home contact us site map Links Guestbook About Dr. Frisch Psych Services Order Books

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

2002 Alive And Well Publications. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use of this material is prohibited

Unmet Emotional Needs

By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

Click Here to Return to
the Table of Contents

We Give In Order That We May Receive

If my hands are fully occupied in holding on to something, I can neither give nor receive.
-Dorothee Solle

My creed is that: Happiness is the only good. The place to be happy is here. The time to be happy is now. The way to be happy is to make others so.
-Robert G. Ingersoll

A second theme that runs deep beneath the surface of the circumstances of your conflict is your unfulfilled emotional needs. Our emotional needs are the heart and soul of what brings two people together. When your relationship is working for you, rest assured that your needs are getting met. When you feel like you’re stuck in a web of conflict and emotional distance, it’s likely that either you or your partner is feeling depleted--that in part or in whole, the source of the conflict is some emotional need going unfulfilled.

Have you ever thought about the pain that’s beneath all the noise that gets stirred up between you and your partner? Have you ever made the connection between your unfulfilled emotional needs and the level of noise that’s present in your relationship? It’s sad, but true. So much of what precipitates conflict between two people is really a smokescreen for the pain that two people feel when their needs aren’t getting met.

I was doing an interview on the radio recently. It was the kind of show where listeners called in and asked me questions about their relationships. One woman, Mary, called with a question about her extramarital affair...

“Dr. Frisch, how come I don’t feel at all guilty about the affair I’m having?”

“Perhaps you feel justified in having the affair in the first place,” I suggested.

“Absolutely!” Mary said rather pointedly.

“And is anger the only thing you feel towards your husband right now?”

“Doctor, I’ve been furious with him for years,” Mary replied.

“So, Mary, is this affair your way at getting back at him?” I wondered out loud.

“The no good S.O.B. deserves it. After all he’s put me through, he deserves what he’s got coming to him.”

“Mary, it sounds like you’ve been through a lot with your husband,” I responded.

“Doctor, you don’t know the half of it. He’s had at least five affairs that I know of in the last four years. Why twice I’ve caught him in my own bed with another woman.”

“You must feel betrayed by your husband,” I said.

“You’re damn right I do. But it’s much more than betrayal. It’s all the ways he ignores me. He never wants to spend time with me. For years, I’ve felt like I have to beg him to pay the least bit of attention to me. At least the man I’m with now pays attention to me. I don’t have to act like a lap dog just to get him to notice me.”

“So you’re finally getting some affection from a man?” I asked.

“You know, I hadn’t thought about it that way, but you’re right. When my husband and I first met, I always felt so cared for. There wasn’t anything that he wouldn’t do for me, but that stopped a long time ago. Back then, I felt important, like he cared about me. But now it seems like I have to go elsewhere for all that.”

“Let’s look at it this way then. What is it that you’re getting from this other man? It’s easy to see that a part of you is wanting to punish your husband for the times he has cheated on you. But it seems to me that there must be some other void that this affair is filling for you.”

“It’s like I said, I don't have to beg for attention. This guy makes me feel like I matter, like I count. With my husband, I’ve always felt, well, invisible is the best way to put it. I mean, I swear, I feel like I’m no more than a piece of furniture to him, disposable at that.

“But with my gentleman friend, I feel like he’s there because of me, that he’s interested in me. And because of that, I feel like I’m alive again.”

“Mary, what do you mean about feeling alive again?” I asked.

"Do you know what you have to do to yourself when you are ignored for so many years? Do you know how you have to deaden yourself on the inside in order to numb the pain enough to simply get through the day? I’ve spent years feeling like a piece of dried out driftwood. There’s only so much aching, so much unfulfilled longing that I could endure. The only way I could cope with it all, was just by deadening myself.

“Do I feel bad about this affair? No way. For the first time in years I finally feel alive.”

Sadly, this is true for most of us: the choice we make is to ignore much of what’s taking place rather than risk the confrontation that could make things different. We ignore our partner’s behavior. We ignore our emotional longings. Our feelings shut down, we don blinders to our partner’s actions, and sadly we deny our needs. Where once there was love and compassion, there remains only smoldering hostility that becomes masked by indifference and apathy.

You could hear all of this in Mary’s story. The longer Mary talked, the more her emotions shifted. Initially, she was indifferent. As I poked around, trying to understand the underlying relationship issues buried beneath her extramarital affair, her indifference turned to anger and retribution. Finally, she touched upon the core of her pain--a profound sense of deprivation. For Mary, there was more than payback going on in her affair. In fact, payback was merely the vehicle used to express her deeper pain. Mary had been deprived for years--deprived of the one thing she wanted, forget wanted, the thing she needed most--she needed her emotional needs be met.

Given the opportunity to talk about it, her pain came bubbling to the surface along with the needs she felt were unmet. Attention. Affection. Being noticed. Feeling cared about. Trust. Feeling safe. These are but a few of the emotional needs that each and every one of us have. And take notice, none of these can be fulfilled in a vacuum. These needs can only be fulfilled by the people who are in our life. This is why we create relationships.

Can you see how the unmet emotional needs Mary was experiencing turned her relationship inside out? Our  emotional needs are at the bottom of the push and pull we experience in our relationships. There’s a silent arm wrestling match that takes place between people that sounds something like...

 Honey, we need to spend more time together vs. I need some time to myself.

You are constantly taking me for granted vs. I feel like I matter to you when you make time for me.

I feel like you hardly know me vs. thanks for taking some time so we could catch up with each other.

I feel like you care more about that damn computer more than you do me vs. you’re the most important person in the world to me.

And once you make the decision to talk about the pain rather than act it out, you have created an opportunity to resolve the underlying relationship issue rather than merely fix the circumstances of the problem. My friend Sylvia taught me her secret to the success of her marriage that she and her husband Duane discovered 35 years ago.

“Steve, it’s just like that commercial on television, you know, that medicine for an upset stomach--that one where it says takes a lickin but keeps on tickin.

“No Syliva, that’s for Timex™ watches, not Pepto-Bismol™.”

“Oh yea, well, whatever. You get my point, don’t you?”

“Can’t say as I do,” I responded with a perplexed look on my face.

“Duane and me, we agreed years ago, that there were two ways we could stay married to each other. Duane said to me, ‘Syl,’--you know how Duane calls me Syl, ‘Syl,--you know how muleheaded you are about everything. I figure we can keep bumping heads with each other for the next thirty years or we can try something different.’”

Syliva continued, “Duane went on to explain how we were squabbling about everything. He wanted to do his thing. I wanted to do mine. We never seemed to be there for each other. It was like we were two strangers sharing the same house.

“We fought constantly. Nothing ever got fixed from all our fighting. Oh sure, we were surviving all the bull that we did to each other, you know, it was never enough to break up over, but Duane’s point was, don’t you want more out of our marriage than just surviving how awful we can treat each other?”

“I see what you’re saying,” I said to Sylvia.

“I told you Mr. Big-Shot, my Duane doesn’t talk much, but when he does, he usually says something mighty important.”

“So how’s that the secret to your marriage, what’s that got to do with a Timex watch?”

“I’ll give you a for instance. Whenever I tell Duane we need to talk, he’ll act like he can’t hear me, you know like he’s asleep in his chair. Then I say to Duane, ‘Duane, we can either talk about it or ignore it. If we ignore it, our marriage might take a lickin but keep on tickin, but is that what you want?’

“You see what I mean? Whenever one of us is feeling kinda down about things, whenever we need the other person, we gotta get their attention sometimes.

“In the old days, we used to fight about things without talking about things. You know how Duane likes to play all his sports, leaving me behind, or how I like to go for walks with him and he always complains he’s too tired. Whenever we feel like we need something from the other, if ever we don’t listen, then we just say, ‘takes a lickin but keeps on tickin’ and we know we better put our marriage first. We know it’s time to check in with each other, to connect and see how we can better be there for each other.”

Duane and Sylvia’s solution makes a lot of sense. The art of making molehills out of mountains is predicated upon an appreciation for how damaging unspoken hurt can be between two people in any relationship. You can grow calluses over the original wounds, but the wound never heals. Indeed, the wound festers away, leaking its poison all over the people in your life. And the wound that runs deepest is the longing we experience when our emotional needs go unfulfilled.

Rest assured it doesn’t have to stay way for you. As always, you have choices in the matter. As I continually encourage you to believe, a little bit of know-how can go a long way to transform much of the conflict in your relationships into healing, understanding, growth, and love.



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.


To return to the top of the page
Click Here

Bridges_Cover-Thumb.jpg (14473 bytes) FREE ONLINE BOOKS!

Enrich Recovery
Resolve Conflict
Reclaim Your Life
Stop Self-Sabotage
Love and Be Loved
Mountains Cover-Thumb.jpg (11877 bytes)

Enrich Recovery
Reclaim Your Life
Liberate Your Soul
Stop Self-Sabotage
Develop Your Spirit