By Dr. Steve
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We Give In Order That
We May Receive
my hands are fully occupied in holding on to something, I can neither give nor receive.
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
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 youre stuck in a web of conflict and
emotional distance, its 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
you ever thought about the pain thats 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 thats present in your relationship? Its
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 arent getting met.
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...
Frisch, how come I dont feel at all guilty about the affair Im having?
you feel justified in having the affair in the first place, I suggested.
Mary said rather pointedly.
is anger the only thing you feel towards your husband right now?
Ive been furious with him for years, Mary replied.
Mary, is this affair your way at getting back at him? I wondered out loud.
no good S.O.B. deserves it. After all hes put me through, he deserves what hes
got coming to him.
it sounds like youve been through a lot with your husband, I responded.
you dont know the half of it. Hes had at least five affairs that I know of in
the last four years. Why twice Ive caught him in my own bed with another
must feel betrayed by your husband, I said.
damn right I do. But its much more than betrayal. Its all the ways he ignores
me. He never wants to spend time with me. For years, Ive felt like I have to beg him
to pay the least bit of attention to me. At least the man Im with now pays attention
to me. I dont have to act like a lap dog just to get him to notice me.
youre finally getting some affection from a man? I asked.
know, I hadnt thought about it that way, but youre right. When my husband and
I first met, I always felt so cared for. There wasnt anything that he wouldnt
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.
look at it this way then. What is it that youre getting from this other man?
Its 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.
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, Ive always felt, well, invisible is the best way to put
it. I mean, I swear, I feel like Im no more than a piece of furniture to him,
disposable at that.
with my gentleman friend, I feel like hes there because of me, that hes
interested in me. And because of that, I feel like Im alive again.
what do you mean about feeling alive again? I asked.
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? Ive spent years feeling like a piece of dried out
driftwood. Theres 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.
I feel bad about this affair? No way. For the first time in years I finally feel
this is true for most of us: the choice we make is to ignore much of whats taking
place rather than risk the confrontation that could make things different. We ignore our
partners behavior. We ignore our emotional longings. Our feelings shut down, we don
blinders to our partners 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.
could hear all of this in Marys 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.
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.
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. Theres a silent arm wrestling match that takes place between people
that sounds something like...
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. youre the most important person in the
world to me.
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.
its 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.
Syliva, thats for Timex watches, not
yea, well, whatever. You get my point, dont you?
say as I do, I responded with a perplexed look on my face.
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.
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.
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 Duanes point was, dont you want more out of our marriage than
just surviving how awful we can treat each other?
see what youre saying, I said to Sylvia.
told you Mr. Big-Shot, my Duane doesnt talk much, but when he does, he usually says
something mighty important.
hows that the secret to your marriage, whats that got to do with a Timex
give you a for instance. Whenever I tell Duane we need to talk, hell act like he
cant hear me, you know like hes 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?
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.
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 hes too tired. Whenever we feel like we need something
from the other, if ever we dont listen, then we just say, takes a lickin but
keeps on tickin and we know we better put our marriage first. We know its time
to check in with each other, to connect and see how we can better be there for each
and Sylvias 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.
assured it doesnt 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.
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. Frischs, Psy.D. Recovery book series.