I can do this, not your recommendations for how you would do it.

“Don’t you know how it makes me feel like such a nothing every time you stick your nose into my business? Can’t you see how belittling it is to me, to have you pick away at every little thing I do? What do you think I am? A fool? An incompetent?”

By now Jan’s face was crimson red. Her arms were slicing through the air with each point she made. She continued, “You know, sometimes I think you need to hold it in your head that I’m somehow not capable, that I’m helpless, that I need you. I want you in my life, but not at this expense. I need you, but not the way you have it set up. It makes me feel judged. It makes me feel like the only way you want me is if I’m not me--but rather what you try and shape me to be.”  

Isn’t it time for you to better understand how your helpfulness is experienced by your partner? Isn’t it time for you to better understand how the innocent comments you make may be heard very differently by somebody else?

I can’t tell you how much discord can be alleviated between you and your partner when you better understand how your best intentions are heard by somebody else. Your willingness to be better sensitized to how your partner is affected by some of the things you do and say will go a long way to helping your partner feel more accepted by you.

Understanding on the other hand is such a different game to play. The players are cast as equals. The nature of the relationship is built upon support and caring rather than correcting and fixing. You tell me, which energy nurtures your soul--fixing or understanding?

When you take the time to understand your partner, you offer an incredible gift. Do you see that? 

How best to communicate this special gift? Understand your partner by entering their world, not by imposing your world upon them. Make it safe for your partner to introduce new pieces of who they are. Don’t censure them for what they do and say. These are the baby steps we must take as we build a bridge of understanding. These thousand small acts of kindness and appreciation are what affirms and encourages your partner to be who they are. 

My best friend Stephanie Phillips knows how good it  feels when I understand her. Believe me it’s not always easy for me. You see she’s only three, so it’s hard for me to crack her code all the time. But in the end, she lets me know whether I get it right or not.

“Frischie, Frischie, I ‘frowd up, I ‘frowd up,” Stephie said as she came running to greet me.

“What’s the matter, Steph, don’t you feel well?” I asked as I placed my hand on her forehead.

She didn’t answer, but the tears in her eyes said more than her words ever could.

“Does your tummy hurt?” I asked.

She nodded her head as she gave a little whimper.

“You wanna sit on my lap, Stephie?” I asked.

No words, she just jumped into my lap.

“Steph, you want me to rub your tummy for you?”

She nodded her head as she wiped a tear from her eye.

“How ‘bout I get ya a little Coca Cola™, to settle your stomach?”

Her face brightened as she said, “‘Kay!”

After Stephanie finished the Coca Cola, I layed a pillow down on the couch and held out her blanket. “Steph, you wanna lay down with your blankie?”

She nodded yes, ran over to me, threw her little arms around my neck and planted a big kiss on my cheek.

I thanked her and kissed her back. For me, it doesn’t get any better than that.

I hope you’re beginning to see how acceptance grows wherever seeds of understanding are planted. Acceptance is choked wherever weeds of judgment become overgrown. Having built a case for the importance of understanding, let me give you some concrete tools that will never let you down. These tools will enable you to listen to your partner in a special way; more importantly, you’ll discover how to effectively respond to your partner rather than react to them. The following’s a simple formula to follow--one part attitude, two parts action.

Let’s deal with attitude first--the attitude you project towards your partner. Don’t blow by this question. I want you to think about it for a moment or two. Do you give your partner the space to be who they are? Are there parts of who your partner is that you judge to be less than worthy of your honor and respect?

Don’t fall into your ‘yea but’ shtick. I don’t want to hear how you rationalize it in your head. How ‘it’s for their own good.’ Or ‘I know what’s best.’ A million times I’ve heard how somebody is ‘only trying to be helpful.’

In your being helpful, do you insist that your partner stop being who they are? This is the essential question. Stop being emotional. Stop being frightened. Stop being irrational. Stop being obsessive Stop being lazy.

Being judgmental, being critical--so many of us have become adept at hiding our judgments in our good intentions, in our well-meaning behavior. But don’t settle for that any longer. I guarantee you that your partner doesn’t.

          The time has come to work with your partner. What that means for the purposes of this section is to check it out with your partner. Ask them how your attitude towards them may imply that they have to stop being who they are. See for yourself how you may be implying in many of your behaviors and comments that your partner is less than, that somehow, someway they need you to show them the way.

Ask them if they experience many of your comments as just kidding. Or do they feel the sting of your sarcasm, the harshness of your jokes, the cruelty of your just being honest? Is it possible that your partner doesn’t feel accepted by you--and rightly so?


If you truly want things to be different, then it starts with you. It starts with you getting honest about yourself as well as what you want for your partner. Are you ready to stop minimizing the aches and pains that your partner expresses to you? Are you ready to let go of the explanations you’ve invented to justify your behavior to yourself and the rest of the world? If you’re ready to get honest about your displaced anger, your veiled attempts at control, your misguided attempts at being helpful, let me introduce you to two action steps that will instantly transform your relationships.



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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