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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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Beauty’s in the Eye of the Beholder

Over the piano was printed a notice.
Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best.
-Oscar Wilde

Bridge-Builder’s Tip
As you sow the seeds of appreciation for your partner, you will begin to reap a harvest of love and kindness in return.

“Ray, Ray, here, up here, I’m in the office. Come on up,   I want to show you something.”

The excitement in Jill’s voice told Ray that something was up. Jill had been acting mysterious all week, however she wouldn’t say what was going on.

But today Jill had finally finished her secret project and now she was just waiting for Ray to come home. She couldn’t wait to show him the story she had written, having worked on it for days while Ray was at work. Writing had been a long forgotten passion she had promised herself she was going to get back to someday. Someday had rolled around last week when she finally sat down at the computer.

Jill was surprised at how good it felt. That’s what was so amazing about writing. The sense of pride that came with creating something from nothing. Unearthing new nuggets about herself from within. Shaping and molding those nuggets into cogent thoughts to be shared with the world. Impacting even one person’s life, it gave her the chills just thinking about it.

But the best feeling of all was being able to share her work with Ray. He was going to be so proud of her. He was the one who was pushing her to start writing again. So, she couldn’t wait for him to read the story. There was so much in the story about her that she wanted to share with Ray.

“Jill, what’s up? What’s all the commotion about?” Ray asked, huffing and puffing from running up the three flights of stairs.

Without saying a word, Jill handed Ray a folder that contained the twenty pages the story was written on. “I want you to read this.”

“Don’t tell me. You didn’t! When did you do all of this? Jill, you finally... I can’t believe it!”

Ray hugged Jill. He was so proud of her. He had wanted her to do this for so long.

“Go ahead. Sit down and read it. I just finished it an hour ago. I’m sure there are still some typos. Promise me you won’t feel compelled to point those out to me.”

“Moi. Never,” he chuckled.

Ray had already begun reading the first page. There was a smile here, a grunt there. His forehead would furrow. Next, his face broke into a big smile. The next page brought complete silence, steadied concentration. Page after page, Jill watched intently, interpreting his every expression and sound.

Finally, ten minutes later, Ray put down the last sheet of paper. As he took his glasses off, Jill noticed for the first time, there were tears streaming down Ray’s cheeks. Those tears said it all for Jill.

Effort. Sacrifice. Talent. Ability. Worth. Value. Who doesn’t want to feel appreciated for what they do, for who they are? You recognize how good it feels when those longings for appreciation have been stroked.

It doesn’t matter how big or small the project is. It can be something grand like graduating from college or something seemingly trivial like cleaning out a closet.

It doesn’t matter how big or small the gesture is. It can be something grand like throwing a surprise birthday party  or something seemingly trivial like bringing your child’s forgotten umbrella to school.

It doesn’t matter how big or small the acknowledgment   is. It can be something grand like a testimonial dinner thrown in your honor for the years of service you provided to your local community or something seemingly trivial like getting your dad an apron with the words World’s Best Chef printed on it. 

Feeling appreciated by the people in our lives is an incredible tonic. Having who we are and what we do acknowledged is a magical feeling. And I’m sure you recognize the devastation you feel when the craving to be acknowledged, to feel appreciated goes unmet. Criticism stings. Being ignored altogether devastates. Yet, all too often people stop taking the time to be kind to one another. The reasons may vary--indifference, being distracted, spite, too many demands and too little time.

Withholding your appreciation can feel like an act of betrayal to your partner. See it from their point of view. Giving so much of themself, yet you remain blind to those efforts.

Of course there are the times when things just get  misunderstood. The excitement in your voice isn’t enough. The inflection is flat. The words don’t match your partner’s expectations. Or you don’t know what to do or say.

Whatever the reason, no matter the justification, whenever appreciation is held back, however it’s held back, the pain becomes forever etched in our soul. We don’t soon forget when that special investment in something near and dear to us goes unnoticed. We keep a list. We check it twice. And believe me, that list becomes the source of much of the  turmoil and conflict if the hurt doesn’t get expressed.

The good news is, things don’t have to stay this way forever. What experience has taught me is that most people genuinely are appreciative of their partner. Most of us are able to recognize the uniqueness of our partner. Most people have a good perspective of their partner’s qualities that lend so much to the well-being of their relationship.

No, the problem is not being able to recognize those qualities. The problem is the many misunderstandings that are created when we become angry at or disappointed in our partner’s words and deeds. You see when that emotional energy takes over the relationship, a different kind of climate takes over that perpetuates ill-will rather than puts out the fire.

Once a climate of ill-will takes over, any feelings of appreciation go right out the window. Once you see your partner as your antagonist, it’s impossible to keep the perspective that your partner is a valued friend. When you get to that place where you lose perspective about who your partner is, you need to find a way to balance out your feelings of hurt and betrayal with your other feelings of attraction and appreciation. Let me show you a couple of tools to reestablish equilibrium in order restore a climate of acceptance and appreciation.

Bridge-Builder’s Tool
Celebrate rather than evaluate your partner.

Mort was bursting with pride as he walked into my office. He couldn’t wait for me to sit down so he could show me what he was holding in his hand.

“Steve, look what I got last night,” Mort said.

“What do you have there?” I asked.

“It’s a chip, my thirty day chip. I did it. I got it. I finally got it. Thirty days straight without using. Who da thunk it? Me going that long without a drink.”

I looked at the chip and then returned it to Mort. “Hey how about that! Congratulations! How does it feel?”

“I can’t tell you how good it was to finally get this. It has taken me six months to put together thirty straight days of clean time.

“Everyone was so happy for me at the meeting last night. That’s what made it so special--the feedback they gave me.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“No one dwelled on how long it took me to get my thirty day chip. I was scared to go to the meeting last night because I thought I would have to replay every mistake I’ve made over the last six months. I thought for sure that everyone would offer some remembrance of how I had messed up over and over again.”

"I’m guessing that it didn’t happen that way,” I offered.

“No, it was the strangest thing. People congratulated me. But they also told me how much my coming to the meetings every week for the last six months meant to them. Some people said that knowing me made a difference in their lives. Can you believe it? Me making a difference in somebody else’s life? Now there’s a switch!

“I felt as if they were telling me that I mattered to them. No one ever tells me that. All I ever hear is how I screwed up, but these people actually made me feel as if I’m all right no matter what I do or how I do it.”

Celebrating rather than evaluating a person. Affirming who they are rather than focusing on how well they do something. You tell me, what feels better to you, being affirmed or being evaluated?

Do you see the shift that might be made? Let go of all the hurtful ways you evaluate your partner. Don’t confuse who a person is with the actions that person takes. You know the saying, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” That means you need to surrender the need to make you partner out to be good or bad, right or wrong, your way or no way.

Are you ready to make such a shift in your relationship? Are you ready to celebrate the uniqueness of who your partner is? Your partner is going through life the best way they know how. Evaluating that process merely conveys your judgments. Being able to celebrate how that process enables your partner to express the essence of who they are enables your partner to feel appreciated by you.       

Bridge-Builder’s Tool
Create an energy of gratitude rather than disappointment towards your partner.

“I could never see it before,” Mark said.

“See what?” I asked

“See what you meant, see how I burdened Shirley with how deprived I felt, how I was always disappointed in her. I just couldn’t look at it any other way. I felt like I wasn’t getting what I wanted. I wanted more of her, her attention, her love, her time.

The more I felt deprived, the more let down I felt, the more I demanded what I wasn’t getting. I didn’t see the damage it was doing to our relationship,” Mark sighed.

“What did you finally realize?” I asked.

“I finally saw how I was sabotaging Shirley. All I could focus on were the things that our relationship wasn’t. I never stopped to think how dumping all that energy on Shirley actually made it harder for her to be there for me.

“I saw how she was constantly backpedaling from me. I thought she was punishing me, but I finally realized she was just trying to protect herself.

“Of course by then, she was so angry at me, she felt like everything she did was wrong, there was no way she was going to reach out to me,” Mark said, shaking his head at the sheer futility of it all.

“Hindsight is twenty-twenty,” I said.

“Yea, that’s when I finally decided to try what you suggested. So I sat down and made a list of things that I was grateful for, you know all the wonderful things that Shirley was, all the things I had because of our relationship. The funny thing was, I didn’t have to think hard about that at all. I didn’t realize how much I had to feel grateful about.

“So after making the list, every day for the next three weeks, I thanked Shirley each night for bringing to my life one of the items from my list.”

“How did that work out for you?” I asked.

“I gotta tell you, it was hard at first. I felt funny doing it. I would do the exercise every night before we went to bed. But I felt so self-conscious. You know, I couldn’t talk to  her without turning out the lights first,” Mark said with a sheepish grin on his face.

"That’s okay. Did it help?” I asked.

“A little. It still was awkward. And Shirley didn’t really trust me at first. She thought I was trying to trick her, I guess.

“But you know what? The funniest thing was that the more I expressed my gratitude, little by little, I didn’t feel so disappointed in her anymore.

“I mean, it was weird. Shirley started paying more attention to me. She would do things with me, for me, without me asking. Before, it seemed like if I asked, that was the one way to insure that things would never happen.”

“So the moral of the story is?” I asked.

“By expressing gratitude for the fruits of what my relationship bears, I can fill some of the holes that my relationship needs filling.”

Do you understand what is being suggested? There are two feelings that impede your willingness to create an energy of appreciation and gratitude in your relationship. Entitlement and disappointment. When you live with the mindset that you’re entitled to what you want when you want it, the only possible outcome of such an attitude is feeling disappointed and deprived.

When those two feelings begin to consume you, you likely dump those feelings upon your partner. Then you devise all kinds of schemes to get what you want from your partner.

Think of those feelings--entitlement, feeling let down, disappointed, resentful. Do you realize that all those feelings that you experience and express are energy? How does being consumed with that energy affect you? How does expressing that energy to your partner affect them?

When you make demands upon your partner that they are either unwilling or incapable of meeting, how does the energy from the resultant tug of war color your relationship? Can you see how the energy can transform your relationship into a war zone? And, I hope you realize by now, if the underlying issue--how unappreciated you or your partner are feeling--goes unnoticed, then the war will most likely continue.

So let me suggest a shift for you. This shift will completely change the energy that flows between you and your partner. By making this shift, you can expect three things to change immediately. First, your partner will feel appreciated by you rather than condemned by you. Second, your partner will feel more open to addressing your concerns. Third, your energy will shift, leaving you feeling more fulfilled and less disappointed.

The shift goes something like this: transform your feelings of hurt, resentment, and disappointment by expressing appreciation for who your partner is and what it is they give to you.

Let me walk you through this. First, make a list of what it is you’re feeling disappointed about with your partner. Write down how this sense of disappointment makes you feel.

Now, write down the things that you appreciate about your partner and the things that your relationship does give to you.

Third, create a plan with your partner to discuss the items on your list. I suggest that you do this slowly, perhaps discussing only one item per day.

Patience is the key ingredient for this skill to be effective. Feeling unappreciated leaves long lasting scars. Healing comes with time and consistency as you and your partner begin to trust the genuineness of what each of you is expressing. But rest assured, you can bring healing to the wounds that exist between you and your partner if you’re willing to use the simple tools we talked about in this chapter.



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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